Thursday, December 30, 2021

Grew up somewhere, far away

By Eino Holm

If I were to list the entirely subjective Best Terrains Ever To Schred and Also Do Other Skeenings, the list would go something like

1) Snowbird, 2) Crystal, 3) Alpental, 4) Bachelor, 5) A Basin, 6) Baker, 7) Solitude, 8) The Place That Shall Not Be Named, 9) Brighton, 10) Loveland, 10) Monarch, 10) Copper, 13) Sun Valley, 14) Alta (too many damn traverses to be any higher), and then a whole lot of other places.  I have not skied in the Sierra, the Tetons, Southeast Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, or like, Indiana, so my list is woefully inadequate.  The skeenings, though, I couldn't rank them based on any one thing, not even something so important as terrain.

From Silly Season through about Thanksgiving every year, media of various sorts--even as not-skiing as Business Insider--throw up breathy rankings of places one should ski, usually based on metrics like snow quality, terrain quality and variety, views, lifts, food, lodges, lodging, glitz, glamour, perceived cool factor, something called "value," and places to take the square photos.  Often, they use skier surveys of all these important and not-so-important factors and tally up the results in a nice pseudoscientific package and then run short blurbs with flattering photos and super intelligent quotes like, "My 5 year old really likes the colour of the lifties' jackets."

I definitely know that there is more to skiing than just skiing, else I would doggedly fight to live near one of my top 10 rather than here in the desert near a 501(c)3 that may or may not have exactly what I want.  What I don't understand is how the lack of nightlife at places like Alpental or Monarch or Saddleback matters one bit.  The skiing is better, subjectively at least, than Breckenridge or Sun Valley or Palisades.  All three of the former are more expansive, have bigger and more modern lift fleets, likely better food, nicer shitters, maybe paved parking and shuttles directly from airports.  What places like Black Mountain, NH, and Discovery, MT have that fancy joints don't is air to breath and room to believe.  

Terrain quality is such a subjective measure.  How a run or a specific line feels and skis is different person to person, storm to storm, year to year.  For a good few people--I'd venture the vast majority of folks who pay for tickets and lodging and foods and plane tickets--the quality of grooming and the mellowness of the pitch matters most, so somewhere like the Skyliner Express at Bachelor is tops.  For many bums, especially the more self-conscious among us, the appearance of radness matters most.  Places with Amphitheaters of Huck, like the Palisades at, um, Palisades, or Corbet's at Corbet's J-Hole, or the Cirque at Snowbird, or that one run under that one chair at Mad River Glen.  I tend to look for those steeps and chutes and such, and even tend to ski better with an audience, but there's just something unmatchable about a deep-day line in the The Void at Mt A.  I've forgot exactly how to get in there; if you know, you know.  I remember rolling along under those huge Abies x shastensis and Tsuga mertensiana.  Spiritual, if you're okay with me getting a little Ashlandy.  If I'm truly honest, I do not recall the exact pitch.  I'd say somewhere between partly to mostly steepish enough.  The gliding, settled turns, the accidental drop off a downed hemlock, just keep turning until you hafta push some snow over the bank to sorta ride down on into the flat landing of the back lot.

Some terrain takes imagination.

There is no Gaffney's Numerical Assessment of Radness for terrain.  It changes depending on the company, the need to impress or downplay, the conditions, time of day, or one's conditioning.  Shot 8 at Alpental, for instance, might run somewhere well north of 50 degrees up top, but depending on the company, it might just be a nice pow line.  For me, to be clear, it's the steepest $#!@ I have ever skied, at least for longer than a turn or three.  Given the handshakes, fist bumps, bro hugs, and tequila shots (no thanks) I was handed after dropping the knee in full view of the bar at closing, it is above most folks' pay grade.  I was gripped, a little disappointed in how I skied it.  Matt, Hugh, and Catherine all dropped in confidently, made solid turns, slid nothing.  I, um, got down.  Once I was in, and comfortable, I got better, especially once I had passed the pinch and the pitch mellowed a little, to like, 49 degrees, then my knees unlocked and I opened up, back to the strong tele turns I made on all other pitches at that youthful point in my life, but I still want another crack at it.  Wanna do it right.  Whichever gear is on my feet.

-

Early in the season, most seasons, I am reminded just how subjective my assessment of terrain is.  This morning, on Morningstar at Bogus, I thought "Ooh!! Ima come back here when there's more snow!!"  And then I laughed, cos Morningstar is a groomer, on a beginner chair, short in stature and long on ease of use.  This, this nugget of truth, is what we are all drooling about after three shitty beers we stole borrowed from the cooler at Sean's trailer at about 6.37 pm on closing day.  What Tyler Childers is always on about, or Annie Lennox, or Charlie Parker, or Anton Arensky--the ephemeral, the unknowable, the beatific.  The entire point (such as it is) of the timeless and timelessly overrated On The Road.  We are not meant to know the mystery.

-

Fog rolls in.  Well, as NOAA says, the stratus deck.  Anyway, the statute of limitations is probly passed here, if there is one.  We're talkin' oh-nine, or oh-ten.  At any rate, I can't see much beyond my skis, but I've studied this line a good bit.  A couple slots uphill of Banana Chute, definitely under the rope.  No one is around, and I'm hoping for good luck.  I don't know if it'll slide, or if Lisa Poncelet or Chet Mowbray (good) or some jackass first year I've never met (bad) will be making some sorta rounds underneath.  If it is someone I know and like, like Ms Poncelet, I am unsure of how to proceed.  I know the position I'd be putting her in.  Better if it's just me and some sluff.  At this remove, 12 or 13 years, I don't remember what skis I'm on.  The illicit nature of my turns gives me a giddy little shiver, I smirk a little with smugness, but really, it's just a nice, steep ramp, and then a really nice apron, and then try not to pancake on the Gap Road.

Some terrain gets skied by gnomes.

Kirkwood has some of these lines.  Crystal has some others, too.  Baker, well, you better f*##&$in' know where you're goin'; just cos it ain't closed ain't mean it really goes for us mere mortals.  Some joints (Crystal, Kirkwood) have lines management is too lazy or too inexperienced to control.  Some, like Loveland, have lines that are slide paths directly above major highways, and thus closed for the greater good by faceless folks who in this specific instance really do know better.  Rock Face, Kemper's, The Cirque, et al, they go, they ski with some oomph, don't harm no one din't wanna be harmed.  There's always some excuse, like the Forest Circus or or the Park or whatever, but really, look at J-Hole.  They opened the gates, nothing changed except Doug Coombs stopped being prosecuted for being, well, Doug Frickin Coombs.  Crystal had more than they have, and JK gave it up for a gondola and some fur coats.  Kemper's was the best pow line at Crystal.  I will never forgive, nor will I forget.

The other side of this very valuable coin is a place like Bogus.  Nothing is closed, but then, nothing is the neck-deep, triple-overhead, either.  It's up to the skier to get rad, to find that one turn hidden skiers' right of Hidden Valley, the one that doesn't go but does anyway.  Bohemia, with their "triple blacks".  I'd venture it's just some trees and rocks, à la Pixies or TLC Trees at CM, but, you know, Michigan.  Goods, but marketing jargon instead of full honesty.

-

It's easy to extoll the virtues of places like Whistler.  Big, open, huge, terrain for days.  One can't hope to ski all that on one vacation.  It just doesn't matter.  I know, deep down and superficially and everywhere else in between, that I am a tin hat repeater who wants everything to be just so, while doing nothing to make it just so.  I am the cynic, that apocryphal man of Oscar Wilde's nightmares who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.  I'd venture that one cannot know value without knowing cost, but all those marketing folks and Ashlandy dreamers and God knows who else say otherwise.  Still, Whistler, big, bad Whistler, does not matter.  And yes, I have actually skied there.  The mountains, the terrain, the vert, the vista, it's all there, with bells on.  It still just doesn't matter, in the same what that Bougie Skis Magazine's Annual Top 27.8 Ski Areas To Wear Stretch Pants After 4 PM list doesn't matter.  Terrain is what is under your feet.  It can be Buck Hill, Iceland, Aoraki, Sölden, Blue Hills, MA, or wherever you lay your skis down.  Really, truly, wherever you lay your skis down.  The hype, the marketing, the measurements and pseudoscience, just ignore it.  Pull them skis off the roof, or outa the trunk, whatever, lay em down gently, step in with authority, and ski off.  However you usually do.


Title from James McMurtry's "I'm Not From Here".

Friday, December 17, 2021

Overheard at St. Moritz last weekend

"We should get a bunch of goats and name them after ski racers."










By Amy Post

Friday, December 10, 2021

Strange, how hard it rains.

