Things I Learned From The White Ribbon Of Death


I had my first Ski Day of the season yesterday.  It was my prize for wrapping up most of the grading for the term we have just completed.  Grading is such a wretched nuisance that it requires either a carrot or a stick, or – in the case of Roy – both at the same time.  Me, I do better with carrots.  And what nicer carrot than a day on the hill, the first day of skiing since Seasonus Interruptus back in early March, and to have that day without a ginormous pile of nasty grading sitting in front of me?

No nicer carrot.  There’s not much I love more in the winter than a Ski Day.

So I took one.  Or, rather, I should say, I took a Ski Run.  As in one (1) run.  It was a One-Run-And-Done day, the kind that make a person grateful for the possession of a season pass.  This isn’t any shame on my hill, no, not by any means.  Given the weather lately, it’s a miracle that they were able to open at all.  We haven’t had any snow yet, and while it was nice and cold for a week after Thanksgiving – cold enough to blow some great snow from the fan guns – we’ve had a crummy, nasty, disgusting warmup over the past week.  Unseasonably warm temps.  And rain.

Rain.  We hates seeing rain in the winter.  We hates it, the nassssty.  It makes the air damp.  Nice snow, that doesn’t make a damp that will creep into any gap between buttons and zippers and send a clammy chill straight through to the bone.  It also trashes the slopes, nasssty rain.  It sucks the snow off, and it washes it away, and then it freezes what’s left, rock hard.

We HATES rain in the winter time.

And that brings me to Sunday, the day after a three-day thaw and a day and a half of rain and drizzle.  I knew in advance that the skiing was going to suck.  There’s a limit to even the greatest ingenuity, dedication, and skill, and we were well past that.  I knew.

But I also knew it had been two hundred and sixty-six (266) days since I’d had sticks in between my feet and a snowy hill.  And, you know, even I have my Limits.

So off I went, toting two pairs of skis along with me.  My big fat ultra-fun Rossignol S7Ws powder hounds, and my Volkl Tierra ice skates.  Both needed a wax-off, wax-on treatment from the shop on the hill, and by the time that was done, I’d have plenty of chance to hang out in the unseemly warm air and watch the hill.  And that’s when the learning started.

What I Learned From My One Ski Day, or Lessons From The White Ribbon Of Death

1. When the hill has been open for three weeks, and it hasn’t snowed yet, the conditions are going to be bad.

2. When there are only three top-to-bottom runs open on the entire mountain, conditions are going to be bad.  This is because every other desperate ski-deprived athlete in a four-state region is going to be skiing on the same three runs.  And in New England, we don’t have none of them stinkin’ wide-open ranges covered with thick drifts of powdery snow.  We have tight, twisty, narrow runs with precipices falling off to the side and covered in ice, just like Jesus wanted.  So not only is every ski-deprived athlete in a four-state region out on the runs, but  the runs themselves are 20 or 30 feet wide.  Which sounds like a lot…until you’re actually out on it.

3. Stop. Watch. Listen.  Then the VSR (Visual Slope Readings) return the information that there are multiple individuals wiping out at one time, or walking down the hill with skis slung over the shoulder, OR you can hear every snowboarder scraping their way down the hill, it does not matter how many Mary Sunshine Optimists promise you that the conditions “are soft”.  Take your ice skis not the powder skis.

4. The size of the critical mass of neophyte snowboarders required to completely plow loose snow off the surface and push it to the sides or the bottom of the slope, leaving only a bullet-proof crust of textured boilerplate ice, is never large under the best of circumstances.  When there are only two runs available and they are only 30 feet wide and there has been no fresh snow in three or four days, that critical mass consists of two. One 12 year old girl, and her brother.

5. Powder skis are not a good choice for icy conditions.  That’s cheating – I knew that one from last year when I lost five years off my life diving down a black diamond at Jiminy Peak on my fatty girls.  It got reinforced again.

6. It is possible to ski in control and brake on icy bullet-proof boilerplate, but doing so requires major effort from the quadriceps.  Times five if you’re doing that on a big fat pair of noodly powder skis.

7. The quadriceps muscles used to brake under those conditions do not, ever, get used in any other activity than skiing.

8. Items 5, 6, and 7 are raised to the tenth power when the slopes in question are covered with every ski-deprived athlete in a four-state region, including all of the ones who would otherwise be spending 100% of their time on the black diamonds or in the terrain park and every never-ever who decided to blow off lessons in favor of just winging it as they go.  Also, swarms of children under the age of 6.

9. And that goes times 100 when the runs are 20 or 30 feet wide, with dirt, rocks, branches, and logs on the edges where the actual snow has been plowed off.

10. It’s never too early to hit the bar in the lodge for a Cold One.  If the bar is open, it’s Miller Time.

Now, you may be saying, Lori, you know that powder skis are a bad choice when it’s icy. Whatever possessed you to take those things up in those conditions?

And to that I say It was warm, and I expected to be skiing on slush, not ice.  And the incremental danger of having ice-skis on slush is marginally higher than that of having powder-skis on ice.

The good news is I survived, the better news is I had the good judgment to bail out after one run, and the best news is that my favorite bartenders are back this year.

Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, today is the last day for a while of crappy warm weather and rain, and they’ll be able to blow some more snow soon.  I still feel like I’m waiting to ski.


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 will take you right there.

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