Sunday, November 6, 2022

Stranger than known

As the joke goes, I am not superstitious, but I am at least a little stitious.

I can't remember the exact date.  January of '005, good timing if you think about it.  I was managing a bike shop in Tacoma, living in Puyallup, stable and away from the hill for the first time in five years.  I say managing not because that was my job, but cos the actual store manager was flighty.  The sort who'd wait until Tuesday to post the schedule for the week, which started on Sunday, two days prior.  I woke up on my day off, and just couldn't raise the mustard for the long drive to Crystal, even though it was cold in the valley and had recently snowed down to the water.  I rode the Monocog out at Sawyer instead.  The dirt was fast, and the riding good.  Traction for days. Just warm enough that my lungs worked well.  This sounds like I'm starting a narrative for some Dirt Rag Mag stoke piece, I can already tell.

It isn't for Dirt Rag, though.  Maurice and friends gave up the ghost a long time ago.  

It started raining the next day, that legendary PNW kind that just slides into Winter's DMs and leaves without so much as a by your leave.  Snowfall had been sparse, and what stayed behind when the Pineapple shifted east was a meager and thinning ghost of an El Niño snowpack.  Crystal stayed open into February, somehow.  I ruined a Vølkl P40 on skiers' right of Green Valley, only got one memorable pow day, and generally bemoaned the state of things.  I skipped First Closing Day, thinking it'd be pea soup milkbird and not worth much, but somehow the storm track slid north and it was a beautiful spring day.  There was even a shot in the paper of Karel Sir in the Valley looking, um, out of time, as he always did.  Probly some purple onesie with futuristic silver shoulder extensions or whatever.  It was annoying just how good of a skier he was.  Anyway, the photo was in the Seattle Times.  Or the P-I.  Or like, the Evening News.  The point is, I still regret that I skipped that day.

At some point that spring, the tap turned back on and the Cascades got at least a solid taste.  Baker finished the year with 464", most of which fell from late March on.  A good year of snowfall here in the desert is 200".  Winter of '99, the Big Year, Baker cleared 300" of snowpack.  It takes lots of snowfall to make any snowpack.  When you get used to snowpacks deeper than many joints' entire winter snowfall, 464" just isn't that much.  Somewhere in there, as well, I sort of realised that I really shouldn't miss chances to ski.  They might just never return.  I don't remember the turning on of a lightbulb, I was simply resolved.  It felt a bit like when I was bumping chairs at the bottom of 6 and asked Sharon the math teacher patroller which boot she put on first and with a slight hesitation, she said "Right.  You?" and with the same slight hesitation, I realised that even though I'd never thought about it until that exact moment, it was always the left.  Always.  It has been twenty-two years since then, and still, I always pull that left boot on first.  If for some reason I start in on the right foot, I get a little confused and have to stop, and then start again with the left.

Okay, maybe moderately stitious.

15 March 2020. I went, and got my two pre-surgery pow laps of the winter.


Last winter wasn't a huge one.  We had a great start, with that famous longwave La Niña pattern setting up in our favour.  As near as makes no difference, it was up there with Decembers like '016 and '98.  Just kept coming.  Somewhere around mid-January the meteorological powers that be turned the tap damn near off.  A little late for a typical January drought, but whatever.  It didn't really snow until after we closed in early April.  In that time, I had some phenomenal days chasing chalk in the trees off Three and tryna lay them railroad tracks as deeply as my ability and (currently) 250 pounds would allow.  Or at least as cleanly and consistently as I am able.  I'll admit there were days where the chalk was more like the board than the writing implement.

All the way through, I heard grumbling.  That same grumbling we heard in UT back in '015, or at Mt A in '012, or at Baker in '001.  "It's not snowing enough."  "It's too sunny."  "It's not sunny enough."  "Maybe the snow will be powdery on the 'Backside'."  (My personal favourite.  As though somehow there were an entirely different weather regimen just over the ridgeline.)

While chatting with the In-Laws' friendly, largely intelligent neighbours on a Sunday evening last spring, both spouses agreed with fair zealotry that the past winter had been terrible.  T-e-r-r-i-b-l-e.  I was apoplectic.  Thankfully, this apoplexia often fully shuts off the part of my brain which is responsible for speech.  How is it possible, when all I did was have good fun skiing all winter, for them to completely miss out?  Clearly, there's some cognitive dissonance here.  Skiing is fun, whatever the medium.  So-called "bad" days stand out for me, simply because they are so damn rare.  I do not cherry-pick days, and only rarely skip a trip to the hill.  Very, very rarely.  I don't feel like I have some special insight into enjoying bad conditions.  I simply like skiing.  I constantly find new reasons for doing so.  I truly don't understand what these folks are looking for in life.  The husband of this duo claims certainty that he'll ski until either he dies or physically cannot, and yet, somehow, this winter was T-e-r-r-i-b-l-e?  I am so confused.  He loves skiing so much that at 50 he can claim he'll ski another 40 years, and yet he thinks a slightly drier-than-desired winter is not so much below average as T-e-r-r-i-b-l-e?

This cat knows.


Catherine (she's Crimski in my phone) once told me about her FOMO, which at the time wasn't the hip jargon it is now.  Fear of missing out.  Sounds about right, pop-psychology aside.  First real pow line I ever slayed, to use yet more annoying popular parlance, was due to just such an urge.  Remy had just ducked under the rope at the top of the Cache Run, bout 2.30 in the afternoon, That Winter.  I was 17, skiing pretty decently for an untrained high schooler.  I'd skipped school cos I knew that my repeated Calculus 2 class just didn't need my attention that day, and the snow did.  I got to the hill a little after opening cos I had to pretend for Ma that I'd headed to class, which was a half hour away at Harvard on the Hill, and my first class was at 9.  I couldn't leave early enough to get to the hill on time cos I had to make a show of heading the other way at the correct time.

