Well, we’ve just gotten our first National Weather Service alert of the season. I don’t include the Halloween Blizzard alerts, because that was in the Fall, and that’s a different season. This is the first one of the winter season. And, I say, it’s about damn time.
I don’t reckon I’ve seen the bare earth this late in a winter since I started hanging out in New England. It’s all brown and crispy outside, and it looks like November. Even the big snow drought I remember from the winter of 2006-2007 had resolved by this point. Here it is, January 11, and I haven’t had to wear my snow boots since Halloween. I haven’t had to shovel, park my car in the municipal ramp, ice the back steps, rake the roof, scrape the car, or find my Yak Trax. I can wear any shoes I want to. Ordinarily by this time, I’d already be sick of my snow boots, duck shoes, clogs, and scruffy all-weather mocs. Hmm…the more I think about this, the brighter that silver lining is shining.
On the other hand, Vermont has had next-to-no snow either, and while the Snow Gods at my Home Mountain do an absolutely brilliant job of making snow – all those fan guns, you know – and they definitely focus on quality – there’s a limit to the coverage that can be expected. Right now they’re making snow on a part of the mountain that usually doesn’t get man-made snow, and I’m thrilled. It’s my favorite part of the mountain. And the tradeoff to their commitment to quality is a sacrifice of quantity. You don’t get as many runs open, but the ones you do have are in very good condition. I fully support this philosophy – I’d rather have three snowy runs than 10 icy ones. But still. I want to pull Mother Nature out of bed to deliver us a good thick base so’s they can open the rest of the hill.
Not like the snowmakers have been able to keep up with things anyway – I just read a report that said that the average rainfall per week this winter up on the mountain is close to two inches. The usual ratio around here, for your information, is about one inch of rain to six inches of snow. So, yeah, this means that we should have been getting a foot of fresh snow every week this winter. Instead, the rain falls, and makes ice.
I love to ski. I am a fanatical skiier. In short bursts, but with great frequency. I look at the ski hill the same way a six year old looks at the Magic Kingdom.
But I do not love to ski on ice. I do not like to ski on solid ice, I do not like to ski on big busted up chunks of ice, I do not like to ski on pulverized ice. And I really do not like to ski on Dust On Crust. Another colorful and highly evocative bit of Ski Jargon for you non-skiers out there. Dust On Crust is exactly what it sounds like: a thick crust of ice, covered with a film of powdery snow or pulverized ice chips. The stuff is impossible. If you set an edge, you skis will act like ice skates, shooting you forward at increasing speed. While this is thrilling to watch when Olympians do it on a flat indoor rink, it’s more than thrilling when it’s you doing it on the side of a mountain. So setting an edge is…undesirable. Problem is, setting an edge is typically how you execute a turn, and turns are how you control your speed. When you’ve got Dust On Crust, the best approach seems to be skidded turns. These turns are noisy and inefficient, and if you are doing one and happen to run into a random stash of Dust, you’re in trouble.
The analogy that the women in my online ski group provided when I asked about the best approach to Dust On Crust was to think of smearing your turns, like you’d smear butter on a piece of bread.
Only, in this case, the butter knife is five feet long and weighs twenty pounds, the butter is a pile of powdered sugar, and the bread is week-old poundcake, stale, brittle, and crumbly.
Thanks to a combination of rain, temperatures swinging between absurdly high (upper 40s) and arctic-ally low (2), high traffic (the Xmas week was followed in quick succession by College Week One and College Week Two) and a dearth of natural snow, we’ve been seeing a lot of Dust On Crust.
The College Weeks are coming to an end with MLK weekend, as is my winter break. And I’ve had a wicked bad cold all week. I think I coughed up a lung yesterday morning. I’ll spare the details on that, but…damn.
And my silver lining to all this? The confluence of factors. The snow has been shitty for most of this time, and I’ve been too sick to consider skiing (which says a lot about how sick I’ve been…my usual philosophy is that my nose is going to run anyway, so why worry?)
What I don’t know is which cloud has the silver lining.
Is it that I don’t mind being sick so much because the snow would have been crummy anyway?
Or is it that I don’t mind the snow being so crummy because I’m too sick to ski on it?
Either way, it looks like things may be coming to a resolution: Herb, the Skiing Weatherman, hit it squarely on the nose again with his prediction last week that we here in New England were going to have to put up with one more sloppy weather system before seeing Winter advance upon us properly. And, by golly, here it is, exactly when he predicted it. The guy is a genius.
The only question, as I understand it, is exactly what the track of this storm will be, and when the cold weather will be arriving. Herb expects us to get “frozen ‘stuff'”, and “dense frozen material.” These are technical terms with which I was previously unfamiliar, but I have to say – after spending time in New England winters for 6 years and living here for another 3, I know exactly what he means by “frozen stuff”.
Herb has a silver lining on this, too…the “frozen stuff” lies down on the trails that haven’t had snowmaking, and provides something for the snow he’s forecasting for later to stick to. Of course, it also means that the in-use trails have to get resurfaced…again…(for at least the sixth time this season, according to Mount Snow) but, hey, when the silver lining bites you in the seat, you go with it.
I am going with it. And I hope I am going to go ski on Friday, because I’m just better enough from the Lung Crud That Ate New York to be jonesing over the time that’s elapsed since I skied last. And in the meantime, I’m going to scratch my other jones with a riding lesson…regrettably, not on Huey the Wonder Horse, because the barn doesn’t have an indoor ring and the outdoor ring is unsuitable for riding at this time. I’m going to ride another horse, one that I’ve ridden before once, and – if I recall correctly – has an iron mouth and iron sides to go with it. My main though after riding this other horse before was that if I spent much time on him, I’d be able to crack walnuts between my inner thighs. I’ve gotten spoiled, riding Huey, and I’m pretty sure that this other horse is the very one to prove that to me. With any luck, it will snow in Vermont, stop snowing by Friday morning so I can drive up, and I won’t be crippled from issuing the Trot You Bastard Death Grip for forty minutes today.