Monthly Archives: December 2011

Give My Regards To Broadway…

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I did a Tourist Exchange earlier this week.  New York City has emptied out its native population into Vermont, and they’re all swarming my ski hill, destroying the surface, cutting the lift lines, jostling for VIP Treatment with every waitress, concierge, bartender, and hotel desk clerk in a 20 mile radius of the ski mountain.  I appreciate that these people are providing a much-needed cash infusion into the ski operation – especially since we still have not had any precipitation worth mentioning, and all skiing is taking place on an expensive man-made surface.  As an economist, I do understand that the jostling, screaming, cursing, abrasive throngs from New York City and its environs (including New Jersey, Westchester County, and the southern portion of Connecticut) are functionally subsidizing my ski experience for the rest of the season. And I’m grateful to them.

Yet, in the immortal words of Sholem Aleichem, “May God bless and keep [the New York City hordes]…far away from us!”

So this weekend – other than the fact that the ski area absolutely soaks the once-a-year skiers on lift tickets during Xmas week – is not a good time for me to ski.  Too crowded, for one.  Too rude, for another.  Too incompetent, for a third.  I have gorgeous skis.  They’re stop-in-your-tracks-and-say-WOO skis.  The guy at the waxing shop told me that they were all fighting over who got to wax my skis last week.  I think he was kidding.  I don’t want a noob who should really be learning How To Use The Lift over on the bunny slope – or a boob who can’t be bothered to hang up the damned phone – skiing over my top sheets.  Call me vain.  You’d probably be right.  I still don’t want my gear all banged up by people who can’t be bothered, or who just don’t know how.

On top of the myriad problems caused by people paying no attention at all in the lift lines, there’s the people who think it’s an awesome idea to get likkered up and hit the slopes.  Fill up on Dutch Courage for that black run!  Especially if you’re not already competent at skiing the blues!!  What? Not a drinker?  OK – we still got you covered – dare your buddy to sail down the big blue run even though it’s his first time on skis.  Not enough?  Double-dare him.  Or Double-dog-dare him!  One way or another, you’re going to get that guy in well over his head.  You can tweet the exchange, from the lift.  Not done?  Ski patrol riding your ass to clear the lift unloading area?  What the hell…just move on!  You’re on a green slope – you can text all the way down the hill!  Took a wrong turn?  No problem! Just point your skis downhill, go as fast as you can, and get off the mountain.  Everyone else will get out of your way!! Not comfortable skiing down the hill?  No problem! Just find yourself a nice soft spot on the run, and sit down on it.  So you’re in the middle of the run…everyone else will go around you! So you’re halfway down where you can’t be seen by anyone before they’re actually dropping down?  That’s their problem!  It’s your right to sit on the run if you want to!

Sounds like a cranky jeremiad, doesn’t it?  What it is, instead, is an actual, factual recounting of three different lift rides and runs I took on Monday.  Yes.  All of that is 100% true, I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.  And, as soon as I got down the hill after the last one, I checked my gear and got the hell out of dodge.  And why I’ve stayed off the slopes since then, and won’t go back until after the New Year.  It’s not just me, either – although I do have it somewhat “better” than skiers in other areas, because my Home Mountain is the closest large ski area to New York City.  One of my favorite ski resources is the online women’s skiier’s group, The Ski Diva.  One of the other Divas told a story about how an out-of-control little kid crashed into her as she sat on a bench in the ski rack zone doing up her boots and the kid’s mom barreled down and cussed out the woman on the bench for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This story was followed by a host of anecdotes about other appalling behavior taking place on the slopes during this week.

It’s a good week to be out of Vermont.  I don’t say that about many weeks, mind you.  Pretty much, just this one.

And – recall – all the New Yorkers are up there hassling each other in Vermont.  Why are they not in New York?

Because New York is flooded with tourists.  Doing exactly the same kind of crap – in a different setting – that the New Yorkers are doing up in Vermont.  The tourists are jaywalking and holding up traffic.  They’re breaking the subway turnstiles, and they’re attempting to hold the door on the train for their 5 small children and 6 assorted relatives – and holding up traffic.  They’re trying to flag cabs in the wrong areas.  They’re flooding into the bars, and taking 10 minutes to order one drink instead of making up their minds before they go to the bar.  They’re demanding VIP treatment from every waitress, cab driver, hotel concierge, and desk clerk in the city.  They’re attempting to buy their way up the list for seating by slipping the hostess a sawbuck and a big wink.  They’re stopping in the middle of Grand Central to admire the ceiling frescos and windows, while paying no attention to the fact that people behind them were in a hurry.  They’re going against the tide of foot traffic, and they’re caroming around in the crowds.  They are looking at the other people on the train.

It’s a good week to be out of New York.

Happily, I am married to an actual New Yorker (transplanted to New England, but he’s from the Bronx – born and bred) with family there, and season tickets to the Yankees).  So I know how to behave in New York.  We also know better than to try to stay in Manhattan during Xmas week.  This is a terrific week to be in, say, Queens.  Preferably as far out as Flushing.

And so we were.  He drove down to the city – what evil genius possessed him to bring his car in, I do not know, but there it was – on Tuesday.  I followed, in the Megabus, on Wednesday.  Just so those of you unfamiliar with the City will understand, I will share that it took the bus 45 minutes to drive 10 blocks.  And these are small blocks, not large ones.  I’m used to the traffic – this is why we always take the train in – but even so, I found the laggardly pace of travel to be astonishing.  As did my spouse, who called me every 15 minutes to see if I was There Yet.