Remy looked a little peeved at the time, staring down some random High School Joey with a crappy goatee--it was '99, after all--and skinny skis.  I asked if it was worth it, and he just glared.  I took that as tacit affirmation.  I never had the presence of mind to thank him, even though I tuned his skis a handful of times between '007 and '011.  It was worth it, and more.  Twenty turns, good rhythm, 6 or 8 of that mythical day-old consolidated.  One run, 24 years on, and I hope to never forget it.  I could have just kept skiing on past, knowing how hard the bootpack out would be, but I couldn't shake my own nascent FOMO.  Presented with the same options ever since, if safe enough, I have nearly always chosen to say "F(&* it.  You don't know if you don't go."  Ham cramps on Fryingpan be damned.  Ham cramps in a fancy Issaquah sushi joint be damned.  (That one was kind fun, to be honest.  Catherine just said "TURN AROUND LEMME PUNCH YOU" and then smashed my hamstrings with her fists quite aggressively.  It worked.)

-

I remember the wooziness and the grass in my facemask.  I could barely stand up trying to open the outside door to the locker room.  My arm just felt dead.  

It was our weekly 8th grade varsity football challenge for who'd start the following game at a given position, and that week it was just head-to-head shoving.  Whoever was still forward of scrimmage by the whistle won the start.  I was the starting centre, and Aram was second-string.  I drove Aram back about eight or ten yards.  I didn't have time to even congratulate myself.  Aram tripped, and I landed nose-down in the grass, my right fist on his chest protector.  Jay Fox had pushed Nick Tanner about eight yards, and when one of them tripped, they were right next to us.  They landed with Nick's back protector directly on my elbow.  The ER doc told me it was a really nice looking break.  Clean across both radius and ulna, with no dislocation or compound fracturing.  Season over.  I still have the callus on my right middle finger from learning how to hold a pen differently than before.

Long about early November, it started snowing allegro con brio, and Crystal opened around Chris' birthday on the 8th.  I watched from town as Grass Mountain turned snow-pink in the sunset, arm still in a cast.  It didn't matter that I'd successfully challenged Amber for first chair percussion in Concert Band or that in general I skied strongly enough to not worry about my well-protected bones, I couldn't go to the hill.  I held this against football such that I never played again.  The only playing I did at games in High School was on the snare drum.  (And the tambourine that one game.  I will never forgive that.)

-

Warren Miller says, "Remember:  If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do."  Sometimes what I hear him say is, "Remember:  If you don't do it this year, these precise conditions will never occur again and this exact experience will be lost, or worse, experienced by some bougie turd who doesn't understand the value of the experience, and you'll hate not only them, who you already do hate, but even a little bit yourself for not having the gumption to wake up and start moving in the right direction."

 Maybe I am super stitious.

Title from The Byrds psychadelic folk-rock classic "Eight Miles High". I'm no Tambourine Man.



Friday, October 28, 2022

1140, or Why You Can't Trust Numbers, So Here's a List of Numbers

The Pacific Northwest is a consistently misunderstood place.  It is home to cities with some of the lowest precipitation totals in the country: Yakima receives 8 inches in a year, Bend gets 11, Boise 12. It has vast arid regions, places bigger than some eastern states, where precip comes exactly as it does in the more famous deserts to the south.  Infrequent and mild winter snow, and periodic summer thunderstorms.  Monsoonal pushes don't happen this far north very often, and in summer, neither do Pacific systems.  Seattle, that northwestiest of Northwest places, is dry basically from the middle June to early October.  If you've ever lived there, or spent time there, you know it may not look like the dry of the desert, but little to no measurable precip falls in that time.  This year, it's the middle of October and I don't think it's rained more than a drip or two up there since June.

Oregon, Washington, and North Idaho. - Brandt and Ryan (The Owner), the only exactly repeated answer.

Is it still the Northwest if you can actually see the volcano?

The general consensus, though, is one of consistently gray, mopey skies, and torrents of water.  If a movie or tv show is set in Seattle, say, or Portland, the rain is always heavy, aggressive, and very visible.  That is not the case.  Nor are the rains aggressive.  They often are unrelenting and destructive in the Wettest Season, 15 Oct to 15 Feb; it will be raining, maybe 5 inches in a cycle, and without the perspective or a puddle or the feel of the water on one's face, it is perfectly possible to think it had already stopped raining.

Oregon and Washington. - Dr J, "Reverend Doctor Super Genius"

Even the boundaries of the PNW are passive-aggressively controversial.  In informal personal polling of random folks (okay, friends, family, and coworkers) and in somewhat partially official research (wikipedia and the internet), the most consistent idea is "Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, except, y'know, not all of it."  I am fiercely (well, not fierce, I'm Norwegian fer heck's sake) of the PNW, and I have lived in its heart and on its periphery.  From the lower Salish Sea Basin and the upper drainages of two small but high-flow Salish rivers to the desert of southern Idaho, the Mediterranean oak savannah of southern Oregon, and Ogden, Utah, not really the northwest at all but good for perspective, and I think all of the ideas are defensible.

From Donny BoBo* to that one place in Alaska. - Dino Voulaj

The most codified of the boundaries seem to be the Pacific, and the 42nd parallel.  Even those aren't wholly rigid.  The 42nd is utterly arbitrary and unnecessarily unyielding.  The ocean is, well, have you been to Brookings during a vintage January Chetco Effect? 80 degrees, fire weather, a bit like Calabasas.  Not northwesty at all.

