Silver Linings

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Well, it finally snowed.  And snowed and snowed.  One Snow Day turned into two, and the upshot is that we wound up with 8″ on the roof, a Thoroughly Solid performance on the part of the Weather Fairies who have been AWOL all winter.  The ski hill got nearly 20″.  And, somehow, it managed to be a Mixed Blessing, and the weather is still entirely Psycho.

The part I’m not so keen on:

Huey the Wonder Horse is too bored for words, and he’s got a lot of energy, and he’s smart as a whip, and anyone who’s ever been around a super-bright, highly-active, ultra-bored six year old knows that this combination is a Recipe for Major Trouble.  This took the form of getting mouthy, and being impatient in the ties, and escalating all of that to being nippy which is one step before being bitey.  And a Bitey Horse is a very, very bad thing to be.  The best possible cure for all of this, I suspect, will be to get his big red butt back into work.  This guy needs to be ridden.  Lots.

The problem is that the only other teensy-weensy little storm we had this winter – about eight weeks ago – dropped four or five inches of wet snow on the ground that promptly turned into ice.

The thing that people who do not live in the North do not know about snow is that it lasts forever.  In the South, see, it snows sometimes, and then the sun goes away and all of it melts.  If you’re not a morning person, the entire cycle might complete before you brush your teeth.  So southerners, and Texans, all consider snow to be a breathtakingly ephemeral phenomenon.

It came as a huge shock to me when I moved north, therefore, to find out that snow never goes away.  It falls onto the ground, and the sun hits it, and it just softens up.  It doesn’t melt.  If it’s been pushed up into piles, by a plow, snow shovel, or pack of small snowman-building kids, it can stay, under full sunlight and temperatures approaching summer-like, for months.  Really.  All of the parking lots in the north develop gigantic, ugly, dirty grey mountains somewhere around the third or fourth snowfall of the winter…and they will still be there in May.
In the woods, where it’s shady and undisturbed, could be June before it’s all gone.

Which is why, even though it had been eight weeks and a pishkele snowfall, with many episodes of bizarrely warm weather, the ring was still under a layer of ice and snow.  It’s been melting for weeks of course, but “melting” isn’t the same thing as “melted” when it comes to saddling up a thousand-pound animal with hair-trigger reflexes and four months of excess energy to work off.  For that, we want “melted”.  Preferably “dry” and “soft”.

The thing is, we were almost there.  On Wednesday, when my trainer hit Huey’s reset button with 40 minutes of work in the round pen – turning him not just back into the sweet-natured boy I remember, but into a veritable Pocket Pony, there was only a 6′ x 6′ patch of snowy crusty icy stuff left in the ring.  Enough, really, to think about just shoveling it out and getting to work.

On Wednesday, thirty minutes after my trainer hit Huey’s reset button, it started to snow.  And it snowed, and snowed, and snowed, and now the ring is under a crust of snow and ice that is twice as thick as the first batch ever was, and I’m feeling like it will be June before I can get Huey riding again.  And in the meantime, I’m afraid, he’s going to be bored bored bored bored only with even more energy, it being spring and all. So the snow can’t leave the barn soon enough for my tastes.

The ski hill is another matter.  This nice big late storm gave me an opportunity to score on a long-standing desire: I wanted to learn to Ski Powder.  I have the tools – my Goth Girl skis, the Rossignol S7Ws, were born for riding powder.  People think I’m insane for driving them all over a mountain in New England, because they are so obviously a Powder Ski.  Or, in the words of the guy from the ski shop I met on the lift, “Those things are monsters.  Or, in the words of a different guy from the ski shop I was talking to about emerging technologies in women’s skis, “If you’ve been riding those all winter, on this mountain, you would definitely be able to handle men’s skis.”  He was saying this, by the way, because the men’s skis have better technology (meaning: rocker) than women’s – they tell me it takes a while for New Stuff to get incorporated into women’s gear.  Don’t even get me started on that.  My Plan A for Friday skiing had been to demo some off those other men’s skis, as I’m looking for a heavily rockered, cambered, all-mountain ski.  Because while I adore my Rossis, they are the tiniest bit more challenging to get on edge (it’s that 110 waist, you know) and they are the tiniest bit noodly on longish stretches of hard-pack.  I’d like something built for the tiniest bit more edge and the tiniest bit narrower through the waist.

Plan A got completely turned over when the storm came, because it lasted twice as long and left twice as much snow on the ground as expected.  And in Vermont, it was powder.  The skis were leaping up like a pair of over-excited puppies, what was I going to say?  No, you girls stay home, I’m going to go try some skinner skis?  I don’t think so.  Out we went, and up to the Ski School desk did I go.  Fortune, which was already smiling enough to deliver 20″ of powder to my ski mountain, cracked a broader grin, and supplied an instructor for a private lesson at the last minute.

Life Is Good, I tell you.

So on Friday, I learned to ski powder, at last.  I won’t say I bag Style Points, because I don’t.  But I don’t bag Broken Leg Points, or Torn ACL Points, or Yard Sale Points, because I don’t do that either.  I finished up the experience as a marginally competent powder skier.  I am informed by the many, many people who stopped to chat with my ski instructor, that the process was significantly complicated by the fact that other people had been skiing over this powder for several hours before I got there.  They referred to it as “junk”, “crud”, “oh my god”, and “cut-up powder”.  What I know is that skiing that stuff made me appreciate the wide-planked stability of my sticks at a deep, visceral level.  The experience had a lot more in common with water-skiing an ocean during a tropical storm than it did with snow-skiing a groomer.  Even a crud-covered groomer.  And it’s not just because the Rossis are shaped like water skis – they are, and now I know why.  To say that the snow was throwing me around would be putting the matter very lightly.  And I’m not easy to toss around.  I’m a strapping great lass, as my granny used to say, and I’ve got powerful leg muscles and know how to use them.  Ultimately, I got everything in train and stopped getting tossed around…but it took the better part of two hours.

And by then, I realized, my legs were about to fall off.  I’ve heard people say this about skiing powder, that’s it’s absolutely deadly to the quads.  Quite true, too.  And to the knees.  And to the hip flexors.  And to the shoulders.  I’m used to skiing on hard surfaces of some kind, and didn’t fully grasp the “plant” part of the term “pole plant”.  Pole plants, here, mean that you tap the pole lightly on the hard surface as part of your turn initiation.  On powder, a pole plant means that your pole has been planted, like a charity sapling or a rosebush.  It’s in that stuff, and it requires effort to remove it before it gets skied over.

Oy.  I went home and chewed a stick of ginger the size of my finger in an effort to ward of post-exertional muscle soreness.  It worked, too.

Then it rained, and it got freakishly warm again for a short period, and then the bottom fell out of the thermometer and the entire soft hill froze up hard, so that yesterday, it wasn’t worth taking my Rossis at all.  It was a day for the Tierras, my Ice Skis.  And a jolly good decision that was as well.  The hills was hard as a rock, with a layer of pulverized ice on top.  Not usually my favorite conditions, but I was surprised (and happy) to find that the powder skiing lessons were paying dividends even on this entirely different surface and on these entirely different skis.  In other words, I was skiing the ice like a god.  Or a goddess, I suppose.  Either way, it was bluebird skies, cold air, an empty hill, and skiing right onto the lifts.  Heaven, in short.

Now if I can only keep that snow while getting rid of the stuff in the arena.

Here’s the last run of the day, wherein I was lucky enough to find someone I knew.

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About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner Oldsmobile...it will take you right there.

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