By Eino Holm

My first real job was at James Oil in Enumclaw.  Jeff told me I needed to stop standing around with my hands in my pockets cos I didn't look confident enough.  I am still not real certain why it mattered whether or not a timid 16 year old looked confident when all he needed to do was take a handful of cash and a few credit cards and then count out at the end of the day, but there you go.  Jeff isn't actually that much older than me, maybe 15 years, but he and I are decidedly of different generations.  He treated me well, though, for my entire tenure.  One time he got mad that I applied for unemployment from a different job, so he gave me a sizable raise and more hours.  I'd call that a win.  Also, I still like the guy.  He was always patient with me.  I can be a slow learner.

The evening of Wednesday, 25 November 98, was like many any good Puget Sounder will recognise.  Wet, of middling temperature, hard to really tell what is going on above with the low ceiling and the continual moderate rain.  If you haven't experienced a good November rain in Puget Sound, it is not like one that you'd imagine from listening to Guns and Roses.  It's also not particularly cold.  You cannot see it.  Believe me, I have tried to make video of it for folks here in the desert, and have failed repeatedly.  Ken Kesey and GM Ford and Jonathan Raban and Earl Emerson and so many others have tried, but the best description I have found is Tim Egan's drip, drip, drip.  I was working at the station that evening, standing under the tall awning, next to the two pumps.  I could see the dimples in the puddles from the rain, watch the puddles slowly grow until it looked like all of Griffin was one conspicuously straight-sided, shallow lake.  It occurred to me somewhere around closing that it had started raining the day before, and hadn't quit.  I don't know how long it actually lasted, come to think of it.  Thirty-six hours, maybe more.  The next morning the atmospheric river had drifted east, leaving Puget Sound on the northwest, cool side of the flow.  The light was brilliant.  Tahoma was caked in white, the higher elevation non-volcanic summits too.  The ground was utterly saturated.  Thanksgiving morning.

These huge rain events, two, three, ten times a year, are a chaotic mess of panic, immersion, and awe.  Up high, on the volcanoes, they usually bring snow.  Sometimes only above 10 grand, sometimes just above the ski areas.  Those huge glaciers that reduce the mighty shoulders of Tahoma and Wy'east and Takobia and Pahto, they receive a good bit of their masses each year from the thin ribbons of vapor transport that smash into their southwest aspects.  I learned early on to just cut shoulder holes in a garbage bag and to keep skiing.  It'll pass.

This year, '021, three particularly potent rivers rolled through the entire west coast in October.  Deep, broad mid-latitude cyclones powered them.  The sort of systems that inspire wide-eyed nerds and umbrella-losing reporters alike to all sorts of excited consternation.  Fear and magnetism all at once.  The strongest of the three was the deepest ever recorded (so, like, probly just a normal storm in geologic time) off the Washington Coast at 940 or so millibars.  This is Cat 3 hurricane territory.  These storms stretched from the Yukon all the way to Hawai'i, which, not coincidentally, is the impetus for the informal name for these cycles, the Pineapple Express.  Beautiful forms on the western CONUS satellite loop.  They also dropped a good bit of sticky soup-snow in the Sierra, enough from one single cycle for Mammoth and Boreal and Palisades to open weeks early.  

In November, they brought catastrophic flooding and destruction of major highways, and cut whole cities off from the rest of the region.  The ground on the Wet Side can handle some water, such that often the first couple storms pass without much notice.  After a wet October and early November, the wettest meteorological fall on record as of this publishing, the ground is saturated. The worst so far this year started around the 12th, a kind of arc that slowly shuffled east, basically steady rain for 4 days, even at elevation.  Numbers more familiar to those who have lived through or study hurricanes, 15" at Mt Baker Ski Area (which is at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Nooksack), 11.5" in Hope, BC, at the confluence of the Coquihalla and Fraser Rivers.  When the AR finally drifted east, the Sumas Prairie and its extensive agriculture and much of northern Whatcom County on the Washington side where flooded by feet of runoff, mostly from the Nooksack.  Highways 1 (the Trans-Canada), 5 (Coquihalla) and 7 (Lougheed) were all closed by acres of water.  Hope, BC, at the confluence of those three highways, was cut off entirely.  Highway 5 was washed out in multiple places by its namesake river.  Highway 99, up by Lilloet, was also flooded.  Even to this Wet Sider, the sheer volume of water is hard to actually understand fully.  The mountains in the region are tall, 4, 5, 6 grand from the valley to the ridgeline, and steep.  The water flows quickly if not absorbed, and after however many cycles already this wet season, there just wasn't room. 

-

In bad years, a good Pineapple can wipe out Cascade snowpack in a couple days.  In good years, they just re-gesso the canvas and provide a new surface for that self-expression pros are always dreaming about.  In my three winters living in Greenwater, one system or another flooded us all in five or six times.  Little creeks most folks never notice covered 410 in axle-deep swiftwater.  Little draws blew out and covered the pavement in five, ten, fifty feet of mud and trees.  The first of that stretch was the first week of November, around the time Barack Obama won the White House.  Ma called me in a small panic, said Pa had felt something wrong in the dark of Fed Forest while driving the town run back to Crystal.  He'd lost the taillights he was following and figured forward wasn't the answer.  Turns out he was right.  Timing was incredible, if spooky.  If he was a tailgaiter, they'd both be gone, buried in the slide.  Instead, it's another story we tell when we're all one-upping around the living room or over a workstand or leaning on the bed of the truck after work.

The second that year was in January, not as eventful but just as effective.  At the end of the cycle, I drove downstream on the old Weyerhaeuser Mainline across the river from town, and caught a moment where the sun hit the headwaters of Slippery Creek, a splash of colour after three straight days of gray.  The tail end of these cycles is often a strong cold front, and this had been textbook.  Three or four inches of snow in a short time, the trees brilliant for a handful of moments, and then it passed.

-

George Winston recorded his "December" record in Autumn, 1982, coincidentally the same winter I learned to ski.  It is by genre a Christmas album of piano solos, but, really, kinda just whatever the listener wants it to be.  To me, it's like having chocolate in the fridge and craving chocolate; not much time passes after about my Cousin Maija's birthday in early October before I shrug and turn it on, once, or twice, or maybe thirteen times.  It is an incredibly straightforward set of songs.  Thanksgiving into the New Year.  Having grown up on the Wet Side, where November is the wettest month and December can't be far behind, this record drips with, um, rain.  As a piano record, it obviously doesn't measure up in the one-liner department like Patti Griffin's "Weekend Edition has this town way overrated," or James McMurtry's "I don't want another drink.  I only want that last one again."  The songs simply roll along, in the background, so you don't really notice.  Like the rain that Thanksgiving, '98.  The beginning, Advent.  Anticipation, patience, dripping trees, rain into snow, getting on the bus for the Bon Marché parade sophomore year and wondering what it meant that Mercer sat next me. (Nothing, if you're wondering, just that she wasn't pissed at me anymore for whatever it was that I'd done that I never knew I did.) The end, birth, quiet, some remaining leaves blowing around under the third or fourth marine event, rain on the window.

These events are part of the score on the Wet Side.  Here in the desert, they are a mixed blessing.  They get needed moisture into the ground, and sometimes a little snow up high; sometimes they rain on the meager snowpack and the thin lead we built will disappear.  The frustration can be palpable around town, watching another almost-skiable storm warm a degree or two and thin the snow to dirt.  '017, we had three, and each was more frustrating than the last.  We finally opened on Boxing Day, a kind of John Kircher opening based on a forecast and shear willingness to ignore things as they lay.  

I remember the first year I lived with Mike Walsh in The Village, '09, that January event melted the south face of East Peak to the dirt like a mid-November day in the Boise Range.  I was trying to mount some tele bindings without a jig on a demo ski that previously had alpine demo bindings, every so often between throwing a pozi through the drywall in frustration I'd look out and see more brown, more green even.  January be damned; as Jim Steenburgh says, this is no way to run a winter. 

Some of these cycles can bring the goods; clean, smooth snow, the tough--or maybe prideful--locals skiing in their cutoff rainpants and can-liner vests.  Sometimes, though, it's just a sad look out the window and a wary eye on the river.  The Greenwater locals heading out with sandbags to the houses on the White and Greenwater, repeated up and down the entire Wet Side.  You live in a beautiful place, you probably shouldn't get mad when the thing most responsible for that beauty bites you back.  Fire in the desert, flood on a Wet Side river, cold in Minnesota, one either takes it as it comes or succumbs and moves on until another type of strife hits.