Washington, Oregon except the Great Basin, Idaho north of the Snake, west of US 93. - Brother John

Definitely PNW

It seems everyone is trying to put their interpretation of the phrase into a solid quasi-national entity. We are so used to and governed by boundaries that any notion of fluidity makes people uncomfortable. I have heard from folks who grew up back east that the PNW is just the strip of land from the Cascade Crest to the coast, either because they heard the PNW is wet and that's where the wet is, or because it's a solid, knowable boundary. As with all things, knowable is one thing, and solid is another entirely. Medford is west of the Oregon Cascade Crest, but averages just 18" of water a year. Kellogg, Idaho, is 300 or so miles east along a sometimes boring I-90 from the crest, and at above 30", averages only a Yakima's year shy of Seattle.

West of the Rockies, from Tahoe to the Bering Strait. - Crimski

In The Good Rain, Tim Egan describes the Northwest as the "reach of the Columbia." This, finally, sounds somewhat sensible.  The Columbia, after all, is a World River.  Not as well known as the Ganges or the Mekong, nor as big, but it drains significant portions of one Canadian province and four American states, and minor portions of three other states.  The bar at its mouth is dangerous and deadly and utterly humbling and beautiful.  The highest point along its crest is, understandably, Columbia Crest, the highest point on Tahoma.  The river drains the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies, vast and semi-obscure plains, giant spires of granite and anger from Valemount, BC (which is, like, WAAAAAY up there) to Nevada, northwesternmost Utah, and the Tetons. So, again, another solid boundary that is not so solid.  In fact, one of the furthest points in the entire basin from the Pacific is, naturally, the headwaters of Pacific Creek in the Teton Wilderness, well east of the Teton range itself, at a unique spot where one creek separates into two creeks that drain into different oceans.  This is Wyoming, obviously, which has for its eastern geography plains that are part of the Great Plains.  The Plains owe their arid existence to the Rockies, which are obvs east of the west which is OW MY HEAD.

West of where all the scrubby landscape begins. - Taylor

Are we looking out of the PNW into the Inland NW? (Screenshot of Mission Ridge's well-placed summit cam.)

This is my central problem with the idea of boundaries.  Vague and hard to defend.  Unnecessary, as we all came from the same ancestor, which to me suggests commonality of purpose and need, our perpetual and deadly desire to prove that wrong aside.

Cascadia.  - Dustin

The point? Other than truly enjoying good debate silly argument, it's skiing.  The American portion of the PNW has around 45 ski areas.  Some big, some little, some famous, some, well, most folks don't know Rotarun from Rotorua.  (I see you raising your hand in the back, New York.  You win. 52 ski areas, according to the NSAA.)  As we shift borders around for one reason or another, the number rises and falls.  Someone in passing mentioned Sun Valley isn't PNW, but Bogus is.  Trouble with that is that I can see the same peaks from the ridgelines of each mountain.  But then again, saying Bogus is a Rocky Mountain ski area kinda rattles my teeth a little, cos BoyCee just feels absolutely nothing like Albuquerque, and yet they'd be categorised together if we took everything literally.  Peakbagger says Brundage is in the Rockies, and Tamarack is in the Columbia Plateau, but you can see each ski area from the other on a clear day.  So, since categories are kinda silly, I'll just stick with the simplest answer: Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, and, like, one small part of California cos I want to and also volcanoes.  Major continental ranges and rivers are part of multiple regions.  Rather than solely defining the region, I'd say they simply play a part.  Definitely a big part, but they never tell the whole story.

As much as I'd like Southern Idaho to also be a part, I don't think it is. - Jake

Which finally brings me to a conclusion of sorts.  I was riding Chair 2 at Bogus the other day, Summer Only Riding Park Closing Day, with a remote-worker guy from some to-me-unknown place.  He was asking all sorta questions, and being me, I could not help but answer them honestly.  This is to say I hemmed and hawed and told him to define his terms more acutely.  "Does Bogus get many powder days?" begs for clarification; how much is a pow day? "Eight inches or more," he said, surprisingly confidently.  I mean, I've skied "powder" that was three inches overnight, and it outskied some ten inch days, but whatever, yeah, let's just pick a random number.  At Bogus, not many.  

All of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and Montana and Wyoming might be. - GMRII

Not just potatoes.

At any rate, he also asked if I could compare Bogus to Tamarack.  (Bigger, and smaller at the same time.  Like so many things.  Srsly, can you actually not figure these things out from just skiing? That's how I know these things, and I don't have the privilege of moving around at will while holding down a job.)  I took him at his word and said, simply, that they are different.  They require different skill sets, and if you've the money for new or the patience to buy used, different gear.  He tried to drill down on the exact size again, and when I said Bogus has over 1000 more skiable acres than Tamarack, he seemed surprised.  (He also had never heard of Baker, so maybe I'd set my bar too high.)  Bogus is bigger than Sun Valley, too, also, even with the new expansion.  I find this sorta underdog-punching-up scenario cool, and I relish the opportunity to share such things with folks who don't already know such things.  I don't know why, but it gives me some significant satisfaction to see a little brain-gear smoke out the ears when I say "Mt A has a higher base elevation than Bachelor." 

