Roy and I celebrated his birthday last week by breaking his upper arm, and this week by heading off to Vermont for a blizzard – thus racking up the second of the three times required for the “hazakah” in terms of fleeing bad weather at home by going to the mountains. Seems counter-intuitive, I know – but our thinking was that whatever happened at home, it was sure to snow on the ski areas in Vermont, and since that has only happened twice this winter, we didn’t want to miss it. Or, rather, I didn’t want to miss it, and he didn’t want me to miss it. ‘Cos he’s an A-Plus Husband, that’s why. So after we wrapped up our business on Thursday, we went late up to Vermont.
Friday, Roy decorated the chair in front of the fireplace while I went off to experience Skiing At Bromley Mountain. What I can say about Bromley:
The people were exceptionally nice.
It’s a Classic New England Ski Area.
Beyond that, I can’t say, because the upper half of the mountain was in a complete white-out the entire time I was there, so I really didn’t see much more than the base area. I skied, of course. I just skied without actually being able to see anything. In some ways, this isn’t as awful as it sounds – what you can’t see can’t terrify you…in other ways, it’s worse than it sounds. Nothing like having the ground drop away from you when you’re sliding down an ice-covered mountain on skis.
“Classic New England Ski Area” is a local code-word for “runs are narrow, steep, and icy.” I’ve said it before, and not for the last time: New England turns out some of the best technical skiers in the country. We have to be good technical skiers. Most of the time, we’re not actually skiing on snow. It might be white, but believe me, there is a yawning chasm between skiing on snow, skiing on hardpack (a New England word meaning “nicest possible ice”), and skiing on boilerplate (a New England word meaning “worst possible ice”).
Bromley, based on my experiences before the mountain became both incredibly crowded (all the kids had a snow day) and totally invisible, is worth another trip under better circumstances.
Later, we holed up and just let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Vermont got off relatively lightly. The area where we stayed picked up maybe 8 inches. The two closest mountains pulled in a foot. My home mountain, which was not on the itinerary for once, picked up a foot and a half. At home, we got well over 2 feet, pushing 3. All in all, I’d rather the 3 feet fell on the ski runs and not on my driveway, which now makes me wish my car tires had nice metal edges like my skis, just so I’d have a shred of control backing up and pulling in.
But that’s not the Fine Line. The Fine Line involves a tastily discounted ticket to Stratton from Liftopia, purchased weeks ago for today’s date – well before I knew of any massive snowstorm on the horizon. Good for me the storm hit when it did – Liftopia tickets are things you use or lose – as in “eat” – if you can’t make it for some reason or other. It’s a cost-benefit quandary, that’s what I tell my students. Take on more risk, get higher return. That’s life for you.
This time I won the trade-off, and as Roy headed off to enjoy fireside reading, I headed up the mountain.
Stratton doesn’t have a reputation for being a particularly hard-core experience. The glades there have been referred to by some as “psychotic”, but I stay out of the trees. Never a good idea to go tree-skiing by yourself.
I find I do not have the same response to things like black diamonds, though, and as I headed up the hill on the lift, I inspected the surface and runs, and decided to take my warm-up run down the front.
All of Stratton’s front runs are blacks. I knew this. I could see it on the map, even. And yet, I still found myself regarding them and thinking “I can take that. I will take that.” I did check with a lift buddy to make sure they weren’t hiding some kind of insane drops, cliffs, chutes, canyons, or any other kind of sheer lunacy from sight, and he agreed that no, they were not, and no, they were not too intense. He also confirmed my suspicion that they would get skied off very quickly, with the loose powder and the anticipated thronging hordes arriving by the minute from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.
And that is how, incredibly, I found myself taking an unfamiliar black diamond on a totally unfamiliar mountain as my warm-up run for the day. Because I knew I could, and because it was better to do it earlier than to wait.
I did it, too. Pity I didn’t have my happy helmet cam, but this guy did, and he shares the experience beautifully.
Now, I would be lying myself black in the teeth if I said I skied that black diamond pretty. I didn’t. I skied it like the dude this guy blazes past at 2:12, which is to say “carefully, cautiously, slowly, and in total control”. It was good skiing, even if it wasn’t pretty skiing.
I also cannot deny that I watched this video and thought “Holy cow, I didn’t realize the run was that steep.” I mean, I’m thinking “I skied this as my warm-up run?!?”
That’s the Fine Line.