-

Winter of '02, Justin Bartollini and I are Tuesday Teleing under Chair 5.  Anything that isn't steep isn't skiable, the heavy rain on the hardened but edgeable snow grabbing at our bases.  We keep at it most of the day.  Last run is Chute 4.  (Well, I don't know for sure, but that really doesn't matter.)  We are under Chair 5, somewhere, so clean and smooth when our turns keep getting erased by the melt, no others laid down because everyone went home or didn't show in the first place.  542 is open, but sometimes it's just too much for too little.  If you know, though, those are some fun turns, and all day, Justin's and mine are ridiculously good.  I don't know that we are.  We are wet, though, through and through.  Somedays you just layer up and hope for the best.  Head for the showers when your energy is spent.  Anyway, each turn is better than the last, creamy, sliding easy through the chute.  It's a draw, really, more than a chute, but it gets skied a lot, holds good snow, and as we keep learning, skis well in a Pineapple.  Out of the chute, we slide a few shrinking moguls and drop out onto the flats under Chairs 4 and 5 where Honkers and Holiday Cat Tracks and the Canyon all kinda meet up.  I am flat out, tryna run the flats to the bottom of that old Riblet, and in the transition between turns I am up tall, a little bit forward, and that legendary surface tension of water reaches up and tackles me face first.  From the chair, Justin and I point and laugh; there's a really clean, textbook left-foot carve, two deep railroad tracks, then a short bit of flat skis, then nothing, then a muddled splat.  A head-sized hole and then a gap and then a body-shaped impact.

-

That Thanksgiving, '98, J-O was driving his blue GL wagon, from back when they had a 2WD option.  We were heading up to Shirley and Stan's.  The whole Plateau was absolutely soaked.  North of town, each low spot had a few inches of water, most of the fields unrecognisable lakes. 416th at 244th was axle-deep and a little spooky.  That old Subaru was fine, the water rolling away from the tyres.  Above the Plateau, the shreds of cold convective clouds, Tahoma, streaks of sun and isolated curtains of snow falling toward the rapidly cooling ground.  The Sisters, Bearhead, Carbon Ridge, Enumclaw and Grass Mountains drifting into and out of view, whitening a little with each cloud moving quickly east into the higher Cascades.  This is why you wait out the rain, this morning.  It's a storybook, a postcard from somewhere you'd like to visit one day, when the money isn't quite so lean.  A cup of coffee around the table with your family, some you haven't seen in a year, some in twenty, some almond pastry or hopefully a plate of Hardanger lefse, the younger cousins chasing each other around the house, yelling and generally being a ruckus.  Doug fir waving in the afternoon wind coming in off the Sound; another storm on the way, this one hopefully colder, more zonal flow, more snow than rain.  Maybe even down to the lowlands.


Title from Patti Griffin's "Rain".


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

BEST. DAY. EVER.

By Eino Holm

Copper's new snowstake is funny.  It's labeled "SEND-O-METER" and has some wonderfully overstated names for a few of the overnight snowfall totals, such as "FRESHIES" and "DEEP".  Now, expect me as a PNWet vet to downplay snowfall, expecially given my third winter bumping chairs was an 800" year at Baker.  I've shoveled snow at Crystal through an entire 100", three-day cycle.  Speaking of chiropractors.

Still, if one were to say to the average enthusiast skier, "What amount of overnight snowfall would qualify for you as, say, MEGA?" you'd likely get answers ranging from 20ish up to like 40 inches.  Or more.  I mean, MEGA is much bigger than deep, or dumping, or merely a refresh, right?  MEGA is what you call a night where when you head into the E Lodge after driving up from town--arriving at 2 in the morning cos you're 19 and an idiot like I was--your old '87 GL is noticeably bereft of settled snow, yet when you get up for work four hours later, you can't find it anywhere.  MEGA is where the storm is still talked about even though it happened in the 50s, when most of the folks who were living on the south shoulder of Shasta then and actually witnessed the 189" cycle have long since crossed the rainbow.  MEGA is when Bridger locals stay home on Boxing Day of '03 because it's snowing so hard that Crystal's 24 hour record of 64" in February of '94 is in danger long in the rearview mirror.  MEGA is when a particularly potent föhn cycle sets up over the Alps and Südtirol gets hit with endless snowfall that isn't even measurable because of the immensity of the cycle and its shifting winds.  Or whatever falls at eleven grand on Tahoma during a nice November Pineapple.

I prefer the term PUKING.

What is not MEGA is 12".  In a good El Niño winter, Wolf Crick and Mammoth folks call that "Tuesday".  A grizzled janitor pushing snow with a broom in Erie, PA calls that a "weak Lake Effect band."  At Baker or Alyeska or anywhere in the Alps of Honshu, you'd call that "Tuesday between brefix and second coffee."

Buried in the middle of this is the word DUMPING.  I know that being correct, especially with regard to language, is unhip on all sides of the aisle in these Insta-addled times, but come on. Dumping is a verb, and a simple one at that.  When describing snowfall, it's very subjective, and utterly non-specific.  It is possible, even common, to be dumping and also not accumulating at all, given the right concoction of atmospherics.  It's also possible to be dumping and land 10" in less than three hours.  Spooky skiing, this.  Mostly though, it is simply a fun description what is going on at a given point in time; "It's dumping right now."  On a derivative chart from position to jerk, it is velocity.  Useful info, but dependent on other things.  Snow can fall for 24 hours--the normal time between snow stake swipes--and never once actually be dumping, yet land exactly 6" new.  It can also be dumping continuously and land much, much more than 6" in 24 hours.  Sometimes, that's called "Oops I just scraped the side of this fancy car whose owner forgot to mark it with boo.  Can I drug test and go home, Ed?  No?!  Okay."

I know this sort of hubris is harmless on its face.  In theory, no one is making decisions based on the words next to the numbers, and anyone who's looking at the numbers already has their own word for what each mean.  Me? I'd leave the snow stake alone, but wipe it every two hours.  Then 12" really would be MEGA.

Mt Baker Employee Lodge, 1999, somewhere between brefixt and second coffee.


Friday, November 26, 2021

Small town Saturday night

By Eino Holm

The upper lodge isn't super crowded most weekdays.  If you forget your PB&J, the line for the fairly decent burger combo is short, and they have seasoning salt for the better-than-mediocre fries.  I'm not really good with names.  I don't know the name of the guy who always looks like he's angry, but in any interaction I've had or watched has just been some dude doing a job, no fuss.  JJ and Beardy Geoff might be absent-mindedly stirring some homemade fry sauce by the window on break from fixing the lights and parking the cars.  

There are more cars here than there used to be, for sure.

There are more skiers, too, though whether that matters just yet is hard to tell.  Bogus Basin has never been confused with Big Snow Baker or Mammoth Pineapple Dumps Mountain.  Some of my best deep day turns anywhere have been here, though.  Some of those, in turn, were sneaking in and out of the trees on Saturday night after work with Ryan (the Owner).  The signs all mandate staying on lighted runs, so if the light reaches into those trees, somewhere along the line, you're good, right? Right?!

Sunset laps on The Face are best.

Bogus shares 501(c)3 status with such auspicious joints as Bridger and Cooper and Mt Ashland.  Runs and lifts are largely named after mines, well- or poorly-known.  Comeback, Paradise, Superior, Matchless, Bonanza, Lucky Friday, names that could be boring and generalised, but here are specific and part of a story.  The Boise Basin to the northeast, around Idaho City, Placerville, and Centreville, is littered with sluices and rubble, at times ugly in the absence of the old miners.  At one point in the 1860s, Idaho City was the biggest city in the region, the biggest city between St Louis and San Francisco by some estimates.  The actual number of folks was only around 7,000, a small town by today's standards, and today, the estimate is less than 500.  The names, the holes in the ground, the ghosts of dreams and murdered miners all remain, mostly out of sight under the haze that settles so often in winter inversions and among the scattered ponderosa that have managed to re-establish.

This fall Bogus paved the lower lot, something that for some reason caused more momentary excitement than the glading and bushwacking of runs or the announcement of a push for new terrain in Clear Creek.  I am nonplussed.

A handful of years ago, the Board hired Brad Wilson to captain the sometimes creaky ship, and he's done a pretty good job.  It's easy to pass judgment from afar, for sure.  His predecessors weren't imaginative men.  The fella who was at the helm immediately before Wilson was a numbers guy, seemingly blind to the benefits to be had after assessing risk and taking a plunge.  No real summer operations, minimal snowmaking that was largely just used to darn the corners that'd worn thin early in the season.  There are rumours of the GM from the late 80s and early 90s saying "we don't groom"; the lack of which was anathema even then at a place like Bogus where days between good dumps might stretch into months.  Brad might not be singularly responsible for the impressive push into being the more going concern that Bogus is today, but the changes started when he did, and continue.