The Megabus driver was either supremely confident or supremely ignorant – no way to tell which – and on several occasions, he blocked the box.  This is a big No-No in Manhattan.  You can get a $115 fine for blocking the box, because this is how gridlocks are made.  No box-blocking = no gridlocks.  I’m using “gridlock” in its technical sense, of traffic using a grid pattern stopping in such a way that it becomes physically and literally impossible for anyone to advance (as opposed to using it in its metaphorical sense, where “gridlock” just means “heavy traffic”).

So the bus driver blocked the box, not once, but several times.  And one of those times, as I was watching out my window, a guy leaped out of a vehicle positioned 2 or 3 cars behind the intersection.  He erupted from the car, shot over to the front of the bus, started pounding on it, and then raced to the back of the bus, where I lost sight of him.  He didn’t return to his vehicle.  I presume he raced down the street on foot, like they do in the movies, in order to make his life-or-death assignation with the Love Of His Life from whom he had been separated for years under a wholly mistaken premise.  Or, maybe, he just was late for a business meeting.  Given the sheer insanity of mounting a physically violent attack against a bus I prefer to go with the first explanation.

Fortunately, the traffic cleared a bit and the last 30 blocks took 1/10 the time of the first ten, and I was united with my Happy Husband.  We swanned off to a restaurant that had just been featured in some Top Ten of NYC listing.  I was shocked to find we could get a table.  I’m sure it had something to do with showing up for dinner at 5pm.

From there, we joined the madding crowd at that Icon of Holiday Cheer:  The Rockefeller Tree.  I’m used to there being significant crowds at this site, but the one we encountered on Wednesday night was beyond imagining.  There must have been 15, maybe 20 thousand people crammed into that city block to Regard The Tree (and watch the ice-skating, or possibly, to get into line for the ice-skating).  It was astonishing.  The tree was splendid, as always, but my favorite (as always) was the Crowd Scene.  Because all of the New Yorkers have gone to Vermont, everyone on site is a tourist.  And, apparently, the Rockefeller Tree is an international draw.  You stand there and twenty people pass you, and you hear ten languages spoken in that time.  Now I know what the Eiffel Tower is for the French.

The amazing thing about this experience is that – despite being packed in like sardines – nearly everyone is in a good mood.  Everyone is happy and festive, despite being jostled and trodden upon.  A Great Miracle Happened There.  Go hang out near the tree, and you’ll find yourself taking part as a bit-player in family reunions, rites of passage, and engagements.  It’s one of the great fun parts of my holiday season to spend an hour down by the tree at night, offering to take pictures of the entire family grouping – there is always someone with a camera, telling a group of others (in whatever language) to Stand Closer So I Can Get The Tree In The Picture.  I’m pretty good at taking pictures, so I always offer to help.  Somehow “Would You Like  A Picture Of All Of You Together?” is the same in every language on the planet.  I got to help ten groups make a holiday memory on Wednesday night this way.  I love doing this.

After the Tree, we found a Nut Cart, and I managed to get a bag of perfectly roasted chestnuts.  Usually the chestnuts are not perfectly roasted – they’re burned, or they are not roasted long enough so that it is difficult to remove the shells and one winds up with a hundred tiny cuts on the fingers and palm.  These, on the other hand, were perfect.  We ate them on the way to the theatre…

…were we got to see Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone do a two-person show (plus one bass player and one pianist).  They had amazing chemistry and are obviously great friends as well as supremely skilled musical actors.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after Patti finished her reprise of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”.  Including Patti’s eyes, by the way.  First time I’ve seen an experienced professional break up on stage.  And Roy had bagged us some premium seats – we were in the 4th row of the orchestra.

After that, we trained out to Flushing – not kidding about that, we racked up at a Red Roof in Flushing’s vibrant, yet scuzzy Chinatown.

From there the next morning, to Bryant Park where there is a holiday market every year, as well as ice-skating.  We didn’t skate, but did get some superb post-Xmas deals, as well as hot cider, a hot chocolate with a dark truffle in the bottom of the cup, 4 fried dumplings, and 4 small fresh pickles, one of them with a horseradish flavor.  Excellent.

Then back up town to Radio City for the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular.  I love this show.  It’s so festive.  And Radio City looks amazing at the holidays.  But my favorite is definitely the Rockettes.  They’re so cute!  And wholesome, in that super long-legged way.  Like puppies, only with Sex Appeal. I just want to take them all home with me, they’re that cute.  Even my 92-year-old mother-in-law loves the Rockettes. And, as with the Tree, it’s crowded, but the crowd is in a good mood.  It’s so…unnatural…for New York City to have this many people in a good mood.

After the show, back to Flushing for a trip to our favorite Chinese joint anywhere, Joe’s Shanghai.  This was our first trip to the Joe’s Flushing outpost – usually we go to the one down in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Holy cow.  When the waitress stops by your table and says “soup buns” take it from me – Just Say Yes.  And we can also recommend the scallion pancakes, the turnip shortcake, the chicken pan fried noodles.  And, well, just about everything else on the list.  Just be sure to bring some of the ready with you – this place does not accept credit cards.  Nor do they need to.  We stuffed ourselves, including a bottlee of microbrewed ginger ale, and tax, and tip, for $33.  I’m just as glad this place is not around the corner from me.

From there, back home.  Now I just have to wait another two days for the rest of the New Yorkers to flood off of the ski hill and back into the City.  I’m sure they, also, are waiting for the French, Italians, Portuguese, Nebraskans, Canadians, Mexicans, Japanese, Mongolians, Russians, Bulgarians, Irish, Argentinians, and Pacific Islandeers to do likewise.  In the meantime, I’m living off the memory of Mandy “My Name Is Inigo Montoya” Patinkin and those Shanghai Soup Buns.

