Life In The Fast Lane, or New England Skiers Have Fifty Words For Ice


New England has the same saying as Texas has, which is “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”.  It’s pretty hackneyed, but this week?  Totally true.

On Sunday, it was zero.

On Monday, there was a snowstorm.  A pitiful excuse for a snowstorm, but a snowstorm nonetheless.

On Tuesday, it rained.

On Wednesday, it was 60 with a pea soup fog.

On Wednesday night, there was a Biblical deluge.

On Thursday, the world blew inside out and then the front came through and froze the lining.

Even in my world, which features endless and bizarre extremes of weather, this was Something New.  A Nine Days’ Wonder.  Something To Write Home About.

Really, too much “weather” in too short a time.

Last weekend, the skiing was superb.  All week it had been colder than the proverbial Brass Monkey and the ski areas went to town making snow.  By Wednesday, the fog was sucking all that nice fresh snow right off the hills, dammit, and by Thursday, what was left was soaking wet, and by Thursday night, it had frozen rock hard.

They weren’t mountains this morning.

They were icebergs.

Icebergs that had been run over and chewed up to 4 inches deep by snowcat grooming machines.

I’ll say now that my home mountain, which remains nameless in this post, has a long and honorable history of terrific snowmaking and grooming.

I’m sure it was a powerful testament to their mountain operations that the runs were open at all today.

Whether that was a good idea or not is another matter.

Roy started off today as he usually does, which is to want to take a run together to bond (see expanded discussion: Of Lice And Men).  Rather predictably, early on in the run he urged me to go off and ski, etc.

The run was in…I search for the right word…it was in APPALLING condition.  I have never seen this run in shape this bad.  It was a nightmare.  The groomers had chewed up 4″ of ice and left the surface littered with chunks of ice ranging in size from “marble” to “grapefruit” with a few “volleyball” in here and there.  Big goddamn chunks of ice everywhere.  The gravelly surface was punctuated here and there with piles of fluffy powder from the snowmaking equipment, which, unfortunately, was not adhering particular well to the real surface, which one one big damn sheet of bullet proof ice.

Was I entirely surprised to get out on the run and find it in that condition?

No, not given the ghastly spectrum of weather that has been hurled at the hill in the last five days.

Was I happy to see it?

Hell no.  And I’m a good skier.  Definitely I’m a pretty good skier, possibly even a very good skier (depending on your reference range…I mean, I’m not even on the spectrum if you define “very” good as “olympic-caliber” or “seen on X games”, but if you define it by reference to “random collection of people seen skiing on the mountain on any given weekend day” yes, I’m “very” good.)  And I was on the right skis for the conditions.  And even I was having a bit of a battle with the surface of that run.  I know how to ski sheets of ice.  I hate it, but I can do it.  I know how to ski a carpet of loose rolling ice balls.  I hate that too, but I can do it.  And I know how to ski lots of loose fluffy manmade snow.  Usually I like that.  Not as fun when it’s covering a sheet of ice and not adhering to that ice well.  But I can do it.

Problem is, you ski these three different surfaces using three very different techniques.  And encountering them randomly within 10 linear feet is no fun at all.

I’d already stopped once to tell Roy that this was a one-run-and-done day, and that we just needed to get to the bottom and get the hell out of it.  We both have season passes, so it’s not like it cost us anything to go.

At that point he gave me the usual “you go on” spiel.

I said, and I quote, “Are you out of your ****ing mind?  NO WAY am I leaving you to ski this blasted mess by yourself.  NO WAY.”

He crept on, skiing more and more conservatively.  The wretched thing is that if he had been skiing just a little bit faster what happened next might not have happened at all.

I opened it up just a hair and blasted down the run until I found a good spot to pull over and wait.  One skier after another came down.  Many of them cursing as they did.

Roy hove into sight up the hill – and I say “up” for a given value of “up”.  The incline on this part of the run is such that I usually wind up poling to keep some respectable speed up on it, the angle is that slight.  Roy hove into sight at his careful little creep, and by golly, he went right over.  Hit a blasted bare patch of ice, caught his ski edge on an adjacent pile of snow, and toppled.

It wouldn’t have been a problem if the snow had been, well, like snow, which is generally characterized by qualities of “soft”-ness, “fluffy”-ness, and forgivability.  But it wasn’t, because it wasn’t snow at all, it was boilerplate.  Bullet-proof ice, in the common parlance of the New England Skier.

I didn’t see that at first, being a bit downhill and all.  What I did see is that he struggled to his feet and then just stood there.  And stood there and stood there and stood there.  Making no apparent effort to head downhill.

“Ah, ****” I said.  “Something’s wrong”.

As I bent over to strip my own skis off – to make a hike back up the dusty-powder and ice-chunk-strewn sheet of ice I’d just skied down – a ski instructor with a flock of little kids, who I’d passed 10 minutes before as he exhorted his flock “NO PIZZAS! FRENCH-FRY TURNS ONLY!” pulled over to consult with Roy.  When he stayed there, I poured as much speed as I could into my hike back up the hill. It took a while.  By the time I got there, a mountain ambassador pulled up and started talking into his radio.  

“Ah, ****” I said. “This is going to mean the meat-wagon.”

And so it did.  About the time I got there, Ski Patrol arrived.  Turns out Roy had smacked the iceberg with sufficient force to break his humerus, although we didn’t know that for sure until about an hour and half later.

“Are they sending the meat wagon?” I said.

The ambassador frowned.  “We don’t use that term.  We call it a sled.”

“Come on,” I said. “Not even in the locker room?”

He grinned at me.

“Not where guests of the mountain can hear, I’m thinking” I said.

Fortunately, the arrival of the meat wagon got him off the hook for answering.  Ski Patrol bundled Roy’s arm up, laid him down in the sled, and tucked him in.  I got to ski down after him, through some of the most gnarly surface (in a bad way) I’ve ever had the extreme displeasure of encountering on any mountain anywhere.

I got to see a new side of the ski hill, that was cool.  And the personnel we dealt with were wonderful.  Very professional, very nice people.  And they had a doctor’s office with an X-ray and stuff out the back door, very convenient.  They were the ones who revealed that his arm was fractured.

So much for the romantic getaway and early birthday dinner (Roy’s birthday is early next week).  I hauled him home and took him straightaway to the local trauma center, for access to the region’s best orthopedists.

Roy has been a champ.  Given how much verve and enthusiasm he can pour into excessively dramatic whinging over a paper cut, I’d have thought that he’d have been screaming his head off over this one.  Instead, he got all stoic.  Who knew?

Naturally, it was his dominant arm that got hit, too.  Who ever fractures the arm they don’t write with?   It’s going to be a long six weeks at the House O’ Accounting, I tell you that.  It would have been easier if this was one of those breaks they can put in a cast.  Casts are miserable, but at least you don’t have to worry too much about the broken bone once the cast is on.  This thing?  It’s the head of the humereus, right up near the shoulder.  No cast.  No splint even.  Just a flimsy little sling that – as far as I can tell – serves mostly as a reminder not to move that arm about.

Crappy birthday present for Roy. No more skiing for the rest of the season.  Not even any snowshoeing for ages.  I’m so bummed for him.  I’d like to make it up to him, but everything I can think that he’d want to do will make his arm hurt.  This sucks.


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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