Something I find heartening at a place like this is it will likely always be burdened with not being Somewhere Else.  I say burdened, because that's how many folks see it.  Saturdays will certainly get worse, at least the mornings, and Sundays, too, and maybe Fridays, too, also, as this town fills up with "knowledge workers" and whatnot.  Boise doesn't have the cachet of McCall, nor Bogus the lower temps of the West Central mountains.  It will likely never have the glitz of Ketchum or the groomers and fancy bathrooms of Sun Valley, thankfully.  The terrain will--without some geological mishap--always be here.  Hopefully, most years the snow will come, or at least the cold for some scratchy man-made.

In the years since Amy and I left Washington, I have found skills I didn't need while still skiing in the Cascades.  Siskiyou patience, willow dodging, planning, acute observation, constant slarve-steer, none of those things was wholly necessary in the big pitches above Silver Creek and the Nooksack and the South Fork.  Aside from thirty years of learning the nuances of the snow level, you pretty much just ski.  All of these little tactical insights come in handy at Bogus, from the patience to wait out the crowds to the slight softening of the tail edges to load up a little Scandi Flick around a Doug fir.  To always be willing to change course mid-run, or mid-turn; that little "OOH!! There it is!!"

Bushwacking.

Shafer Butte tops out a little over 7500'.  Chair 6 ends on a protected bench just shy of that point, still windy and prone to some rime.  The best turns hide from view, sometimes even while in plain sight.  The chalk bumps of the upper Triangle, random Doug fir lanes in between the main runs, little ridges when one holds the line a little bit left of the lift line.  A little imagination can get you into the only true steeps at Bogus, down low in the creek and in full view of a mostly disinterested full line on the chair above you.  If your timing is good, say, day 3 of the only three-day cycle to hit each season, you might even find a handful of knee-deep turns left of Lucky Friday or deep into the lower Triangle.

It really does snow here.  I always feel like Bogus is the East Coastiest place in the west, including the requisite head-scratching, wish-you-were-here sorta days.  15 March--at the start of the ongoing pandemic--seemed like any other spring day in town, but there were turns everywhere at the hill, and it felt like a hurricane party or a wake.  I was nursing a pre-surgical knee and didn't get after it, but that afternoon made up for a year of wait-and-see.  Then like it was for everyone else, it was over and we started the garden and tried to cope with the simultaneous fear of death and boredom.

The biggest accumulations here seem to be from an easterly or southeasterly wraparound, those little mesovortices you notice on the radar or Jim Steenburgh's twitter.  Much like the south shoulder of Mt Shasta, the local orography precludes major snowfall with the exception of being in the right place during the right cycle.  Those are the mythical days.  Days where even in town, your tracks are filled in before you pass by again.  Everyone everywhere has a memory of this sorta day, and maybe I'm lucky, but I don't have just one.  I have had enough days where the snow kept falling, the wind calm enough to allow the flakes to hit the ground in relative peace, I don't know, at some point memory fades.  I am also not a fisher, half Norske blood aside, so I tend not to worry too too much about measuring that which need not be measured.  If it sounds like bragging this time, well, heck, then it is.  I have skied snow to my armpits.  (Tele, but still.  You gotta get it to get it.)

Where the cat-track goes right, we go left.

On the whole, Bogus is like any other joint.  Take your time, make a few wrong turns down a few wrong lines.  See if you can find the turns that aren't on the map.  Have a beer in the lot in April.  Show up early on a Monday and wonder why nobody else did, then grumble a little when you realise the lifts ain't gonna spin until 10.  Then ask some nerdy local with a moustache and he might grumble in turn about how maybe BoyCee has an annoyingly late sunrise because it should be on Pacific time, but is instead on Mountain time.  Some of the lots are van-campable, especially later in the season.  Good sunsets, some scattered Stellar's jays, ground squirrels and chipmunks if they're awake.  Probly a goofy local in an old Plymouth Voyager with a dog or six and a ratty cast-off Gore-tex jacket.  

Bogus is not a backward place.  They have affordable tickets, affordable foods, and a surprisingly new lift fleet.  Decent grooming, satisfactory snowfall, some crowds, some quiet.  Allegedly a whitebark pine somewhere along the west side.  I wouldn't mind if somehow it were another grand or so higher, and I wouldn't mind if Ada and Canyon Counties weren't so popular.  Then again, I wouldn't mind if I lived in a cabin in the woods in some undisclosed mountain range you've never heard of.  Heck, somewhere I've never heard of.  For now, I'll take the good with the less good.

Some day, I think a Wednesday, during the off winter of '018, I and Amy were skiing with Raleigh and a friend.  It had finally started snowing, and I finally got a chance to ski the new Rustlers.  Most of the hill was good, not deep, but good.  We kept sneaking into the more challenging lines, which at Bogus is often simply finding where there are fewer turns and more willow whips.  Down low in the Triangle, we lined up a couple runs where the best tactics were to keep your skis to the brush and block like a slalom skier with your poles.  In a season where it snowed little, settled quickly, and almost never happened in the first place, we found boot-top and deeper.  Just the four of us, some willows, a little patience, and a left turn where most folks just kept skating back toward the chair.


Title by Hal Ketchum, from song of the same name.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Fight, or go ski?

By Eino Holm

Dateline, Park City, UT, October, 2021.

Powdr Corp announces paid fast lanes at select ski resorts, including Copper, Bachelor, Killington, and Snowbird.  (Never mind that Copper has had'em for 20 years.)  They did not announce why they can't spell their own name.

According to the dumpster fire that is the internet, this is Big News.  To me, it just isn't.  Skiing has been a rich person's plaything for three or four generations now, depending on who's counting and how.  At the latest, it started with Sun Valley back when Averill Herriman was like, "Here's this railroad track OH LOOK MOUNTAINS LET'S NOT PUT CHAIRS ON MOUNTAIN HOW BOUT TINY HILL," or something like that.  It could have been earlier in the Alps.  So, if Number 5 of the Big 3 adds a benefit for wealthy, clueless tourists, it really doesn't affect actual skiers all that much, if at all.

There are simple arguments I won't follow, such as bums gonna bum and whatnot.  The general fact, to me, is that all funk in skiing can be surmounted or avoided with a little ingenuity or straight-up oomph.  Rich people cutting in line, or Blaine the Butthole Patroller, is just another piece of bad cheese to be cut from the baby loaf of Tillamook.  Before I push the metaphor too too far, just know that a moldy corner doesn't spoil the entire thing, at least according to both my Ma and Amy's.

Can you make it rain?  Skip the lift line!
(Not literally, of course.  No amount of money can control the r-word.)

There have been many times in skiing where having an idea of the behaviour of others makes my day better and more productive.  Mt Ashland on the rare deep day, say.  When folks are aiming for the Windsor liftline, I'm already in the trees.  When they mistakenly head to Ariel, I'm still in the trees.  When Ariel doesn't open and they skate back to Windsor and head for the trees, I'm already midway down The Void, really feelin the Abies vibe, headin for the back lot. When Ariel opens, I don't mind that I'm 35th in line, cos they're all headin right down the line, unskilled turns and half-cocked hucks abounding, and I'm sidestepping around NOAA's Golf Ball and heading for Southeast Left.  When (or if) they all figure out Southeast Left, I've already had three runs there, one in SE Right, and am skating back from Rabbit Ears, sweaty, satisfied, and smug.  Like, really dang smug.  Scott Krupa will tell me about some kid he saw who's "really good" and I'll laugh, say I saw him not really knowing how to turn but hucking his meat off everything in sight, have a little argument that Krupa always wins, cos he believes in the Pyrrhic victory, and then remind him that while he and the Huckmeister were fighting for partial turns, I was gettin after first tracks for 5 hours at a 200 acre ski area during Spring Break, and he'll shut up for like, at least 6, 7 seconds.

With some very easy planning, Powdr's underhanded move can be treated with the same sort of smug aloofness.  As some on the dirty internet wires say, one can just avoid these four joints altogether.  To me, though, it seems better to stick it to the man, so to speak.  Avoid them when you can, sure, but if you have reason to ski A Lift for an early March chalk bump cycle, as one should, by all means go for it.  At the moment, anyway, A Lift is a rad old Yan double, slow, out of the way, reliable, and importantly, uncool.  "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."  I don't know if Lester Bangs actually said that, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman did when he was Lester Bangs in Almost Famous back in the day.  If he didn't, kudos to whichever writer had courage to be drunken baffoons to write that line.  Okay, sidebar:  y'know how resorty houses on AirBnB always have DVDs of random movies you aren't interested in, and how back in the day their time-share condo precursors had VHS tapes of older random movies?  I feel like Almost Famous should be in all these places.  So many good lines.  Break that uninteresting cycle.  Anyway, back to the task at hand.