 Didn't you ask that last week? - Chris

When I got home, I looked for a published list of PNW ski areas by size, and did not find one.  Some other blog or mag from way back or other random collection of 1s and 0s might have something, but herewith is what I could find from surprisingly unverifiable Wikipedia articles and ski area website infos, with any ties alphabetised to pretend I'm not biased, and maybe a comment or two:

- Bachelor, 4600 skiable acres, when it's sunny.
- Schweitzer, 2900
- Bogus, 2600, on weekends and if you aren't afraid of a little willow-whipping in your pow-slash routine.  Seriously, just try it.  Almost all of it goes, and the parts I can think of that don't are right under Chair 6, so Patrol can find you and people can yell really helpful things from the chair like "That's a creek you're stuck in!" or "Hey! You're almost there!"
- Crystal, 2600
- Sun Valley, 2400, but that's after a very recent expansion and includes Dollar, which is a small bit of marketing shammery.
- 49 North, 2325
- Hood Meadows, 2150, and like Bachelor, that is only when it's sunny.  These Cascade volcanoes have a way of being stormy for days or weeks or months (1999) at a time.
- Mission Ridge, 2000
- Snoqualmie Pass, 1994, the combined total of 4 actual ski areas, one of which--Hyak--is rarely open, and which can only be fully connected by car or by paragliding off Denny.  Also, "Summit-at-Snoqualmie" is just artificially fancy.  East to west, it's Hyak, Ski Acres, Snoqualmie Pass, and Alpental. Regular-sized marketing spammery.
- Brundage, 1920
- Mt Spokane, 1704
- Timberline, 1685, but that's combined with the former Summit Pass Ski Area, which Timberline recently purchased but which is not yet connected without creative skiing, and which also is maybe never fully skiable because (according to a dude I talked to on Palmer who totally had an Employee Jacket and spoke with what felt like much authority) the Forest Circus doesn't allow them to run Jeff Flood while Palmer is also running.  Also, like, when them Pacific cycles is slamming the side of Wy'east, Palmer is buried, and when the Palmer chair itself is melted out and runnable, the lower mountain is melted out to dirt, mostly.  So, maybe a lot of marketing scammery.  The views from Palmer and the Magic Mile are downright righteous, though.  No marketing needed.
- Silver Mtn (Some still call it Jackass, cos, why not?), 1600
- White Pass, 1402
- Soldier, 1150
- Stevens, 1125
- Pebble Creek, 1100
- Tamarack, 1100.  This tie is an interesting one.  Both ski tall and narrow, with some real challenge in the woods when you know where to go.  Beyond that, they have almost nothing in common save that they are both, indeed, ski areas in Idaho.
- Lookout Pass, 1023, expanded this year and with plans (and, I think, the Okay from whomever or whatever) for more.
- Anthony Lakes, 1000
- Baker, 1000.  I'll pause here to let you decide whether or not you believe that one.  I love Anthony Lakes without any qualification, but in my mind, I can fit the entire place within the confines of the front side of Pan Dome at Baker. Then again, my entire point here is that definitions and numbers don't tell the whole story.

Views, a Riblet triple, Abies lasiocarpa, good snow, lesser-known mountain range? I'm in. (Anthony Lakes, photo by Snowsnapper, public domain.)

- Mt Hood Ski Bowl, 960
- Lost Trail, 900.  Hey.  It's got at least 13 turns in Idaho.  And besides, it's within the Reach of the Columbia.
- Hoodoo, 800
- Kelly Canyon, 640, sadly, no longer serviced by the legendary homemade Riblet lookalike they built from copied, possibly stolen, schematics.  Kelly's is now open Sundays, and according to my source, who like, knows the new owner cos bikes or maybe Rexburg is a small town; there might now exist within the creek drainage alcohol, which if one is so inclined, could be supped for the purposes of mild intoxication, known in many circles as "a good buzz".
- Mt Shasta, 635 as of this winter with the new Gray Butte chair.
- Willamette Pass, 555, with the additional claim (for now) of having the only 6 pack in Oregon, and with the dubious and maybe not measurable "steepest groomer in the US", RTS, which supposedly overtops 50 degrees. Might need to head there some day.  Or ask my niece at U of O for a report.  She's from Colorado, and as everybody knows, when you list skiing, Colorado is Number One.
- Loup Loup, 550.  I've ridden their chair, but never been to Loup Loup.  Think about that.
- Pomerelle, 500, with some rad orographic snow showers if the flow is right.
- Bluewood, 400.  I just have to point out here that I love literal names.  Bluewood is in the forests of the Blue Mountains.  Perfect.  I also love scientific binomials that are just double names--tautonyms, apparently--like Pica pica and Alces alces.
- Warner Canyon, 300.  Or 200, but as I pointed out above, it's surprisingly challenging to verify these numbers with my limited researching skills.
- Cottonwood Butte, 260, the largest (claimed) area without a chairlift.
- Hurricane Ridge, 250, but according to the kids I worked with at Baker who grew up in Port Angeles, it's like, totally not about the inbounds, man, it's like, endless and stuff.  One of those kids is, like, a big cheese at Baker now.
- Mt Ashland, 240, or 220, or, like, lots more cos the whole peak is skiable and accessible from either Windsor or Ariel and it only takes a little skate along FR20 or even just a quick walk back through the lot from the bottom of the Void.  This, then, brings up the whole challenge of understanding Skiable Acreage in the first place.  It feels like ski areas just guess and then try to defend either through repetition or a shoulder shrug.  We spent three winters at Mt A, and while I don't think it is a huge or even mid-size place, it felt bigger to me than Anthony Lakes does.  My perception is by no means perfect, I know.  Maybe some joints just count cut runs and others count every last feather of snow within sight?
- Spout Springs, 200, on pause while an operator is sought.  Fingers crossed.
- Ferguson Ridge, 170
- Bald Mountain, up near Pierce in 6C, not the one in 5B or the random pile of rock in NY, nor the totally awesome and totally not creepy at all piece by Mussorgsky, 140
- Magic Mountain, again, the one in 2T, not the one in VT, 120. There is an abandoned platter liftline across the road, which I don't think is included in the total, and rumours of replacing it with a used chair.  Or they might replace the carpet.  Who knows?  At any rate, Magic is cool and funky and up a long, very pretty draw with a nice Lodgepole right next to the top shack.  Not big, but that never matters. Also, this is not the smallest ski area in the PNW that has a chairlift.
- Sitzmark, 80
- Echo Valley, 70
- Cooper Spur, 50, home to the final Riblet installation ever.  That's worth something right there. It's the smallest hill with a chairlift, too, for good measure.
- Little Ski Hill, 50
- Snowhaven, 40
- Rotarun, 15
- Badger Mountain, 10
- Blizzard Mountain, some acres.  Can't find numbers.  It's a platter and one groomer. Guessing between 5 and 20, but like most folks, I do not know by looking what an acre actually is.