Rockettes in REINDEER costumes!!!

Give Me A Damned Break.

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Well, Roy scored huge with the holiday gifts.  He bagged for me this absolutely amazing all-weather riding rain coat, with an adaptable skirt to cover the saddle and protect it from drizzle, and incredible styling.  I saw it in a magazine ad, checked the company’s website for the sizing chart, and then requested this item from Santa.

Santa delivered, with a stunning ruby-red intensely styling garment.

That fit, if by “fit” you mean “will zip up cleanly over underwear”.  I tried it on over my silk thermal top – apres ski present orgy – and it was…snug.  It zipped.  It “fit” in that technical sense.  The sizing chart wasn’t…wrong…it just failed to take into account that a person might want to be wearing something other than a bra under a cold-weather riding raincoat.  Now, I’m having a hard time imagining the circumstances under which I’d want to wear a cold-weather raincoat over a tank top and a pair of breeches.  And that’s what it would take.  Anything else would be snug.  And “snug” isn’t something I think of when it comes to athletic gear.  Stretchy, fitted, yes.  Snug, tight, no.

It’s bad enough that I’m going to have to send this astoundingly gorgeous coat back.  In my adult life, I’ve been as small as a size 14, as large as a 20.  I got down to a size 12 one year, when I was finishing my dissertation and getting divorced, and everyone asked me if I’d been sick.  For me to get into a size 12 requires that my shoulder and collar bones stand out like wire coathangers, that you be able to count and inspect every one of my ribs, and that my vertebral column be visible against the drape of a loose-fitting t-shirt.   And, as I said, everyone assumed that I’d been having chemotherapy or dealing with some kind of life-threatening illness, I looked that haggard, gaunt, and bad.  That’s what it takes for me to be a size 12.

I used a couple of internet calculators, and realized that I’ve been in the 97% percentile for height and weight since the day I was born.  So it should be a surprise to me that the smallest I’ve been in my adult life is still well into “Size Large” territory?  My shoe size, depending on who you ask, is anywhere from a 9 1/2 Wide (Payless) to an 11 Medium (Stuart Weitzman). I’m just…value sized.

So, as I say, it was bad enough having to relinquish the Amazing All Weather Riding Coat, but the truly depressing part was that – due to the “European Styling” no doubt – a size 16 (assuming nothing but underwear) was a 2XL for this company.  Yes. If we want to assume some rational degree of foundation garment, like a bra plus a long-sleeved shirt, this coat can have been no more than a size 14.  And that’s a 2XL.

This company isn’t alone.  This phenomenon is pervasive with respect to women’s athletic gear.  You want to do yoga in appropriate attire?  Awesome! As long as you’re no more than 5’8″ and 115 lbs.  You want to go riding in appropriate attire?  Super! If you’re 5’6″ and 100 lbs.  You want amazing alpine ski pants?  Better not be any more than 5’7″ and 105!

It’s really incredible. Basic catalog sizes assume that women are – at the very tallest – 5’6″.  I have at least as many women friends who are taller than this as I do friends who are shorter.  HELLO, PEOPLE!  Better prenatal nutrition => taller people!  Ask the Dutch!

Even without taking that important factor – height – into consideration, we wind up with Pure Insanity with the women’s size chart.  For point of reference, LL Bean considers a size 16 to be a Large (sometimes it is, not unreasonably, an XL).  Measurements for this size are bust (41.5″), waist (34), hips (44).

Arc’teryx and UnderArmour consider this to be between a Large (12-14) and an XL )(16-18).

North Face considers these to be just over the upper bound of an XL (16+).

Marmot considers them to be an XL (12!!!).

Mountain Hardwear and Merrell consider these measurements to be an XL (16).

Isis considers them to be a 2XL (18, only they don’t seem to make 2XL or 18s).

prAna considers them to be something in excess of an XL (12-14), the largest size they appear to offer.

Outdoor Research and SmartWool consider them to be an XL (no numeric size given).

Patagonia considers them to be an XL (16).

Columbia, Royal Robbins, and Nike call them an XL (16-18).

ExOfficio considers them to be an XL (18).

Asmar Equestrian, maker of my wonderful raincoat, considers these measurements to be a 2XL.

What the hell?  One set of measurements, 12 different sizing approaches.

And then, on top of it, these are size charts built on some kind of Theoretical Capacity.  As in, yes, the riding coat zipped so it technically fit but it wouldn’t have fit if I’d tried to put anything sensible underneath it.  And, I know from personal experience, this is also true for the size charts from Arc’teryx, North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Outdoor Research, Patagonia, and Columbia. The only one on the list above that actually appears to factor in practical considerations like the need to move about comfortably and layer appropriately is Royal Robbins.  The rest of it is rubbish.  It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even bother trying to shop in the women’s department at REI.  The concept of “vanity sizing” is utterly absent from the field of women’s athletic attire.

Goddamnit.  This shit makes me totally sick.  I hate having to send back this gorgeous coat, in a size 2XL, because it is too small.

I hate having always to wear men’s clothes and look like a total shlub while working out.  I would dearly love to wear athletic gear – in particular, ski gear, that is actually designed for the shape of a woman’s body.  I look like the freaking Michelin Man out on the slopes, and if it weren’t for my red hair pouring out from under my helmet, I’d routinely be mistaken for a man.  Ask me how I know.  Because last year, dammit, my hair was bobbed.  And if I got called “sir” once in the lift lines, it happened twenty times.

There’s no good reason for this, by god.  Athletic women come in all sizes.  What we have in common is that we’re in shape, and we don’t want gear limiting our range of motion, and we want to look good while we’re doing our thing dammit.