I know I am a broken record.  I will forever (hopefully, at least) extol the high virtue of skiing off the beaten path.  What's funny is that sometimes "off the beaten path" is smack dab on the south side of I-90, right on the ID-MT state line.  An incredibly, heavily beaten path, and yet Lookout Pass isn't exactly the sorta joint Ryan (the Owner)'s brother-in-law in Nashville would ever scout out for winter vacation.  Ryan (the Owner) and I were talking about how so much of Ski Country is just empty nothing to people who, to put it mildly, aren't really into exactly just the skiing.  His brother-in-law is pretty specific about skiing happening in places like Colorado, or, like, Colorado.  For those of us looking to dodge the exact sorta thing Powdr is looking to do, this is manna.  As it is for someone in Albany, who could simply sneak up to Titus or over to Catamount.  Here in BoyCee, we have our own right-on-a-very-beaten-path but uncool Bogus Basin, complete with somewhat off-kilter name and legendary access road.  So many of my conversations over the years have been about pilgrimages to Alta or Telluride or Sun Valley and believe me, when timed right, those can be utterly perfect.  Perfect doesn't matter, though. Le meglio è l'inimico del bene, or something to that effect. I want skiing to be somewhat routine, just something I do two, three, four, seven days a week. Mundane, even. "Mundane" sounds like a bad thing to this Insta-addled world, but it isn't.  It's seeing the same faces, making stories for those you don't know, finding the best way to hit the chicane at the bottom of Lower Paradise and then trying to repeat it every so often and failing, learning in the process how to load the ski differently, and learning, however small the task, is everything.

Within stabbing distance of Copper in Central CO are Cooper, and Monarch, and Loveland.  Copper is worth the trip, do not doubt.  The Fremont Glades the week after they officially close, cos you know somebody who knows somebody, the southerly aspects around 4 and 6 on a sunny February chalk day, A-1 in the morning the first bluebird after a cycle, I-Lift when Snowmaking gets enough shaved ice on the grass and Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is soon, there's some stalks of grass and I don't know, it just feels right.  If you are worried about two or three rich pricks who don't ski as well as you, maybe just readjust your focus.  I know, I know, if someone says "just" then just ignore them.  Whatever.  Just move on.  Skiing is skiing, regardless of what Instafart or Bougie Skis Magazine or some other dumpster fire tells you.  If you know, you know, and you'll know.  Cooper is quiet, treed, storied, and most importantly, fun as F#*&$.  Monarch, same same.  Loveland too, though higher and less treed.

A few years ago the trend was penning bleeding-heart odes on "feeder resorts", which is a bit of an oxymoron, cos if it's a feeder for the bigger stakeholders, it likely isn't resorty at all.  It felt like something was missing in all that, that the discussion was more "We need these so Vail and KSL can make money."  About which I do not care.  We need feeder resorts not because they are feeders, but because they provide good, fun skiing on their own, and closer to home for many throughout this messed up country.  Our back-burner, but never back-of-mind Indie 50 dreams are centred around exactly these places.  They are not lesser, or less important, or even different, regardless of what Jon Jay says.  Each year there's a Le Mans start for who can lay down the first white ribbon of death (WROD).  Most years it's A Basin.  Some years it's the currently-hated Killington (soon to pass, cos WORLD CUP WOOOOHOOOO), and rare years it's Loveland or Keystone.  This year, Wolf Creek opened on the 16th of October on a heavy dusting and a beginner chair.  Every so often, it's somewhere most folks have never heard of.  If I am not mistaken, last year it was Wild Mountain, MN.  Having grown up on the Wet Coast, these sorts of opening charges aren't really in my lexicon.  That doesn't lessen the joy and anticipation for the immense bunny hill the Muir Snowfield is after a decent mid October cycle, but, I don't know, I never really caught the turn-fall-off-now bug.  I still cheer when Wild Mountain gets to the car first and peels out, middle finger out the window to all the bigger snow guns.

If the paid fast lanes aren't impetus enough, or even if they are, maybe a little FOMO can help as well.  We all know the underdogs are always cooler.  They always have the right flannels and grills and dirty '84 Brats and neon headbands Bougie Skis Magazine and Jimmy's Fast Times Blog are always "palping" (thanks, Eben) in their "retro fun pose" pictorials.  The only downside is most folks in the Pebble Creek lot Friday morning aren't looking at you, so your ironicalism is really for your enjoyment only.  Oh well. You can always wow them on Instafart.


Amazing photoshop skills by Mimi.  Images are stock.

Monday, November 8, 2021

It's all just a little too shiny for me.

By Eino Holm

Riblet Tramway built its first chairlift in 1939. (Some sources say '38, but Riblet's still-standing website says '39.) It wasn't the first chairlift in the world, but 80 years on, it stands out as the beginning of a bit of a dynasty. Maybe not surprisingly, it was built at Timberline Lodge on Wy'east, a short walk or skate to the west of the crowd. Riblet Tramway had its origins in mining trams in the late 19th century in interior British Columbia. Brothers Walter, Royal, and BC (natch) ran the original mining tramway company, and BC founded the final version in 1908. The company was headquartered in Spokane for its entirety, through 2003 after it built its last chair, fittingly also on Wy'east. This time at a small, one chair hill called Cooper Spur. For a time, Riblet was the largest manufacturer of ski area lifts in the world. There are still many running, some over 60 years old. Riblets have cachet, at least among some of us, while frustrating many. They are slow. Riblet never managed to build a detachable lift, something that is anecdotally credited with building--or at least providing the final handful of nails for--their coffin. Riblet has a place in the pantheon of things, though, along with standouts such as Heron, Poma, Lift Engineering, and Doppelmayr. Though ski areas in the Northwest region bought many of their lifts, they surpassed the more acute regionality of such builders as Borvig and Murray-Latta. They built their first quad in '67, long before even triples were considered necessary. Countless ski areas were built around these tireless lifts, to the point where some areas were built entirely of Riblets.
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There is a stump in the middle of The Fan at Alpental. For a good portion of the year it is buried, melting out, south facing as Chair 2 is, in the spring. Beard and I are riding up a chair behind Taylor, and Catherine's brother John, skis dangling beneath one of the most elemental lifts anywhere. There is a skier standing just above the stump, swaying drunkenly. He steps somewhat gingerly onto the stump, then effectively just falls off and starts sliding through the May slush. There is no danger of injury, but I have to wonder just what is going on upstairs throughout the tableau. He's too drunk to really ski, yet here he is in the middle of a run one can only access if one can ski fairly well. For a moment there, he looked triumphant, as though this stump was a tick on a long list of things he had planned to do, but then he looked crestfallen. It seemed as though he realised his inability, and then just gave up entirely. He slides a few hundred vertical before his skis build up enough slush for a passive self-arrest, then stops as we continue on overhead. Even Beard--legendary for driving up to Deputy Dan in A Lot and telling him "Dan! Gimme a ride! I'm too drunk to be driving!"--is confused by the man's short-lived hubris and subsequent complete withdrawal.
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Eino on Chair 5, Bogus Basin, ID

My father helped build Chair 2, as well as Chair 3 and old Chair 1. Summer of '67. All beautiful, if less than unique, Riblets. Matte black finish on everything now, utilitarian. It ages so well, looking old to begin with. Most new lifts feature mountains of galvinised steel and block-colour paint schemes. LPoA likes wood cladding and even weather-bubbles. There is technology for years, none truly necessary. While advances in ski and boot technology, in accurate binding release, and in clothing, make skiing far safer and more comfortable, a fancy lift does nothing beyond cost money. The experience of skiing, the actual ski-snow interface, is unchanged.