Boise, City of Trees. Tree City USA award recipient for 44 years.  That's a lot of trees, cos allegedly Boise! was the cry from Frenchist trappers back in the day, and like, "les bois" means trees, and so does PNW, so there.  Bogus Basin is the highest, furthest, most elevationary point in the photo. (Credit: Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, via flickr.)

* Boise.  That's what Angel means when he says Donny BoBo.  It's, like, funny.


pps:
"With a base elevation of 6300', Mt Bachelor offers the highest base elevation in the Cascades. Paired with its location on the eastern side of the Cascade Crest, the result is consistently high quality snow not typically found in the Pacific Northwest. 462" of snow falls during an average year."

- Found on the internet. A good example of confusion seemingly based in the need for things to be cooler than they are. Bachelor has the highest base in the Cascades, yes, and the highest summit, too, and plenty of great skiing and is huge, but while it is east of the Crest in the riverine sense, weather doesn't care. I have skied my share of borderline mank at Bachelor, and through at least two full-on rain events there. Also, not for nothin', both Anthony Lakes and Mt A have higher bases, they're just not in the Cascades. Mt A is even the first peak west of the official reach of the Cascades, which doesn't really mean anything either, but again, it makes you, like, think, y'know?

Bison bison

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The death of culture

I used to think bindings were made in a shed like this by elves and their friends, the faeries.

My gut has been a little piqued of late.  I was not sure why, until I realised it must be a disturbance in the Force, because:

New doesn't mean better.

While perusing the new stuff at one of the local shops instead of riding the Tractor in this glorious fall weather like I would have been if my gut was less yucky, I learned that Salomon has discontinued entirely my favourite thing in the universe, after reducing it with a less-than-acceptable heel a handful of years ago.  After roughly 35 years of rotary-release security, Salomon introduced a new toe piece, which looks like some genius took their most complex, fidgety piece of engineering, the hybrid A/T Shift, and then removed all the utility.  I am no industrial designer, but I understand retail margin, and when you have a reliable, bombproof, proven piece of kit like the existing Driver toe, why not simply rejigger the AFD for this silly GripWalk nonsense and watch the dollars continue to roll in?

Step 1: Do nothing.  Step 2: ???

Over the years, I have skied or worked on hundreds of skis and bindings.  Maybe thousands.  If I can't tell you what a binding feels like, then someone over in die Bindungsländer did their job well.  If, say, I can remember watching a Völkl Kuro (dimensions: 1 milliones, 1 half milliones, 3 quarter milliones) fly out in front of me on Upper Bull in 32 new, with a just-mounted, set-to-spec Marker Griffon having toe-released not once, but TWICE, then I will write your company off entirely.  If the heel just feels extra move-y, like, say, that STH2 heel, but I like the overall experience, then it's one strike and we're still friends.  Same goes for AAAttack/AAAdrenalin toe, which, when the toe height was set to spec, would allow enough up-and-down movement, like scraping charcoal a grille.  Still skiable, but I (and a local industry cat who shall remain nameless) simply raised the toe height until the movement ceased.  No clue if it still tests out, but that doesn't matter.  Less ramp angle, as a side benefit.

I'm sure Abe is somewhere on my now 82-long list o' names. Or is it 93?

At any rate, this is obviously travesty.  If it was good enough for the venerable 747 in 1987 or whenever, why isn't it good enough today? The new Strive is wider you say? Don't care.  My boot is the same width.  The new toe is lower, you say? For a lower centre-of-gravity? Don't care.  In fact, I had to put a 6mm gas pedal under the last STH2 toe, so, no.

Genesis
Trig

Basically, all this newer better stronger faster marketing collateral is just words.  Those words make a bad song from a bad band.  As mere words, they make an even worse idea, like Tide Pods or the cinammon challenge, or Tesla.

Gas pedals for flat bindings.  Centre: 2mm, we'll call it within rider preference. Top: 6mm, annoying, but acceptable cos why not? Bottom: 12mm, what I'm afraid of.  The world was different in '93. Pumpkin for scale.


Overdramatic title from Tonic's classic 90s Drama-rock record, Lemon Parade, specifically the song "Celtic Aggression". I guess you had to be there.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Top 47 Skiing*

 * According to, like, Everyone.

1. Colorado

2. Like, Europe

3. Subaru

4. Whistler

I think this is Whistler from Blackcomb? 
By Mr Swordfish2 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=115239019

5. Tremblant, QC

5. Sun Valley

5. NO, WAIT, COFFEE SHOPS

6. Mad River Glen, or not cos it's scary.

7. Kitzbuhel

7. NO, WAIT, DEER VALLEY

8. Vail. And a little place called Ahspen.

That John Denver's full of shit, man.