It’s not like this is just a woman’s issue, either.  Last year I bought ski pants for Roy.  To his utter desolation, the only thing that fit was a pair of Columbias with a velcro waist in size 2XL.  He’s a totally normal sized guy, too.  It’s just that every damned pair of the ski pants were designed for some dude who is 6’4″ and 130 lbs.  “Welcome to my world,” I told him.  I don’t think he found this to be a comforting sentiment

Snow! I want to wash my hands my face my hair with snow…

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Just finished our annual household White Christmas Getaway to Vermont.  All that snow, you know.

And in a case of Life Imitating Art, there’s been just as much snow this year as there was in the movie.  Basically, none.  The 15 inches from the Halloween Blizzard doesn’t count, partly because it was still the middle of fall, partly because it’s long, long gone. There’s been a total of about 4″ this winter, all of it received in the last week.  Granted, this painted the illusion of having Snow as far as the countryside up in the mountains is concerned, but down in the valleys, Stick Season marches on.

It’s playing havoc with the local economy just as it did in the film, as well. Even with the assistance of Technology, it’s still a problem for local businesses.  The cross-country areas can’t open, because they don’t usually have snowmaking capabilities.  The big ski areas do, but there’s a limit to what they can handle.  Usually the snowmaking is for helping Mother Nature, not replacing Mother Nature.  This weekend I received the Unsubstantiated Factoid that out of 57 ski areas in the region, only 15 are open.  And Christmas, and Christmas Week, is one of the busiest times of the year.  Being unable to open will be financially devastating to many of these operations.

The movie had another thing Right:  it’s also devastating to the supporting economy.  The inns all had vacancies – unheard of at this time of year – and the restaurants and ski shops were doing a very slow business.

Snow…It won’t be long before we’ll all be there with snow

All that said, we went up and had a blast.  Mount Snow has managed to get almost 30% of their terrain open with the benefit of Technology.  And the few inches of natural snow on the ground at least turned the mountain white.  Made the season nice.  And they managed to get my favorite run opened while we were there.  I had a great day of skiing on Sunday.  The conditions on the more challenging runs were as nice as I’ve ever seen them, and the sun came out, and I took full advantage of the hill.

Until 11am, when all of the New Yorkers finished presents and breakfast and flooded out of their condos and hotel rooms onto the mountain.  I know I just said that business is slow, and it is.  But when you take 1/2 the volume and shoehorn it into 1/4 the terrain, things get very busy.  Busy with once-a-year skiers, never-before skiers, and over-stimulated adolescent snowboarders on a major Sugar Binge.  Not really the population I wish to be keeping company with, if I want to preserve my personal safety.  So I bailed, sent my skis for a pampering wax, and holed up in the bar with a slightly alcoholic, exceedingly tasty milkshake, the Knicks-Celtics game, and a bartender who turned out to be the best buddy of the son of a family friend who works with me.  Small, small world.

It was clear that early is best as far as getting in some slope action during the holidays, so we were up at 6:30am yesterday morning in order to hit the mountain around 8.  Conditions were, again, superb. I started the season with concern that I would have forgotten everything, and then moved on to concern that I wouldn’t be able to get back to where I was at the end of last season (without a lot of lessons).  That’s all behind me.  I grew a pair and took, as my warm-up run for the day, the difficult blue down from the summit to the base, and smoked it.  So I did it again.  And again.  And then tried out my favorite run, just opened at noon on Sunday.  Yuk.  The surface was half groomed, half powder.  I was using my powder skis – this is what I want if I think there’s any likelihood of puffy, fluffy piles of powder on the hill anywhere…like when they’re making snow.  Like yesterday.  But we don’t usually get proper powder, not like the real stuff they used to have (back in the day when we all walked uphill to school in the snow, both ways).  This, however, was proper powder, untracked.

So I went for it.

Problem is, even though I had powder skis, it turns out that you ski that deep fluffy stuff in a totally different manner than you ski the groomers.

And understanding this does not automatically confer the requisite skills for the powder skiing.  So I left the virgin powder field, thought about crying at the waste of it all, and when I encountered the “groomed” surface of the run, I really wanted to cry at the waste of it all.

It was horrible.

Skiers have a lot of colorful language.  No, I don’t mean the kind of colorful language that would get bleeped out of a television broadcast, although we certainly have that as well.

No, I’m talking about “colorful” in the sense that Eskimos have 50 different words for snow.  Yes, I know they’re not really “Eskimos” and I know that they don’t have 50 different words for snow.  Give me a break.  It’s a metaphor.

Skiers also have 50 different words for snow.  Maybe more.  There are words to describe the consistency of the surface you’ll be skiing on:  packed powder.  frozen granular. machine-groomed.  wet granular.  and more.  Some of these words are euphemisms. “Frozen” anything sounds good, but means you’ll be skiing on ice.  “Powder” anything is good.  As long as the source can be trusted – because these are words that are used by ski areas to report their snow conditions. For most people, the Snow Report is regarded as a sunshine-and-rainbows public-relations depiction of reality…yet thousands, if not millions, of people every morning roll out of bed, stagger to the computer, and load up the Snow Reports before they even score their morning coffee.  For me, it’s different in that the Snow Report for my hill is more like graven stone tablets being carried down the mountain by Charlton Heston.  The contents can be taken to the bank.  And so I, too, roll out of bed and stagger to the computer for the Word From On High.

Beyond the Snow Report, there are many more colorful terms applied by skiers to these same hill conditions.  Hardpack. Boilerplate. Corduroy. Chicken Heads. Death Cookies. Most of these pertain to skiing surfaces that are universally hated, loathed, detested, reviled.  But still – note – skied.

