Who needs heroin when you have bluebird skies, a mountain covered in packed powder, and a hard-core rockin’ awesome pair of skis?
Yep, today was The Day. All season we’ve been skiing on a quarter, maybe a third of the mountain, covered with the best snow man can make. But it’s still a small number of trails, and it’s still man-made snow. Any skiing is better than no skiing, and this has not, by any stretch been just “any” skiing. It’s been good skiing. Occasionally it’s been very good skiing. But it’s also been crowded skiing.
Crowded slopes are not where I’ve been “at” lately, either. Some of this has to do with the fact that I’ve been religiously riding my Godamighty Goth Girl skis, aka the Rossignol S7Ws, intensely rockered, reverse cambered, powder skis. Yes. I’ve been riding fatties on the hills of New England. And yes, it’s awesome. Mostly because of that “rocker” thing, which makes my skis twirl flick effortlessly from side to side, while floating like a surfboard on a sea of crud, pow, and crust. And that “reverse camber” thing which means that – with a little extra effort, yes – I can pop those suckers up on their edges and carve and carve and carve. Granted, the turning radius is 14.8 meters, which means that if I drift a carved turn (i.e., let the ski do all the turning for me) I wind up 80 feet down the slope from where I started, just on the basis of one turn. The major-league rocker, though, lets me pop some fairly snappy turns, on edge, without full carving.
In short, my skis mean that I want to cover rather more of the slope than if I were riding a more conventional New England ski.
The rest of my issue with the crowds is that this year, I’m learning to deal with speed. Last year, I looked like the World’s Slowest Ski Instructor, going down some pretty steep hills, in good form, at a snail’s pace. Or, maybe, the pace of a slow-moving dog. Unless I’m on a green, I’m used to being the slowest person on the hill.
We’re past that now. This year, it’s about speed. It’s about learning – in my bones – that sometimes the safest thing to do is to go fast. I don’t mean “blasting down the hill out of control in a straight line” fast. That’s dangerous and I think people who do that kind of thing ought to get a choice between taking 3 days of lessons or getting exiled from the hill, all for the safety of others. No, I’m talking about the narrow-track snappy-turn popping straightish line down the hill. Closest thing you get to a zipper line without skiing the bumps. I’m there. Fast enough to hear the wind blow past my ears.
This is not OK to do on crowded slopes. Too many haphazard skiers, for one, making peculiar turns, suddenly changing direction into a traverse across the slope, stopping, sitting, standing around to have a chat. It’s dangerous to ski with any real speed in those conditions. So I’ve been hitting the hill early, and bailing out before lunchtime, when all the people come out of the woodwork.
This all changed last week, when we got our first real snowstorm of the year. The hill received 17 inches of powder over 48 hours. And then I left it to them to ski up and groom and ski up and groom, and make the runs nice and flat, the way I like it. And up we went at the crack of dawn this morning.
When the car thermometer registered -5. That’s not Celsius, people. It’s Fahrenheit. Five below zero, F.
Our drive up to the mountain takes us through some of the loveliest countryside invented by the gods or imagined by the painters. And now that there’s a thick blanket of snow covering the massive scars to the landscape left by the hurricane and flood in August, it’s back to its normal Spectacular Beauty. There are hills. There are little red clapboard barns. There are cows and fields. There are little white New England churches with tall steeples, nestled into valleys. There are three-hundred-year-old farmhouses, with fairy lights on the trees and curtains in the windows. There are seamy, disgusting mobile homes with small-scale junkyards in the front lawn. There are sweeping rivers. There are covered bridges (2 of them on the trip). There is a charming small city with blocks of three- and four-story red brick buildings. There are woods, and more woods. There are winding, noisy brooks, tinkling along under a coating of ice and snow. It’s a drive to make the heart smile.
This morning, at 5-below (and, in places, seven-below) I noticed something interesting.
First, the smoke coming up out of the chimneys wasn’t going “up”. It came up and dribbled out, went horizontal for a bit, and then started sinking to the ground. All of them were doing this. Why would smoke be heavy? I do not know.
Second, the big river was steaming. Parts of it were frozen, and the rest had big chunks of ice in it – in the midst of freezing – and it was steaming. Steaming enough that in some places, where the trees grew close to the water, the trees were covered in a frosty rime of ice, and sparkling in the morning sun. How can water that is this cold steam? I do not know.