9. Rainier? Is that a thing? Should I get some bar-mode boots?

10. Stowe

11. Tucks, if you're like, hard.

12. Dubai

13. Pontoon I saw it on the YouTube

14. Pizza

15. Is Oregon near Iowa?

16. Cairngorms, Scotland, which is like, in Europe or Andorra?

17. New Zealand

18. The waterparks of Jay and Jackass

Hashtag FirstDescents

19. JHole, but, like, watch out, cos skiing's harder there.

20. The Mangy Moose

21. You're Cody Townsend? Man, I'm so much better than you.

22. Somewhere in New Mexico

23. Chair 7 Extreme

24. I think it's in the Andes?

25. Hyland Hills

26. Pennsylvania

27. Huntah

28. Wait, Baker's not on a volcano?

29. Fur

30. Bode

Is this how you do it?

31. Fireball

32. There's TWO Cottonwoods?

33. Lindsey's gym

34. Alyaska? Aleksa? Amazon? Something like that.

35. Theo the Brave

36. Great Big Bear Valley Mountain Lake

37. Coopers, Anthony Lakes, Beaver, Pomerelles, Mission, Cannons, Saddleback, Sugars, &c, &c

38. Bjarne's Van I saw it on YouTube

39. Cuff alignment

40. The K12

26. KT22

41. Red Chair

42. French Fries

43. My Smartwool PhD socks have holes in the heels.

44. I can't root for Mikaela cos she didn't Gold 36 times.

45.  I can't even say Oslo, or Kristiania, let alone Altai.  Can we just say it's from Austria?

46. BURRITO, STAT.

47. Is it still skiing if you didn't drink beer?! 

Skiing beer.  Pretend you're at Hyak.

If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes.  And besides, if you can ski here, you can ski anywhere.  If you aren't falling, you aren't trying hard enough.
hashtag onlyinwhereveryouare

Monday, September 26, 2022

Lookin up to watch the birds

The only person at my twenty-year reunion more cagey than Amy was my first ski buddy, Aram Scott.  I saw him a couple times, and by the time I got through the crowd to chat, he was out the door, a ghost in the window.  By the time I got out the door, he was simply a ghost.  

Aram was one of the few kids in school I grew apart from but for whom never felt anything other than the simple affection that comes from knowing we once were friends and could be again if circumstances allowed.  They never really did, and for that I am still sorry.  Aram and I made a lot of good turns together, (think "good for 11 year olds"), ditched both the ski bus and class together, played baseball together at least one year, the sort of important things kids do that in the long run don't amount to much other than basically everything.  I totally get why he snuck out of the reunion.  It was just a weird amalgamation of the same but different.  James Cline looked exactly like he did the day before graduation, late 90s fashion included.  Keri Nietsche looked like she hadn't aged, but had lost the awkwardness of youth.  My little crowd, Chelsea and Noël and Crosby and Aaron Mayer (ever the salesman, just passing through), we all showed our age.  Crosby and Chelsea have a family, a house on solid ground, and careers.  Noël is married, has been successful in one form or another since basically graduation, and lives somewhere around DC.  Her parents moved here to southern Idaho cos politics.  Mayer's some big cheese or at least long-tenured cheese at the Ford dealer.  I hope he still skis.  I remember one time in the Brown Bag Room (RIP) he and Shane were arguing about boots.  It was some time in this millennium and he still thought his rear entry boots were the shit.  Shane and I both assured him that they were, but drop the "the".

I hope Aram still skis.  Neither of us were all that good, but that's not what we thought.

Some friends are Pa.

Life has been challenging since moving to the desert.  First Ashland, then Ogden, then BoyCee.  These places don't feel permanent.  Ashland, specifically.  It felt like a permanent vacation, like I could blink and it'd be gone.  In truth it's me who's gone.  

By all reports, Ashland still stands, above the fog but below the peaks.  I couldn't convince anyone from town to ski with me more than a run or two, and at the hill, it felt like the best thing I could do was keep my head down.  The trees were inviting.  Southeast Right held better snow than the ski area itself.  Longer runs, too, and fewer people.  The quick skate back on Road 20 thinned the crowd to near non-existence.  The Void musta had too many satyrs or something.  I wasn't the only bloke making turns under those beautiful Shasta fir, but I never met anyone else in there.

My buddy Rob lives in Talent, a little downstream from Ashland.  He grew up in Steamboat, but grew tired of shoveling snow, and after a season tuning skis at Mt A during a bad winter, gave up on skiing entirely.  I will never understand, but I'm grateful to know him.  I just wish he still skied.  Dude's fit, mellow, and cynical.  The kind of skier, I assume, who'd kick my ass most of the time while maybe not making PSIA-sanctioned turns.  My type of skier.

I like good turns, but more than that, I simply like turns.

--

The low pole is a little brody.  Kinda like forearms in lieu of high fives in baseball, but like, in skiing.  

Catherine and I are at the bottom of some pitch out south of Crystal Lakes.  The pitch was steep, and the snow was good.  Worth the challenging skintrack.  We both made nice turns, natch, and I don't know if she went first, or me, but I do remember she ate some homemade raw crackers and homemade yogurt for lunch.  She shared some crackers and they were darn tasty.  Anyway, it was steep and sloughy, and when we finished our turns, equally as tasty as her raw crackers, I reached out with my pole and we made that satisfying *click*.

I said, reminiscent of Dax Shepard in Idiocracy, "I like skiing."  And I do.

Amy's ski buddy, Dad, at Buck Hill.  With those skis.