Hardpack is what happens when snow gets skied on and groomed and skied on and groomed and skied on and groomed…all without being replenished with fresh snow.  It’s a soft-ish form of ice.

Boilerplate is just ice.  Big damn sheets of opaque ice.  With an emphasis on the word “damn”.  And “ice”.

Corduroy is what happens when the big snowcat groomers pass over a field of snow.  It looks just like it sounds like it should.  Ordinarily this is the most prized surface for any skier in New England.  It goes away when it’s been skied upon.  If you want Cord, you get there early.  I discovered, however, last year that there is a “Frozen” Cord variant – when the snowcats have groomed the hill in the early evening, and then due to Weather Weirdness, the Cord thaws a bit, and then freezes.  What you have then is “Corduroy-Shaped Ice”.   That’s the worst, because unlike all of the other horrible surface conditions, it looks nice and soft, and you don’t realize you’re heading for rippled, bumpy ice until it is too late.

Speaking of undesirable artifacts of the grooming process, I turn your attention to the dreaded Death Cookie.

Death Cookies are created when the snowcat groomers pass over an area that consists of nice, soft snow…shielded from the cruel ravages of the sun and wind by a nice thick layer of ice.  The groomers can deal with this, and do.  They run the machines over the area, the machines chew up the ice and theoretically they chew it up fine and mix it back down with the snow, leaving Cord.  Maybe not the nicest Cord, but still, it’s Cord.

On occasion, however, one gets an inexperienced or inattentive operator of the grooming equipment, and instead of pulverizing the icy crust and mixing it down, they bust up the icy crust and leave the busted-up chunks of ice sitting on top of the nice, soft snow.  Customarily, these busted-up chunks are between the size of a large marble and a hockey puck.  This is where Death Cookies come from. If there are only a few – which can happen to anyone, I think – it’s not a problem because you can avoid them.  If there are many of them – and yesterday, the run with the powder to the side was absolutely littered with them – it makes for a miserable run.  It’s the skier’s equivalent of driving a heavily-laden rickety truck with bad shocks over a deeply rutted dirt road.

One run like that was more than enough for me. I headed over to Ridge, the big difficult blue run, and found it in superb condition and bombed down it, full steam ahead.  I’m kind of a chicken about speed, thanks to an World-Cup Wreck I had years and years and years ago on my first real ski outing (which was, itself, responsible for a quarter-century hiatus from the sport).  This has started to become an impediment to my joy, as I make my way down the hill in very good form…at a snail’s pace.  With skiing, too, sometimes the safest thing is to go fast.  Not often, but there are circumstances where this is true, and I need to get used to going fast because of that.  So I whizzed happily down the run a couple of times, getting used to carrying some speed.

On the third run, I decided to let the speed thing go and – because I could – I headed for the powder stashes at the margins of the run.  And I was having a super time with that, until…

…until I discovered the Mother of All Death Cookies, the Death Cookie of Doom, concealed in one of these powder piles.  This damned thing, with an emphasis on “damned” was the size of a volleyball and it was an ugly, skanky, yellowed chunk of ice that had been there since the Prehistoric Era, eating birds, small mammals, and children.  And I didn’t discover it until I was right on it, too late to take evasive action.  This was, of course, on the steepest part of the run.

This is where I introduce another bit of Colorful Ski Lingo:  The Yard Sale.

I ricocheted off that blasted thing, went airborne, and somewhere along the line lost a ski and both poles, hit the side of the mountain face-up with my head pointed downhill, and started to slide. It’s not easy to stop when you’re sliding backwards down a slick surface.  All the pointy bits that one could use to dig in and slow yourself down are pointed away from the hill, for one.  Eventually, I managed to execute some complicated maneuver with my heels and my fingers, or maybe the Gods simply smiled upon me for the moment.  I came to a rest, sat up – astounded to find that I didn’t appear to have been harmed by this – and regarded my Yard Sale.

A Yard Sale is a particular type of fall, in which the skier wiped out with sufficient speed, force, and lack of delta v such that they lose a quantity of their gear and leave it spread out over the surface of the hill.  As if they were inviting the other skiers to inspect it, and possibly buy it, as if holding a yard sale.

As far as Yard Sales go, it wasn’t too bad.  Only one ski and two poles.  When I had the World Cup Wreck mentioned above, it was goggles, scarf, hat, poles, and one glove.  Not the skis, because the bindings were frozen and they stayed locked onto my boots when they ought not (hence the extended hiatus, due to the extended injury).  This one was not impressive. The fall, yes, that was impressive.  My only regret was that I wasn’t near the lift, because otherwise I am certain that I would have drawn applause.

Another skier delivered my gear – saving me the need to trek back up the hill, thus messing up the surface with my boots – and I finished bombing down the hill.

I wasn’t damaged. I don’t even seem to have a bruise.

My skis weren’t damaged – no core shots, not even a scratch.

And I had decided, on the spur of the moment, not to try out the brand-new helmet cam I got for Xmas – which would certainly have gotten trashed in the bang-up since I whacked my head coming down.

If that’s not luck, I don’t know what is.

What Do You Give The Girl Who Has Everything?

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I was really stumped this year when my husband asked what I wanted from Santa.  Every other year this has been a question with an obvious answer, even if it did not make it into words, even if it stayed locked in the deepest, darkest part of my heart.  There were years when I didn’t have words to ask, because I was too young.  There were more years when it would have been dangerous to ask, because there was no chance of success, and a certainty of having my dream held up for public mockery.  There were years when it was pointless to ask, because I the resources weren’t there.  But there were countless years when I didn’t ask because I’d had to bury the dream so deeply that I hardly even remembered it was there.

