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.
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.