Some folks make an impression, and some folks make a difference.  

Kenny Tataku and I were never close, but the guy is responsible, almost single-handedly, for where I am at this exact moment, sunset just expired, food on the range, partner rolling her muscles and stretching after a hard day in the desert sun working in someone else's garden.  Kenny is the definition of ski buddy, someone easy to be around, who doesn't hold a grudge when you aren't around cos he's been there, seen how this life can take its toll even though we're all just chasing a good feeling.  

It was Kenny who said, "Go talk to Brad, and tell him I told you to."  I started the 1st day of December, '007.  The best job, without qualification, I've ever had.  Not for nothin', it was the only way I could have met Amy, my partner of longer than most marriages.  I often feel all sorts of things, negative or not, that I'd avoid, but to avoid those, we would have had to have never met, and that is just not okay with me.  I'll take whatever bullshit this uncaring universe gives if it means we face all of it together.

I was about 24, 25, Kenny and I were talking about technique.  I was trying to lay railroad tracks on the Back Traverse, failing at speed, and frustrated.  Kenny just said, "You're turning left with your right foot, and turning right with your right foot.  You can't.  The turns need to be a mirror of each other."  Something like that, anyway.  It made sense.  Load that cuff, let your inside leg follow, draw the knee to the inside of the turn, just glide back and forth, back, and forth.  The rest will work itself out.

It has.

Brad hired me on the spot, after I mentioned Kenny's name.  Brad said "Kenny taught me to tune, and he wouldn't send me a jerk or an incompetent."  Everything for me, today, draws from that moment.  The difference between a kid and a man, between guessing and knowing, between following orders and making one's own way.

--

It's a curse of good low-light lenses that every time you notice the sky on a storm day, it seems like the sun has just started to break through the heavy Cascade stratus deck.  Today, it's been raining since God knows when, and Dustin and I simply followed through on our plans.  We were gonna ski, and by God, we did.  I mean, d'uh.  That's what one does here in the PNW.  Or at least that's what we tell people.  I think it's '99.  That winter.  I could be wrong.

The snow wasn't great earlier in the day, but as the rain abates, the snow settles further and the surface water thins, and it gets better.  And better.  Dustin and I have a timeframe, and we just keep skiing until we have to head down.  Skiers' right of Green Valley is that choice, slarvy snow, each turn more effortless than the last.  People talk about Pisten Bullys and Champagne Powder Snow tee-em and yet here, some random day, the name of which I cannot remember, rained-on snow is all there is.  And it is glorious.

I don't remember what skis Dustin had, and it doesn't matter.  I'm 41 years old, and I still remember those turns, 98 or 99 or whatever.  I've forgotten a hundred deep days, give or take a 20 or 30, but skiing with a good friend in the rain, some clammy base layers and soaked socks, wax scraped entirely from our bases, that is irreplaceable.

You already assumed this is coming, but when we decided to head for the barn, knowing we had no more time in the frame, is when the sun decided to poke through.

--

My phone died on my 27th birthday.  Well, the battery ran out of juice.  You'd think I would not remember a specific day when my phone battery ran out of juice unless it left me stranded in a desert basin, somewhere in the eastern Mojave, sun beating down on my parched neck, canteen long since pierced by a vindictive roadrunner, but no, it's the top of Pineapple Pass, June of '008, with the whole ramp below me, Catherine making those turns you want to make when you are imagining this exact scene.  There was no danger, I had a charger in my car down in North Bend, and really I just missed filming the scene.  I usually didn't think of taking crappy flip-phone video, except for that day, and the dern battery died.

The turns weren't memorable for the type of the snow.  It was just June of a Good Snow Year, and not really anything else, and that snow is consistent.  I know the snow was good, because I absolutely love summer snow, but I don't remember the actual turns at all.  I remember the views.  I remember the pitch.  Chair Peak, buried Source Lake somewhere under the remaining snowpack. I remember the short skate back to Catherine's Outback.  I remember the Kuhl jeans I had waiting for me, the ones that looked out of style and felt great and still made me sheepish enough when wearing them that I sold them at a second hand store.  The pockets were wrong, or the legs too baggy, or the gray too gray, I don't know.  It's interesting to remember the jeans, who drove, the date, my phone, and not the turns, but there it is.  The crux of all this memory.

Pineapple Pass, Alpental.  Not June.

--

Amy was fast.  She had her GS boards on, natch, and it was a vintage PNW January drought.  (I've since confirmed with at least one other person, Ryan [the Owner], that this really is A Thing.) This time, I remember the snow.  It was. . .um. . .white, it covered the ground, and if used correctly, it was also fast, like Amy.  I am always fast.  They (well, Lisa and Bob, anyway) didn't call me Two Turn Eino for nothin'.

I don't think I knew she was behind me, and when she passed, I noticed.  Her GS boards were of suitable vintage, late 90s Salomon, that F$#@ You Red they used for their racing program.  Silly Prolink arms on the topsheet, my absolute favouritest bindings and yellow race plates.  She looked comfortable, arms low, eyes goggles to the fall line, helmet, well, on her head, I guess.  Almost 13 years later, I'm sitting at our dinner table, grateful for all the years and even the shit we've been through, no matter how high it piles or how rotten the silage was that the cows ate.

I do not, however, remember much about the run.  I remember Amy ripping past me when I stopped at the top of the Gulch, her hands forward.  In my mind, it was sunny, but so what if it wasn't?  The outcome is the same.  I know what she sounds like at 7 in the morning, a minute after the alarm goes off.  I know that if I find a good pic of a cute elephant baby on the flappy internet box, she'll squeal a bit and maybe be a shade happier than she was before.  I know that we'll fight about certain things, and that the fighting can hurt like hell and also make each of us stronger.  Individually, and together.