But my heart’s desire was always there, whether right on top, or stored carefully away for safe-keeping.  It’s been there.

What do I want from Santa?

I want a horse, of course.

Who wouldn’t want a horse, for pete’s sake?  Santa, bring me a pony.  A real pony, not a rocking horse, not a toy.  A living, breathing, running-around-warm-whiskery-kisses horse.  A horse with personality.  A horse I can love and that would love me back.  A horse that I can say is my horse, and I can play with it and comb it and take care of it and teach it things and it can teach me things and make messes and play with me.  A real horse.  That’s what I want.  That’s what I’ve always wanted.

Some years I wanted a palomino.  Some years, I wanted an Appaloosa.  Some years I wanted a draft horse.  Once I wanted a paint.  But it’s horses, all the way down.

What do I want from Santa?

A horse.

This is the problem, you see.  Now I have Huey the Wonder Horse.  My deepest heart’s desire has been fulfilled. He’s here.  And I’m here.  And it’s just as wonderful as I always knew it would be.

I was right to want a horse.  It’s amazing.

But now, I don’t really want anything at all.  I have a horse.  What else could there be?

I don’t want to see the world.  First, I’ve seen quite a bit of it, and I enjoyed the hell out of that – I have particularly fond memories of a tiny little restaurant in Florence, and of Amnesia Coffeeshop in Amsterdam, and of the Irish coast, and the rooftops of Paris.  I’d love to see those things again, and expand…except that means I wouldn’t get to see Huey.  Uh-oh.  “Exciting Foreign Travel” turns out to be a lot lower on my Wish List than “Have A Horse”.

I don’t want expensive jewelry.  I can’t wear big earrings under my helmet, and besides, they’d just make Huey’s paddock buddy Tango want to chew on my ears.  Necklaces?  Can’t see them through my barn coat.  Rings?  Given that I washed my hands three (3) times this morning after going down to give Huey a nice brush-out and they still smelled like him after that, I don’t think I’d dare to wear a swankier ring than my titanium wedding band.

Clothes?  Got that already.  There is a wet-weather riding coat I’ve got my eye on from an ad in Dressage Today.  So maybe that’s still on the list.

Perfume?  It better go with the Eau Du Huey, since it’s obvious that I can’t actually get that out of my skin.

What is there to want, after I’ve received my heart’s desire?

More.  More years with Roy and Buster and Huey.  More years of riding and purring and loving.  I want more time, and I want that time to be filled with exactly the same kind of thing it’s filled with now.  I want to preserve these moments, and have them never end.

That, of course, is the one thing that is completely impossible.  These days will pass away, I will age and die, as will Roy, Buster, and Huey.  This will be a perfectly miserable experience, very likely made even worse by having had what I have right now.  And yet, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m grateful to have found Roy, despite the myriad complications that he’s introduced into my life over the years.  I’m glad that Erica at the Dane County Humane Society was on the desk when Animal Control brought in Buster’s broken, wild little body, and she persuaded the Powers That Be to fix him up, and she fostered him until he was ready to find his forever home with me.  I’m glad that Laura was at the auction when Huey came up, and persuaded herself to get him and fix him up, and fostered him until he was ready to join Buster as part of my menagerie.  I’m grateful for all of it, and grateful to play my role in providing the forever homes.  I’m grateful that I have the time and resources to seize my dream and inhabit it.

Damn, I’m lucky.  So, Santa, the only real wish I have is to keep what I’ve got.  And to have the strength to navigate the inevitable time when this wish proves impossible to fulfill.  And to keep seizing the moment, and keep recognizing the opportunities, and to keep encountering – with good fortune and an open heart – those who will open these doors for me.

That’s all that’s left, once you have a horse.

With that, I share the fruits of my evening with YouTube, which turns out to be a repository of Real Life Hallmark Moments.

Now, this is what I call a suitable response…tears:

This is too darling for words:

This is the shortest, but possibly  my favorite:

Shoulda Taken That Left Turn At Albuquerque…

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I have survived the Grading Tsunami, I have moved most of the urgent work off of my plate, and I am on that most treasured perk for the college professor:  Winter Break.  Hallelujah.

Last week, when the Grade Flood was peaking (and thanks to the schedule change from the Halloween Blizzard, I was still teaching at the same time) I fired off a note in desperation to my spouse.  He’d spirited the son of the house off to the City for an extended trip, and been instructed not to call home unless someone was hospitalized or dying.  This is because prior to his departure for the City, every thirty or forty minutes saw him entering my study – while I was slaving away at the bottomless pit of grading – to sit in my chair, my comfy upholstered armchair, put his feet up on my comfy upholstered ottoman, and start to chat.  Not even background chatter that I could ignore (even if I wanted to ignore the appropriation of my favorite chair and the constant reminder that I had hours to go before I sleep).  He was peppering me with questions.  Questions about activities two weeks hence, questions about spring break, questions about the class he is teaching this spring, questions about how we planned to schedule our entire summer, questions about taxes, and – this is sort of the icing on the cake – midweek, he decided to refinance the house.

No, really.

And it’s ultimately a good thing, too, because we were able to grab an obscenely low rate, thus shortening the mortgage and reducing the monthly payment.  But still.  Launching this process in when I’m so far under work that I can’t even see the end of my own nose…

Let’s say this:  Usually I hate it when we’re apart.  But not last week.  No.

So there we were, communicating strictly by e-mail due to the Phone Call Ban, and when I hit the last 15% of the work – which, bizarrely, is the hardest to do, for some reason, because you’re almost done – I fired off a note in a bottle, and asked him if he could make an overnighter happen up by my ski hill.  And, Gd bless him, because he’s the kind of guy who can refi a house and drop the term and the payments, he did.

