Each day of skiing begins with expectations and ends with experiences.
With 2 feet of snow arriving in The Valley this past weekend, the amperage was palpable all around the peaks and valleys. Amperage . . . what a great feeling after a disappointing November and early December. The S.A.D. was beginning to creep in on a skier’s psyche like the heavy clouds on the summits.
High winds above 3,000 feet scoured the peaks on Friday and closed the Heaven’s Gate chair. We hiked the Jester trail from Allyn’s Lodge, named for Allyn Schecter 1/1/56 - 12/24/1988 (New Year’s Day to Christmas Eve) rest her soul. Walking up Jester because -- who saw this snow coming — and, also, we had no skins. Uphill, one step at a time. Efficiency is the game.
In perfect hiking, a skier “falls” uphill, expending precious little energy. Falling uphill? I know, it sounds contradictory to the accepted laws of physics. Hiking uphill is so simple: left foot, right foot, balance, and step. It’s just routine, if your routine is climbing uphill carrying skis in a snowstorm into a 45-mph wind in near zero visibility. Uphill, the unrelenting uphill. Wasting energy here is a sign of off-centeredness. You need all the energy that you have, so the act of wasting energy looks abhorrent, off center and blatantly wrong.
We boot-packed ahead of a group of 22-year-old boys, who eventually passed us. They stopped to rest, then we passed them, the lead changing back and forth. They were polite enough, but it surprised them that they had trouble keeping pace with a couple of 60-something old men. Training cannot be faked, and the hike is always worth it. The effort, the time . . . what is time anyway? When you arrive atop a steep piste of untracked powder with just a few others, time stops. This is time.
No disrespect for the future, but skiing has a lot of “now” in it. Powder skiing happens in the now. Powder is ‘now’ in physical form. Powder doesn’t wait around. If you take a break for a coffee, it will be chewed when you return. Sun, wind, rain, and time will convert powder into a less desirable substrate. Powder is not so much a noun as a fleeting experience. Who skis powder? Early-bird hikers, skinners, and lucky people on heli-ski trips. Below the wind scoured summit, Ripcord had the quality of heli-assisted untracked powder skiing.
We waited for the rope to drop for the traverse from Paradise to Castlerock with a merry crew of kids as well as their enlightened parents. We formed two lines and made a ski-pole version of a “saber arch” to welcome the ski patrol to the rope. A gung-ho gaggle of groms were completely ready to storm the Long Trail, enroute to the untracked snow that was waiting on Castlerock.
On some traverses, you may have other thoughts than about skiing, but on the Long Trail there is no time for other thoughts. It is a bobsled run through a narrow alley of krummholz; twisted, crooked, stunted, evergreens line the narrow twisting path. The trail is a walled-in, banked turn, bobsled run, punctuated with nasty rocks placed inconveniently to interrupt any attempts to make speed-controlled turns. The present moment is alive and well on the Long Trail.
The steep sections of the Liftline trail are littered with hard, triangular rocks that lie waiting beneath the commonly inadequate blanket of snow. After a few new dings to my ski bases, I asked myself and accompanying skiers, “Why are we still surprised by this”? Regular skiers at Sugarbush are always envious, if you must know, of the MRG skiers. But, on powder days, there is a particularly higher level of envy, what with the romance of the rounded-off rocks that MRG skiers’ edges have worked over for years. I’ve often heard that that MRG locals “know where all the rocks are.” But I have a feeling that, truth be told, at MRG the rocks are everywhere.
POSITIVITY OF PURPOSE
Untracked powder demands positivity of purpose. The positivity is complete, if you trust the process. There are, also, tricks. You can “pump” the skis into the snow and pressure them into creating rhythmic pulsation. You can porpoise up and out of the snow to maintain momentum. But anyone trying to teach powder skiing with words is wasting their time. There is only way to ski powder . . . FIRST! We skied so long the lift ops guy asked if we weren’t tired. Of course, yes, but we were happy. It has been a long wait for this year’s snow.
MAD RIVER VALLEY NOTES
If you are a Valley skier who makes a high and early entrance to your turns and you can carve on hard snow, you likely owe a debt of gratitude to the Green Mountain Valley School. GMVS has had a profound influence on skiing in the Valley that permeates throughout the community. Congratulations to Al and Jane Hobart on their many successes and a well-deserved place on the Sugarbush Wall of Fame.