He was pretty young that summer, 19, setting charges, cutting runs, whatever it took. It's always sad when something old and full of history is taken away, even if it's outlived any usefulness. Worse, then, when it is still useful. Of course it's nice to ski more runs, to spend more time on snow than on a lift. It's also nice to relax, to take in the view on those rare Cascade days that aren't so Cascady.
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Riblet built a Skyride in downtown Spokane that crosses over the Spokane River just below the falls and under the Monroe Street Bridge. While most of its 500 or so lifts were for skiing, a few have been built or repurposed for exactly this sort of tourism use. County fairs and the like. I've always struggled with lifts as amusement rides. I have been skiing and riding chairs for so long that the chair is not something to be taken lightly. They are architectural and engineering marvels, even the most rudimentary. They are history and emotion, not just simple conveyance. Those moments, the creaks and rattles and bumping over sheaves, phantom stops where inevitably someone in front of or behind you says "I'll jump here if this takes too long." Even though evacuations happen, or long pauses that seem interminable, usually these moments are just moments. Long enough for someone to discuss rapid egress, say "I could land it," and then feel the drive kick and see the sheaves turn again, and then forget it.
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Top terminal, Chair 5, Bogus Basin, ID

Old Chair 6 at Crystal had a Riblet drive. Legend has it that there was a fire in the old Hall's drive, probably while it was still at the now-shuttered Yodelin ski area up just north of Stevens Pass, though unresearched hearsay is always part of that sort of lore and I can't be certain. That roof, though, you had to know where to stand. The load board was just shy of the dripping ice, and as a liftie you had to know, too, where that was. The motor room was not wide, so you couldn't go too far in either direction. The best spot to bump the chair put your right shoulder around ten or so inches short of the overhang. If someone needed help or sat back onto your glove and stole it, you had to follow the chair out and hope the roof didn't choose that moment to let go. Nearly every time, regardless, you got a drip or seven down the collar of your work coat. It was a challenge some days to keep the load area shoveled. Bullwheel loading, urgent, impatient skiers, you have six or seven seconds for a shovelful and then another chair bump.

The shack wasn't Riblet-built to my knowledge. It was poorly insulated, tall, in a windy spot, in need of work. The lift was a Hall, but there's something all these centre-pole chairs share, the Thiokol Julie's at the Summit, Yan's Wildcat at Alta, the Murray-Latta-built 3 and 4 at Baker (RIP), or the short-bale Ariel at Mt A from way back when, there's a knowing nod when you first remember to look over your inside shoulder, and a smugness when you see someone turn the wrong way and get it on the noggin.
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I was in school while Kevin and the crew tore out old Chair 3 at Crystal. When I started work for the summer after graduation, it was gone, just the vault-style motor room left and that not for long. It was a bit jarring, but I was only 19, just out of college, in need of funds. I just hiked down to whichever footing Kevin told me to and started digging.

The last year for old 3 was a blur. My grandfather passed away, I worked two jobs, finished my AA degree thinking that was the start of something rather than the end. Night school. Dougie and I would turn the clock at the bottom forward a minute or three each day, until one such time we were closing a half hour early. I am surprised we never got caught. One early release day I snuck over to Chair 9 for a last run and damn near killed a couple of snowboarders (or myself, had I lost control) who were hiding under a roller we used to hit at mach stupid and boost for 20 or 30 feet. I split the uprights on one ski, somehow missing both dudes. BP 250/180, pulse 150, palms sweaty, legs shaky. I stopped to swear at the kids, but then thought better of it. It's just a story to tell at work when we're telling stories at work. Last I heard of Dougie, he'd had an ice climbing accident and wasn't the same. I still think he stole my goggles, but I may have forgot them at the bottom of 11, where he could have simply thought "score!" and made them his. Easy come, easy go. I hope he's got shit figured out by now. Dude's probably pushing 50.
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Riblets carry the places they've served along with them. Grizzly at Montana Snowbowl came from Big Sky. Ariel at Mt A came from Stevens Pass. The current Tye Mill chair at Stevens moved uphill from Hogsback to replace the old centre-pole double that itself came from Yodelin. I remember the old chair, the way a full line looked from the bottom with so many skis crossed, the chairs swaying, the low gray ceiling absolutely puking. I was pretty young and couldn't really handle the deep day with any skill. The liftline is steep. It tops out on the Crest. To the east, the peaks drain down the Mill Valley and eventually out the Wenatchee into the Columbia. To the west, the melt rolls down the Tye until it meets up with the Foss to create the South fork of the Sky, downstream until the Skykomish and Snoqualmie confluence and the slow, heavy tidal basin at the mouth of the Snohomish. I like to think I can feel these things through these old lifts. I hope that the spirits of Byron and Royal run through the haul rope, that they are kind and benevolent rather than some faceless, angsty industrial tycoons.
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There is a deer underneath the line on 1. Kenny and I are on tower 6 (or was it 5?) replacing sheaves and greasing bearings. The deer is a 4-point, symmetrical. Beautiful animal. Kenny's interest is prurient, running to venison steak and sausage, jerky and a taxidermied rack on his porch. He talks about his bow, where to shoot for the cleanest kill, how to field-clean, how to butcher at home. I remember the jerky and the sausage, but nothing can replace the beauty of that buck. I nod. I understand his take on things, that he doesn't hunt with a rifle because it conveys the hunter too much unearned prowess, that he only hunts for food. I also wish that buck could have lived to whatever ripe old age he could have. I know it isn't long, that five years is pushing it. I am sitting here on the tower, a bit unsteady due to Riblet's insistence that its towers be near right angles to the haul rope. Holding on tight with my legs, untethered these 35 or 40 feet up. Todd and Bob don't believe in fall protection, I guess. As we talk, I mention a cycle in '94 where we got almost 100" in two days. Where Pa looked down from his cat pushing snow and realised he was on top of a car. Where Aram and I tried, and tried, and tried, but just couldn't ski through the weight of all that snow, warmed up in the late February sun that blew in on the back of the cycle. Where Baugher's team dropped shots out of a heli onto lines that almost never slide and are skier compacted day in and day out for five or six months each year. Our last run was on 1, hoping that Lower E was steep enough to push our 12 year old weight down the fall line. I remember the way those skis looked the couple chairs above us, same as Tye Mill, or Seventh Heaven, or any chair you like that accesses real goods, the steep, funky, utilitarian, the beautiful.
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No matter how durable these things are, they are unpopular, replaced by shiny galvinised towers and blue bubbles and computer power. Every summer more stories are lost to the steady march, affordability and egalitarianism out the door with the peeling matte black paint. Chair 1 at Lookout, Chair 2 at Bogus, Brooks at Stevens, Teocalli at CB. The stories are just what we tell each other over our bike stands, or over coffee in the break room, or in the bar under the tram dock, or exchanging texts now that none of us call our families anymore. Starting with "I remember. . ." or "Do you remember. . ." or "How deep was it that one time?" We're all getting older, just like those chairs. We're being replaced, too, by another new generation, better margins, by the medieval idea that nostalgia is a disease. Better, faster, stronger, something that makes terrible lyrics in terrible dance music, and worse humanity.
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Amy and her dad on Chair 4, Bogus Basin, ID

If pressed to decide, my favourite chair is 2 at Alpental. I avoid absolutes, and as such don't call much of anything my favourite.

There was one day--I say, wishing we were sipping doppelbock around a bonfire--that is irreplaceable. Underneath 4 and 5 at Baker, parallel doubles, Murray-Latta and Riblet respectively. One day. I put it together. I was on that one guy's skis, John something, from PA. Hurricane Ridge. He was buddies with Sam Lobet? Yeah, Sam's running the patrol there still. We never really got along. Becker, I think. Anyway, Becker was cool. Yeah, Becker at Baker. Shut up. Lemme talk. I finally put it together.
They were Supermountains. Supersoftmountains, more like it. Becker let me ski 'em while I saved money to pay him. I sold 'em to Dustin and then he moved to the midwest. They're the biggest mountains he'll see out there. Anyway, as I was saying, I finally put it together. You slide your tails out to the right, just above the first nob on Gabl's. Then you just take your hands off the brakes and give 'er. One big left-footer directly under the line of 4, you're into the Saturday Chute under 5. Make that your right-footer, a trebuchet, then on your next left-footer on the bench above tower 4, make sure you dump some speed and look up Chute 4. There's no one there. Slarve that right-footer easy, down into the last pitch, straightline that and you're out onto the flat gliding past the bottom of 4. 4 turns, 1000 vertical.

No, it wasn't blue, it wasn't 17 new. In fact, I don't think it had snowed at all. It certainly wasn't perfect. Which means it was perfect. I don't know if anyone saw it, but no one needed to. There'll be more days, but that one, man, that one, you know. . .




Title from Zoe Muth's "Too Shiny"


Suggested reading:
- Tramway Titan by Martin J Wells (2011), Trafford Publishing.
- The "Lift Blog" Comments Sections. (Not joking. There's some good info there. Also some absurdity. Also lots of complaints about footrests and safety bars, too, also.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

How to Win the Ski Swap

By Amy Post and Eino Holm

Tl;dr: buy skis at the swap, not boots.  Look for other stuff too.

Advice for buyers:

1) Make a list beforehand.  Then forget it on the kitchen counter.

2) Arrive at the swap as early as possible.  At some swaps people start lining up super early in the morning the day the swap opens.  I’ve even heard tell of folks camping out the night before, like it was.  But then again, I did show up to a swap once with some friends and we were an hour early, but there was no one in line and it was raining so we went to Starbucks, contemplated going to Hot Topic in the mall (we were all solidly in our 30s), but went back to the swap instead.  I feel like I kinda missed out in that instance, choosing the swap over Hot Topic, even though we had fun.