Sunday morning saw me free and clear of the grading and the rest of it, and loading up the car to head north.  That sounds so…simple…doesn’t it?  Toss a bag and the skis into the car, hop in, and drive away?  The better image would be one of dismantling, packing, and loading an entire caravanserai encampment, complete with bad tempered camels with bells on.  Or possibly, the Normandy Invasion.

Clothing was the least of it.  We were both wearing our outdoor active wear (thermals, softshells, parkas), and all the packing involved a pair of jeans, shoes, sweaters, and pajamas for both.  That was easy.

The caravansary bit was the three pairs of skis, the two pairs of poles, the giant backpack boot bag (mine), the loose ski boots (his), the shopping bag full of helmet, gloves, goggles, handwarmers, scarves, snow sunglasses, and more gloves (his).  Oh, yes, and the Thermanator.  The last being an essential component of any multi-day ski trip.  It’s the boot dryer and warmer.  Without the Thermanator, day two involves wrestling your feet into a pair of cold, damp ski boots.  Getting the ski boots on is a battle under the best of circumstances, due to the super-snug fit, the zillion buckles and straps, and the rigid superstructure.  Doing it when they’re damp is a recipe for frustration.  You’ll be dripping with sweat from the experience before you even leave the lodge, which means you’re going to freeze your ass off in the lift.  Dry boots = Good boots.  Warm boots = Better boots.  And the Thermanator is what makes this all happen.  Does it for the gloves, too, which is a huge Plus.

The angry camel with bells bit was the Honda Accord, our current Ski-Mobile.   The car, I should say, is extremely comfortable and runs like a dream.  It handles like a dream, up to a certain point (see earlier post “Michael Rennie Was Ill…” for details about conditions under which the Accord does not handle like a dream).  It’s not exactly the car, it’s the lack of certain essential Ski-Mobile features.  In particular, the absence of a roof rack.

The lack of a roof rack is not in itself a killer.  After all, there’s a little drop-down hole between the trunk and the back seat that is sized perfectly for a couple of two-by-fours, or for two pairs of cross-country skis and poles outside of a bag…as long as each ski/pole combination was thoroughly bound together with Velcro straps.

Last year, we discovered that with some ingenuity and application of superior spatial skills (mine), the hole can also be caused to accommodate a single cross-country ski/pole combo (strapped) and one pair of Volkl Tierra all-mountain skis.  The poles for those are short enough to wedge into the trunk.  It was a close fit because the shovels on the Tierras are 128s, which makes them fairly wide, and they have a moderately early rise even though they are not rockered.

Something you can take away, in confidence, from this last sentence is that I have a passion for gear.  It is not as intense as my passion for Huey, but I certainly have it with his gear too (which is why he has a total of four blankets, a high-end saddle, and flexible jointed stirrups).  It is also not as intense as my passion for skiing, but skiing is necessarily a gear-intensive sport, and when you mix a passion for skiing with a passion for gear, stuff is going to happen.  Large, expensive stuff, that is.

So…for most of last winter, we crammed the Tierras and Roy’s XC skis in through the little pass-through hole.  And this worked like a charm until the spring, when it became clear that the Tierras – amazing little bits of engineering – were as useful on the spring snow as a pair of ice-skates is on a running stream.  They’re stiff, they’re short, they’re narrow-ish (shovels aside).  They’re basically an ice-skate in the form of a ski.  They’re meant for skiing on ice.  Which we get a lot of, around here.  Mushy soft snow, they just sink like rocks, with my feet attached.

So, darn, it was time to make another gear investment.  This time in a pair of rockin’ hot Rossignol powder skis with cutting edge technological improvements, major rocker, and cambered like crazy as well.  For the non-ski-gearheads, this means that this pair of skis is fat, long, and curves up a lot on the front and back ends.  So as bulky as the Tierras are, they can’t begin to compare with the volume of space consumed by the Rossis.  The day of the pass-through hole was over.

With a few minutes of research, I determined we could drop the entire back seat, which goes down in a half-ass kind of way, not flat at all, but canted up.  The mass of the Rossis + the canted up shelf of the seat means that I can’t just stick them straight in, or the trunk won’t close.  No, there are only two ways these skis will go in the car.  At an angle.  Back left corner of the trunk to hang the tips over the right front edge of the folded-down seat.  Way #2 is angling them in the opposite direction.  Add to this the Tierras, the poles, and my massive backpack  boot-bag, and the camel is already fully loaded.

The nice thing about camels is that there’s usually room for more, so when, on Sunday, we added into the mix Roy’s season rental gear – a third pair of skis, a second pair of poles, the loose boots – and his regular derelict shopping bag with all the rest, the car held it.  It wasn’t pretty.  I did discover that the funky angle of the back seat creates a space that is the perfect size to tuck in the Thermanator, though.

And off we went.  I skied the WRODs on Sunday while Jeff spent the morning hiking in the hills.  He can do this because there is no snow other than what is being made.  It’s a scene right out of  “White Christmas” – I keep expecting to see a troupe of rusticating New York showgirls, and hear people break into songs about snow.

The hill was blowing enough snow on Sunday to open a new run:  Ridge.  It is a source of ongoing contention over whether Cascade and Canyon, or Ridge, is the most difficult blue on the hill.  It took me a full month last year to work up the nerve to ski down Ridge.  It’s a great run, but there definitely are some excitingly precipitous drops.  This is the blue run that collects the skiers at the top, where everyone stands around discussing it and deciding whether to try it or not.  On Sunday, the snow was fresh, the conditions were great, and I said Let’s Go.  To myself, because I almost always ski alone.  I made it down safely and in control. It wasn’t pretty, but it was in control.  Then I did it again, because I could.  Then I knocked off because I needed to save something for Monday.

