By Ed Brennan
In the wake of the mud, the rain in the valleys silently fell as snow in the mountains, and spring skiing arrived at Lincoln Peak! Untracked powder seen from the heights of a chairlift is so exciting to behold. The anticipation builds, just knowing that you arrived in time to be one of the first few skiers at the summit in time to enjoy first tracks.
There is something about skiing through pristine, untracked snow that is an entirely different experience than any other. It is a fleeting opportunity. Later in the day, it is almost painful to describe to the late arrivals. Earlier today … yeah, it was good.
The entrance to Paradise is a conundrum for skiers. It is not steep; it is not level; the bumps that form are irregular and inconsistent. And yet, some skiers adapt and effortlessly fly through this section on their way to the woods chutes or the headwall. I have always struggled with it. It was the “trying to make turns” that made it difficult.
This past Saturday, with a surprise of spring powder, the trail taught me how to ski it. I stopped turning and allowed the trail to take over. It was a revelation that carried me into the headwall, through the many off-kilter fall lines, rock gardens and powder-filled sections of this complicated puzzle. I skied it non-stop for the first time. The key was to simply ride the skis and let the skis ride the terrain. It felt like the skis bent deeply, together, and simply rode that trampoline effect around each bump, stump and rock with the terrain undulations directing every movement.
I would say this was possibly the best ski run of my life, and why not? Why not this one or maybe the next run? Up, over and around, using every minute, almost imperceptible bit of falling line in the service of flowing, effortless skiing. The rolling with the terrain relieves the strain of making turns.
Paradise skiing is not Ripcord skiing. The great breakthrough that was perfect for deeply rolling through off-camber powder bumps, rocks and stumps is not the technique that works on wide open flat sketch-powder. So, we reverted to race technique. The upper body must not be still. We need to project and move the upper body. From the waist up is a higher percentage of the total body mass. It is further away from the feet and leg connection to the skis and terrain. I see many skiers, good skiers, who were probably told to keep a stable upper body. Stable, yes, the upper body should not be swinging left and right or fore and aft. But stable does not mean still. A dynamic skier is projecting the upper body into the turn, into the fall line, down the hill. An Austrian might say: “If the feet are going to bend deeply the skis,” they are going to do it best with the descending weight of the skier (F=MA) -- which we have determined is largely the upper body, moving dynamically down the hill and into the pocket of mass that will deeply bend the skis.
Lining up a long shot at Allyn’s Lodge, Pete was clearing snow off the tables, because here comes sunshine! And the warmth of the spring sunshine brought out revelers. Some basked in the sun two times, maybe more.
Flowing downhill with a crew is a unique experience in skiing. A crew of extraordinary athletes, each interpreting the terrain and fall lines and each with their own unique agilities, abilities and imaginations. Moving as a pack, in real time, some dive over blind drops in woods that I find frightening. Some float through bumps, stumps, rocks and jumps more smoothly than I could imagine. This flowing meld of athleticism trains a skier to observe and attain new ideas and approaches and to add them to the body of knowledge and techniques. Intuition varies with the level of knowledge about a subject, the greater the knowledge the more powerful is the intuition. We may not be perfect, the crew that is storming the woods, trails and cliffs on the flanks of Lincoln Peak, but when you are riding a carving, accelerating ski, it makes you feel like you’re at least brushing up against something like it.
This is how good spring skiing can be. Fears of wind were set at ease with not a breath, no wind blowing in the trees. A stoppage of time, nature, sun and snow. The bottoms of the trails are burned off; the peaks are thinning. Unless another freak storm blows in, this is where the season ends, along the fall line.