It didn’t set a nice precedent for the day. Having started my day out skiing carefully, cautiously, slowly, and in total control, I didn’t break out of that – especially not the “slowly” and “cautiously” bit. Probably just as well, because the mountain got crowded, but more than that, it got crowded with testosterone-soaked adrenaline junkies who didn’t really give a damn who else was on the run with them or what anyone else was doing. Balding dude without the helmet and with the goggles worn backward on your head and the funky nasty little soul patch – the one who ran us all over scrambling to jump the lift line, I’m talking about you. And a bunch of your homies, too. When people say “I OWNED that run” they don’t mean “I behaved as if I was the only individual with legal right to occupy that run.”
I’ve never seen so many reckless and aggressive adult skiers on a mountain in my life.
The skiers at my home mountain are a lot more mellow, as a group. I think I’ll keep it.
It’s amazing how quickly people like that can turn a foot of fine powder into a cake of ice, too. I swear it. And they aren’t any more fun when you meet them on the freeway going home in the afternoon than they are when you encounter them tearing heedlessly down a run.
Anyway. There wasn’t a lot of pretty skiing on my part today, but there were hours of good skiing.
When I met Roy in the lodge afterward, he took one look at me and said “What have you been doing?”
“Getting a workout,” I said.
“I can tell.”
I don’t know what he saw, and I didn’t stop to ask. Instead, I launched into the primary concern occupying my mind at the moment and for the last 20 minutes.
I wanted the run sign from my warm-up black diamond. I wanted a souvenir of this experience to hang up in my study, where every time I feel downtrodden, I can look at it and say Holy Smokes I Took A Strange Black Diamond As A Warm Up Run.
And the shop didn’t have any. The shopkeeper said she didn’t think they even make them.
What kind of mountain had black diamonds and massive numbers of Hero Skiers and doesn’t offer souvenir run signs for all of their difficult runs? That is the question I had been asking myself, and then asked of Roy.
“What?” he said.
“I took this black diamond as a warm-up this morning and I wanted to buy a sign but the shop didn’t have any.” I said.
Roy really is an A-Plus Husband, because his response was not to get all ironic and say “First World Problems, eh, hahahaha” which would have earned him…well, I’m not sure what, but it wouldn’t have been anything nice.
Instead he said “WHOA! You rode a black diamond today?”
“Yeah,” I said. “As my warm-up run.”
That’s when it started to really percolate down.
“Oh,” I said. “Does this make me cross the line from “intermediate” skier to “advanced” skier? When I took a blue as a warm-up for the first time I realized I wasn’t a novice any more. I whooped it up all the way down that run. I still remember it like it was yesterday. Or do you think that’s just crazy?”
A tiny voice inside Roy’s brainstem woke up and began to alert him, at low volume, that there was some kind of Test nearby. It didn’t tell him what the Test was, just that there was one entering the area.
He paused for a bite of soup.
“I think this soup needs more basil and garlic.” he said.
My vision sharpened, and as it did, I could see that the warning klaxons were starting to go off.
“You changed the subject. That means you didn’t want to answer.” I said.
WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!!
Warning. Warning. Warning.
Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!
WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!
He swallowed and bought some time by asking what the question was again.
WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!
“I said that I thought that it was totally reasonable for me to take a strange black diamond run as a warm-up run, and wondered if that puts me over the line into “advanced skier” territory, but I am bummed because I did not ski it pretty, and was extremely cautious, so maybe it was just crazy that I did that. If I was really advanced I would be able to ski it with total confidence knowing that no matter what the hill was going to throw at me, I would be able to take, and not even worrying about it until it was there. So maybe I’m not actually advanced.”
“Oh,” he said. “No, that’s not an advanced skier who can do that. That is an expert skier who can do that.”
PEW! PEW! PEW PEW PEW! He SHOOTS the missiles directly out of the sky and blows them up, totally harmlessly, in the stratosphere. And only uses one bullet. And the All Clear begins to sound.
I regard him with awestruck wonder. He regards me with hopeful satisfaction. I burst out laughing. What a genius. I’ll take that. Advanced. And I’ll know I’m expert when I racket down the black diamonds and don’t worry about what lurks below the horizon line.
Then I took him outside to show him the run. You could just see it peeking through the trees.
Roy asked why I hadn’t taken either one of the gigantic wide rolling diamonds that run right down the front of the face. “Why is it that you always wind up on the narrowest runs on the mountain?” he wanted to know.
That struck me. I don’t know, but he’s right. If you offer me a football-field-wide rolling expanse of white on one hand, and a steep, narrow, creeping trail with poor line-of-sight on the other, I always seem to go for the narrow one. Makes me wonder what will happen when I finally get to ski in the wide-open expanses out west. Probably wind up having to stick to the bunny slope.