Amy isn't fast right now, and that's totally okay.  Her knees fight her, to the point where the docs say she needs some Ti upgrades and some UHMW poly, to where skiing isn't always the right answer.  This from a man, a stoic Norske, an arrogant Svenska, a silent Sámi, who for 41 years has thought skiing is always the right answer.  We age, we change, we hopefully grow.  We're old enough to start thinking about second acts.

--

Stina had to leave her house to The Former Guy.  She built the damn thing herself, including the chainsaw carvings.  It's a beautiful structure, open, comfortable, cosy somehow, set back a piece in the foothills, away from the road, invisible until you right underneath it.  We're from different places, different worlds, really.  That house, though, before TFG stole it, it's like I designed it, except I did not.  Wood for days, open, isolated, quiet, air to breathe and room to believe.

My earliest memory of Stina is somewhere long before the new Northway chair.  I was chasing her group, 18 years old, just then learning how to bum, bumping chairs for Jace, fighting off those demons we all seem to face.  Mind on everything except this moment, whatever this moment is.  We're down low in the draw below Spook that led to Lower Northway or I-5, moguls and icy spots and all those lichen-hung Abies.  (The new chair kinda changed things some.  The draw isn't quite the same.  The moguls are bigger, the hardpan easier to scrape clean.)  Stina had one of those hats, I don't know, fleece? Colourful, kind of pill-boxy, not hip at all.  Out of time.  It is the best illustration of Stina for me, style borne of force-of-will rather than some other asshole's idea of what is cool.  Not hip, and better for it.  She doesn't need your approval anyway.

I'm not lying when I say Stina Stringer is one of the best skiers, both freeheel and fixed, that I have ever seen, let alone skied with.  (In the vacinity of? At the same mountain as?)  That exit, the creekbed draining Upper Spook and the Horseshoe Cliffs and Paradise Bowl, before Pa widened it, it wasn't exactly smooth going.  Slackcountry, as some of the more with-it writers say.  Those shoulder-high moguls that never really go away until Mud Season.  Pa calls em Volkswagens.  Stina's crew were all experienced dudes, current and former bums, strong skiers, and she's the one who really got it done.  All five-foot-not-much and a buck-very-few, she was (still is, hopefully, once her blowed-up foot heals) the strongest and smoothest, by at least one order of magnitude.

I remember her gliding through the bumps, and I wondered, "Who does that?!" Knee not quite to the ski, cos even when tired, she still held her technique.  I wanted to do what she was doing.  That mythical, mystical turn.  Bending the ski through technique and strength, demurring when people say, "That looks haaaard," like they were some bumpkin who just learned what a freeway is.

To learn that a person such as her, sought after by many dudes, quiet when you don't know her, is also kind, giving, and loyal, well, sometimes people are good.  I am grateful for that.

--

I like good turns, but more than that, I like turns.

If memory serves, it's the 25th of February, '008.  Pa's birthday, number 60, to be exact.  He was probly working.  I missed 70 cos people are terrible drivers.  (Ma and Amy and my mother-in-law, Jane, all thought I should stay alive, that even skiing isn't worth fighting off 70 mile-an-hour cars driven by idjits in what really was a prime, deep, cold cycle.  Stina had to rub it in, of course.  I was pretending to tune a shitty bike in BoyCee while she was dropping the knee out South.  Stina's Chute, even, in the cold late-February sun on 8 or 10 or whatever had settled there.)  '008, that was a different story.  Same weather on the day, but it'd been a minute since there was any snow.  It was cold, chalky, that hero snow I can't get enough of.

Kupsis and I kept sprinting South, skating and booting quickly to whatever line we fancied.  Nothing could stop us, and I don't think I've skied much better faster on anything as steep.  Somewhere around the fifth or thirtieth lap, at the first gate, a strawberry blonde stranger asked "What's skiin' well?"  and I just spat, "Me."  I had been enjoying, more than usual, the alpine gear.  I was in my own boots, I think, not sure I actually had alpine boots right then, and on a demo Katana.  The first model, the one with the UHMW swallowtail that the mags all hated.  Glorious.  Ugly, like, in a good way.  That ski always had its nose vaguely up, and it was right in line with how I was feeling.  The snow was hardpan, but the good kind, like the dirt all the mountain bike mags used to sweat about back when there were actual mountain bike mags.  Confident, I'd call myself.  Arrogant, even.  She, this to-me-unknown skier, was with Sean, the Snowsports guy.  He mumbled something about my sense of humour and the, y'know, undeniable fact that yeah, I'm pretty good.  Mike and I booted up the Throne to the first gate with something more than urgency, and skated hard around the back.  Dodging those Abies lasiocarpa branches at speed.  Pretty much ran up the King.  Hazy sun.  At the top, I took a short breather.  I'd been fighting bronchitis for two weeks at that point, my lungs wheezing, only my anger and hubris allowing me full-speed South laps.

As I dropped my skis, she ran up the traverse as fast as Mike and I had, and I, I had to stop.  Sean was nowhere to be seen.  She'd dropped him outright.  She nodded, laughed a little, said her name was Catherine, and asked,

Well, Mr Confident.  Where you gonna go?!

The King.  If you know, you go.  Bluff suitably called, I went Hourglass, third shot skiers' right of the summit, the easy way.
--

Title from the classic Roger Miller tune, "Old Friends".  Willie did a handful of versions with different ol' friends.  Give 'em a listen.  I hope you'll like at least one.