Roy laid his First Tracks on Monday.  He’s strictly a novice skier.  His form, while not au courant, consisting entirely of an endless series of tiny, tight wedge christies.  He stays safe and in control, and he makes it down the hill, and he has fun.  But he was worried – understandably – that he’d have Forgotten It All over the summer.  So I promised to ski with him all morning.

We started out on the bunny hill.  I ripped down, and Roy laid a trail like a garter snake.  We took the lift up and did it again.  Then, I said, “Enough of this, let’s go to the summit and take the green cruiser down, you’re absolutely fine for that.”

And he was.  I skied ahead, and I stopped, and watched him come down.  Then I skied ahead, and stopped, and watched him come down.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  He was doing great with his tight tiny little turns. After several of these, I looked down the hill and saw where the trail curves off to head into the terrain park, and said “Stay out of Carinthia!” and headed down to find another place to pull off and watch Roy come down.

And, surprisingly, headed into some pretty good snow. The quality of snow on this green cruiser usually sucks.  Ordinarily, it sucks, because the way an incompetent snowboarder who ought to be out on the bunny hill deals with an incline is to set the back edge of the damn board parallel to the face of the hill, and scrape right down the center of the thing.  This has the same effect as a snowplow scraping on the road.  It moves all the nice loose snow to the edges of the trails, leaving an icy scraped up swatch in the middle where everyone else wants to do their turns.  And, this being a green slope, and the people on it for the most part lacking a lot of control or much experience at all, they can’t recognize or avoid the icy scraped up bits, and so those areas are also littered with fallen human beings.  I hate this, because it’s totally avoidable.  People ought to stay on the bunny hill until they learn to control their speed by making turns, not by scraping up the damn mountain. Boo. Hiss.

So I was surprised to find myself in nice conditions, and I figured that they must have been blowing snow recently, and what with it being a Monday morning and all, the incompetent boarders hadn’t had a chance to screw up the run.  It was also a super fun bit of the trail, and it was empty and I was able to just bomb right down it, having a blast all the way.  I saw a good spot to pull over and wait for Roy.

And I waited.  And I waited.  There was a group of people standing around at the top of the hill having a good social yak.  Eventually, some of them turned off to the park and others came down.  And I still waited.  There was another clot of people standing around.  That’s when the penny dropped:  Roy must have fallen down, and it must have been pretty huge fall because he hadn’t gotten himself up and followed me down.  Oh, my Gd.  My husband was back up the hill, bleeding and broken, and I was all the way downslope.  And the people were standing around waiting for the ski patrol.  Oh, my Gd.

I whipped off my skis, shouldered them up, walked over to the trail margin, and started to hike back up.  This is worse than it sounds, because these were still my huge Rossis, and ski boots weren’t made for hiking, and one of the reasons I downhill ski instead of cross-country ski is because I got sick last year and my aerobic capacity has been completely trashed ever since.  I get out of breath walking my skis across the parking lot.  I get out of breath if I try to walk a normal pace, or walk slow and carry a conversation.  And here I was, hiking up a hill in inappropriate gear, carrying a big bulky package, and doing it in knee-deep snow.  It was awful.  I could only go three paces and then I’d have to stop and catch my breath.  And this was a considerable hill, too.

In fact, on those many, many rest stops as I cursed my inability to get up the hill any faster, hoping that my husband was not concussed and bleeding out of sight and dying while I was poking my way up the hill…I had  a good chance to take in the view.  Ordinarily, I can’t do that, because I need to pay attention to the surface and the contour of the hill.  The view was great.  And, come to think of it, this hill was a lot more contoured than I remembered being the case for that green cruiser.  And it was a lot wider than my memory of the green cruiser indicated, too.  And the snow was better, and there weren’t the usual clumps of noobs, other than the people standing around at the top of the hill in clumps.

The truth had a good long while to dawn on me, as I hiked back up the hill.

“Fuck” I said to myself, as it dawned.  “This isn’t the green cruiser at all.  I took a wrong turn. This is Ridge.

And so it was.  The clumps of people were not hanging about inspecting the broken body of my spouse.  He was nowhere to be seen.  They were the usual clumps of people trying to decide whether they had the huevos to Take Ridge.  And I’d gone bombing down it – granted, the upper portion which doesn’t feature the really hairy drops – and not even realized I’d taken a blue.

News Flash: I don’t need to be worried any more about my competence.

News Flash: Roy showed uncommonly good sense in not following me.

News Flash: Crap, the rookie skier I’d promised to shepherd along just watched me scrape him off as I whizzed down a difficult blue, and now he’s loose on this hill somewhere, alone.  Rats.

I set out to find him, and changed my skis while I was at it, as we’d gone to definitely more “ice” than “snow” thanks to the high winds and rising temps, and took another turn down Ridge.  Thank heavens I hiked back up – the big drop off was absolutely littered with softball sized chunks of rock hard ice (the technical term for these is “Death Cookies”) and this would not have played well with my powder skis at all.  And I buzzed down the green slope, Roy still nowhere to be seen.  I found him only after camping at a major intersection for about 20 minutes.  He did think I’d tried to scrape him off, but miraculously, he wasn’t pissed about it.    Thank heavens for a good marriage.  Thank heavens he wasn’t hurt.  Thank heavens he had a good time.  Thank heavens I get to go again on Sunday.  Now it’s time to pay a visit to my other Grand Passion, Huey.

Next up, Fallen Timbers, my pet Black Diamond. Ah, I guess I ought to wait until there is snow cover on it.