3) Actually, volunteer or work at the swap if you can.  Swaps are often run by the local race team, ski club, or pro shop, and they often need extra help.  The really good stuff gets snagged before the doors even open by folks who are working.

4) Plan to spend more money than you want, if you want something relatively new.  Last year’s skis for $100 are either a myth or a trap (i.e. broken).  When pricing their gear, most folks ask for more than it is worth, and then pad for the cut that the organizers take. Finding last year’s skis, mildly used, at 75% of retail is a good deal.

5) You might find last year’s gear, unused.  If you are prepared to pay close to retail price, there’s no reason not to buy them.  But you are at the swap for deals, so you’ll probably want to move on.

Our local ski swap, happening THIS WEEKEND OMG!

6) Skis will probably be sorted by length, but all the different skis in that length will be jumbled together.  Know your size and go straight to that section.  Now you have to figure out what the skis are.  Google them by brand and ski name (e.g. Nordica Girish); you might find a review or at least some marketing copy that tells you the skis’ intended audience and use, its strengths and weaknesses, age, and hopefully, its original retail price.

7) It may take some guess-and-check on Google image search to figure out how old the gear is.  Skis depreciate in value immediately.  If it’s three to five years old and well cared for, 50% off the retail price is a pretty good deal.  We’re talking $300 to $600.  Caveat emptor, we did some experimenting and found that Google’s reverse image search results are poor to incorrect.

8) Old rental gear can be a good deal for beginners and intermediates.  Try to find stuff that the shops just retired, rather than 10-year-old rentals.

9) All ski companies make good products.  They all make different kinds of skis for different skiers (beginners to expert, on-piste to powder skis), so don’t trust a product just because of the brand name.  I personally dislike certain brands and gravitate towards others, but I’ve sold plenty of skis from the brands that I dislike because they seemed to be the right fit for the customer.

10) Look for breaks in edges (on the parts of the ski that touch the ground), thin bases (you can see different colors or sometimes metal peeking through), bent skis (do the skis match in profile?).  Don’t buy these, as these probably can’t be fixed and might be dangerous to use.

11) Gouges in the base are super visible, so people are often worried about buying a ski with them.  But gouges really aren’t that big of a deal, and can be fixed.  Unless the back half of the base is missing.  That’s different.

12) If people are watching you inspect a ski, make sure you flex it, pout and nod your head.  It tells you nothing about the ski but you look like you know what you’re doing.

13) Get the right gear for your kids and significant other.  Don’t get stuff that kids will “grow into” because they won’t be able to use it until they grow into it.  And don’t buy boots too big with the intention of wearing lots of socks; that doesn’t work and just gives you blisters.

14) Don’t get talked into buying a race ski from a race coach who knows nothing about non-race skis.  (Ahem, I say that because I may have been that guy in the past.)  There will be a broad range of knowledgeable folks working at the swap; they may be brand reps or store employees who know a lot about the products, or they might be somebody’s dad who doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about but likes to talk.  It could also be somebody’s mom who knows all sorta stuff and could get you to the perfect deal.  Which leads me to…

15) If someone sounds like they know what they’re talking about, ask some more questions.  Ask around for the people who know what they’re talking about.  Be skeptical if someone seems like they’re full of it; trust your gut.  It’s rude to bring your knowledgeable friend into a shop to help you choose gear, but it totally flies at a swap.  

16) Check to see if the bindings work for you.  Your DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung, currently known as release value, if we’re being legally correct) setting should fall in the middle of the range of the binding.  Swaps should have DIN charts available to help you estimate yours if you don’t know.  

17) Check for drill holes where you can.  A ski starts to lose integrity after they’ve been drilled 3 or 4 times, or if the holes are closer than 10mm to each other.  Redrilling a ski once or twice is no big deal.  It’s OK to buy a ski with a binding you’ll need to replace; consider that as part of the cost of the equipment, as well as the cost to get the bindings adjusted and tested (about $25), and/or remounted ($50+).  

18) After the swap, bring your skis to a shop to get the bindings adjusted (refitted to your boot) and tested.  Do not try to adjust your bindings yourself (unless you’re a certified binding mechanic who works at a shop, like Enore).  They have the knowledge to set them correctly and the really expensive machine to test them.  It can be the difference between correct and incorrect binding function, which in turn can mean the difference between walking away from a crash and injury.  Also, learn about indemnification, which basically means old bindings can’t be serviced, so they may not be safe.

19) Don’t trust the internet to tell you your ski boot size; boot sizes do not translate directly to US shoe sizes because they’re different units altogether and you need your ski boots to fit differently than your shoes.  When people fit their own boots, they often get it wrong.  Temperature affects a boot’s flex and fit, so what feels comfortable in a showroom will probably be too big (and maybe too stiff) on the snow.  So, do you just buy a boot that’s uncomfortably tight and hope it gets more comfortable?  Also not a great idea because they could just be uncomfortably tight.  Well heck, what do you do?

20) I can’t really give advice on how to find a boot at a ski swap because it’s really hard to do unless you know your size and exactly what you want.  You can read reviews, and get an idea of what you want, but there is no substitute for visiting a good bootfitter, who can usually only be found in a ski shop or their own studio.  They not only assess your size correctly, but also take into account the shape of your foot, heel, ankle and calf, as well as what kind of skier you are, to find a boot that fits your size, shape, and style.  Then, after you buy a boot, they can tweak the fit.  

21) If you can find a good bootfitter at a swap, pester them until you’ve found something good, or better yet, just go visit them at the shop where they have access to a good range of boots and the time to give you the attention you deserve. 

22) So, should you go see a bootfitter before the swap to figure out what you want?  Well, no, because it’s rude to take someone’s time and not pay for it.  Emily, for example, is literally getting paid for her experience and expertise, both of which are many.  If a bootfitter takes the time to fit you properly and make recommendations, you will not regret buying your boots from them.  They can help you avoid the head and body aches of being in a boot that’s too big, too small, the right size but pokes and pinches, too stiff, too soft, overflexed, underflexed, over- or under-canted or canted the wrong way, among other issues.  In doing so, you won’t have to learn about the annoying challenges any of the aforementioned problems can cause because your boots will fit and they will work for you.

23) That said, it is ok to ask a shop employee if you can step on the Brannock device (aka the boot sizer-thingy) to figure out your size.  Again, remember their time is valuable and don’t be a jerk.

24) Do not buy a used helmet.  You have no idea if someone has crashed in it, or left it in the sun, or how old it really is.  Helmets break down after 3 to 5 years and need to be replaced, and they are only good for one impact.  That’s not just a marketing lie to get you to buy a new helmet; it’s been independently tested by multiple organizations.  It’s not “better than nothing” to wear an old, worn-out helmet.  It’s actually probably worse because it’ll give you a false sense of security and keep you from buying a new one that’ll actually work when you need it.  Always buy your helmet new. You can sometimes find new helmets at the swap (often sold by local shops, in their original packaging).  Buying a year-old helmet is fine, as long as it isn’t used and is in that original packaging; just know you’ll have to replace it one year sooner.  Shelf life isn’t technically as destructive as life in the wild, but the closed-cell foam used in helmets off-gases and degrades no matter what.

25) Swaps are great places to get your soft goods: goggles, gloves, outerwear, layers, etc.

26) Swaps are also good places to find fun, random stuff.  I’ve found roller skates, snowshoes and numerous edgie-wedgies at swaps, and sold my old ice skates and heated socks.

27) Swaps are also good places to find fun.

Advice for sellers:

1) Price low if you want to sell it.  Below half of retail for anything 3+ years old, assuming it’s in top-notch condition.  Then knock $50 off.  Remember the swap organizers are taking a cut, so add a bit back on.

2) Decide how much you want to sell your stuff for before you get to the swap.  Folks there may give you advice, but there is no standard and everyone’s opinions vary wildly.

3) Learn about indemnification.  Here’s a list of indemnified bindings.  There’s no use arguing because it’s a legal/liability thing. (Enore skis on 24-year-old bindings, but he had access to a nice Speedtronic to test them off the clock.  Few people do.)  Plus, do you really want someone to get hurt on your crappy old stuff?  I’ll answer for you: NO.

4) If you want to get a really good price for your stuff, you’re probably not ready to sell it.  You do get some value walking past it in the garage and reminiscing about the great turns you make on those skis.

5) Regret is a part of life.  Those FreeFlex 14s may have developed the Tyrolia Twist, but the Völkl they were bolted to will still make that one jerk below the Women’s Start mad when you got the line he intended to film for his Instagram Story.  Should’ve kept those Kendos.