What I do know is that temperatures this cold make for amazing skiing. Roy dropped me off at the hill and hared off for his own adventure: the first cross-country ski of the year. Touring centers (what you call a cross-country ski area) don’t usually make snow. They have to wait for it to fall from the sky, and to do so in sufficient amounts to handle the traffic from a groomer (not a big snowcat like on the hill, but more like a harrow getting pulled by a snowmobile). This means they need about 6 inches of snow on the ground or so to open. Saturday was the first day where that was true, and Roy hit it like a shot. I would say that he feels the same way about XC skiing as I do about downhill, but that’s not true. He feels the same way about the Yankees and Baseball that I feel about downhill skiing. But he was very excited to hit the trails at last.
Nearly as excited as I was to launch myself up on the lift. My ski area let me know, personally, late last week that they were opening my favorite area of the hill – the side that faces the sun. No, really, they did, and they called me by name when they did it. Talk about your Customer Service. Thank heavens for Facebook.
Plan A: lift up to the summit, ski into Sunbrook, play there for hours.
I executed Phase 1 and 2, and found myself sailing down the big Sunbrook run, wondering what was up with the idiot behind me shrieking out “WOO” the whole way. Oops. I guess that was me.
The Sunbrook lift is the slowest on the hill, taking a very leisurely 10+ minutes to ascent from the bottom of the bowl to the top. It stopped three times, giving me plenty of opportunity to admire the sun, the snow-covered evergreens, the fresh corduroy under the lift-line, and to contemplate a revision to my plan.
The conditions were so good and the mountain so uncrowded at that hour that I thought it would be a good idea to hit the blue runs on the main face, and get in some licks there before they got skied up. And then – maybe, just maybe – if the conditions on the main face were right, I might, just possibly might, head for the North Face. Here Be Blacks. I thought I remembered reading that Fallen Timbers, my pet Black, had been groomed.
Sunbrook is never crowded – the adrenaline junkies don’t like the snail’s pace of the lift, and it’s not on the way to anywhere. You have to take a lift to get out of it. This makes it unattractive to shredding snowboarders looking for park time. And every one of the runs is blue, which keeps the noobs away. It’s heavenly. And I knew it would still be great later on in the morning. So I debarked the lift and headed for the main face. Or where I thought the main face was. The signage in that area isn’t great, and even so, it was still obscured by snow and ice from the storm.
I found myself, holy cow, laying first tracks on some backwoods groomed trail. Fresh cord. Unmarked by any other individual. The idiot behind me hollered “WOO!” again.
Then I received a Sign. A sign and a Sign. The sign said “Fallen Timbers” and the Sign said “Your second run today can be your first Black of the season!” I mean, what kind of feeble, insipid individual would I have had to be to say “Oh, no thank you” to this?
And I did not. Say “no,” that is. I said “YES! MY SECOND RUN TODAY IS A BLACK DIAMOND! I’M GONNA DO IT!!!” and I did.
It was not without excitement. I’d never used that particular access point to the run, and I was unaware that it started off with a short drop in excess of 50 degrees. That, this morning, was covered with ice. And I don’t mean boilerplate or hardpack or frozen granular. I mean ice, like a glacier, ice. Shiny ice. I hit that stuff, and naturally, down I went. Incredibly I didn’t go far – “incredibly” because of the pitch of the hill and I didn’t injure myself in the least and I only lost one ski and it was right there with me – no need to hike – and it was my uphill ski (this is the ski that gets put on last – if it had been the downhill ski, I’d have had to take the other ski off before putting them both back on, or turn around 180 degrees) and I got the ski on no trouble and I sailed right down that run.
Here is a picture of my Black:
And then here, because it’s awesome, is a video of someone else’s trip down. I don’t have the helmet mount for my cam yet, or you’d get to see my run down. Including the wipe-out. This dude skis way faster than I do, because it looks like it takes him only a minute and a half to get down. I think it takes me five minutes. At 1:24 the guy looks back behind him, and you can see the run stretching all the way up to heaven.
He, clearly, does not have an idiot to shriek “WOO!” riding behind him, like I do.
It rocked. It rocked so hard, I don’t have words for it.
What I did do next was to bomb down the blue (from Plan A). Three times. And then, back to Sunbrook, where life was good and living was easy, right up to the point where my fingers started to get cold, even with the hand-warmers in the glove. Because it was, like 18 degrees at the base, still.
That, and a cold beer and a hot meat sandwich, and I’m in heaven, heaven. The fix has to to last me, too, because school starts tomorrow, and there’s no buzz kill like teaching accounting for bonds until 9pm on the first day of the term. But for right now, I’m in heaven…