6) Forget you sold stuff at the swap, so when your check shows up 4-6 weeks later, it’s a nice bonus!


Sunday, October 31, 2021

I won't hafta chop no wood

By Eino Holm

I was 21 when I started wearing contacts. I got tired of foggy glasses under goggles, yes, but the kicker was a ridiculous crash I had at the bottom of Green Valley. One won't be surprised, as one should never be, that there was a woman involved. I wasn't quite 21. Crystal had stayed open (or reopened, but that isn't important) that year, a big winter and an interesting spring that was largely cool, even most of the way to Memorial Day. Snow to the water in Vancouver after Mother's Day.

Chair 3 had good coverage.  Moguls, slop, sun, what you'd expect for June.  I was trying to learn a 193 Völkl P40 with a Voilé 3-pin cable I'd modified into a hardwire. I ripped the base off that ski the Bad Winter a few years later. I felt I was on top of things, sending it, really. Confidence makes confidence. To be clear, this woman plays an incredibly fleeting role in the scroll of things that make up my life. She wasn't a good skier. I know that doesn't matter. I was 20 and didn't have the best of social skills, so when I say we made some runs together, it was really just that I was much faster and waited at the bottom. She invited me to make après turns up at Chinook, which I of course interpreted as something other than just filling the conversational space during the ride up.  A+B=EVERYTHING, or something like that.  One run she threw a shoe at the top of the Valley. When we hit the top of 3 that round, my old boss stopped me to chat, thinking that I had been the one who crashed. I laughed, I think, probably said something along the lines of "I don't crash," and then skied off. This lady--I never learned her name, as those who know me could expect--was at the bottom of the first pitch already. I simply straightlined through the moguls, almost comfortably, thinking I'd catch up.
 
The bottom of the first pitch has a compression followed closely by a rollover and then another compression. I've tucked this sequence successfully likely hundreds of times since I was a wee kid. It only takes once, though. I had to have been doing over 40, maybe pushing 50. The compression threw me off, the rollover sent me into the back seat, skis starting to meander. The second compression tackled me flat out, head through the skis. My memory is a blur of white then blue. I think, with fair certainty, that I flipped three times, and spun at least once. I know for sure that I lost my hat and my goggles and my glasses, the glasses permanently. I know I hit my face hard enough to break my nose. I was on my feet again surprisingly quickly; the world was the fog near-sighted folks will know from waking each morning before grabbing their glasses. I can't and couldn't then see even arm's length clearly without corrective lenses. You'll understand when I say that I had no reason to grasp why the snow was rapidly turning pink. Snow disperses blood efficiently, so there's that, but I was bleeding like the simile of your choosing, as well. I had finished my EMT the previous fall and worked the Heather Meadows aid room at Baker all winter, so had recently seen my share of bloody noses. Snow is effective. It mops and it ices at the same time. I'm sure my face was a mess, but I got the bleeding stopped.

I borrowed some paper towels from the liftie at the bottom of 3, and stood near-blindly wiping what I couldn't see regardless off my face. Two folks passed that I remember. The first was a volunteer patroller who said "Hey! That was you?! Nice crash!" The second was the woman I'd been skiing in front of, who said, "Oh! Hi!" and then motored off, into an appropriate never-to-be-seen-again. If I am not mistaken, Rex didn't have coverage down to 5280', so I hiked across the ridge and downloaded.  I couldn't have seen anyway, so it was better that way.  I toured the rest of that spring with glasses, but since 9 July '02, I have not worn glasses while skiing. 

This crash was violent. My neck was stiff and sore for the entire summer. I don't remember when it finally let up. I am still dealing with it in the form of periodic headaches from a stiff neck; it is rarely aligned correctly when I visit the chiropractor. I remember the feeling still: the dull thump each time my face hit the snow, the spinning and the rapid alternation of sky and snow. The complete panic. It could have been worse, and for many it is.

Skiing is famous, or infamous, for being dangerous. Folks die all the time, so the story goes, or have gory injuries and do broken bones. Unfortunately, I could make a long list of names to back that up, but either you already know their stories or they'll mean nothing to you at all. In practice, skiing is just another activity. There are studies and clickbait discussing our sport, and the numbers aren't really convincing. There are obvious dangers, such as slides and collisions and simple falls, that correctly or incorrectly convince people that folks like me are crazy and out for death just by getting up in the morning. A frank discussion of "exploits" like knowing for sure that I've hit at least 70 outside of a racecourse with zero protection of any kind, or of teleing a pitch that overtops 52 degrees while aiming directly for a 100 foot granite wall coming in hot from skiers' left as the last run of a 7 hour tour-and-lift day, or skiing the King in four turns, or, you get the idea, might not dissuade them. This isn't bragging, and not even in the "it ain't bragging if it's true" sense. When one possesses specific skills, things that to most are difficult or impossible can seem mundane. I won't claim that turning left off lower Nose Dive on the marbles of a two week drought didn't raise my BP a good bit, but I truly wasn't scared. The trees came up quick, dern near to my feet, but beyond that nothing happened. Maybe that last pitch before the hard left was where I topped 70, I don't know. I sub-audibly giggled, though. As well, that huge right-hand sweeper out of the Toaster, knee to the ski, is euphoria. Especially if it's deep, especially if one is on the rivet, especially if the choke isn't filled in yet and one must straightline a bit.

I won't claim to conquer fear, or that fear makes me feel alive. It doesn't. It makes me scared. Sad. Apathetic. If I am scared, I listen. I stay home. I didn't tour in Utah because I didn't know the snowpack. I don't mean I didn't study it and read up on it and hear what the UAC had to say, because I did all those things. I mean I didn't know the snowpack like a Chilean puma doesn't know the terrain around Smithers, BC. Snowpack is one of those things that can surprise damn near anyone, given the chance. Little pockets, microclimate effects that are only visible when one travels through on a regular basis. For a good bit of time, I knew the snowpack really well around Crystal, and just the same I would tread quite lightly. Storm skiing is best on well traveled pitches. Skier compaction. For the big stuff, the adventurey bits, letting the new snow settle and dispassionately studying the results is called for, and still shit can go sideways.

This is macabre, but true: I know more people who have died in tree wells than have been murdered. I don't really know what to make of that except to repeat, over and over and over and over, the tree skier's mantra. Look where you want to go. Look where you want to go. Look where you want to go. Look where you want to go.

One afternoon, some random pitch out North--alone, natch--I ended up cantilevered on the uphill side of a tree with a surprisingly deep and obvious well. I don't remember which winter, but I'm pretty sure I was working for Brad. I got stuck with my weight balanced between my right, downhill foot, and my right hand, which was on the trunk of a midsized conifer of vague recollection. I was in this predicament, as I every so often am, from being adventurey. I remember it as lower on the hill, down toward the new chair, though more than that I can't remember. I know it had been snowing like it does in the Cascades, and the tree wells were starting to get deep.  These little sandtraps are legendary and terrifying and easy to miss. I describe some snowpack as spooky, but nothing compares to a tree well.

I somehow managed to transfer my weight around and get resituated below the tree, and all was well. I skied out, and I'm now twelve plus years older and hopefully much the wiser. Wiser doesn't keep your airway clear when you are upside down and panicking, though. Wiser doesn't convince nature, or Ullr, or God, or whomever, to cut you some slack. There's a reason why so many backcountry deaths are reported with "experienced" somewhere in the copy. (Yes, the MSM doesn't understand skiing and a writer may add adjectives simply to sound expert, but I do hope that's not the common motif here.) Snow Immersion Suffocation gets more of us "experts" than any other group.

I am thinking of all of this because recently I was reminded of a woman I knew tangentially who passed away in a tree well. She was a good, strong skier, many days on snow every year for many decades. No one is sure quite how it happened. Every story is like this, just us survivors standing around scratching our heads and wondering, a, how, and b, why, and c, why not me? I don't want to die in any such manner, nor does anyone I have ever met, but still the thought is there. What have we done, or not done? Do we deserve our respite, or is the other shoe just out of sight above our heads?

We have likely all had near-misses, like my face-smash of June '02, where different forces would have yielded far more disastrous results. We stand around at bars, or end-of-season bonfires, or on this new-fangled technology stuff, and wonder at where we are and how we got here. The human factor is huge in most skiing accidents. Sometimes it's a cycle of hubris regarding our own abilities. Sometimes we're just skiing alone in a place where it'd be better to have a buddy. Sometimes it's a collision. At that fireside, it's easy to dismiss these misfortunes as things we would all avoid because, well, haven't we done so forever? We're all here, after all. I wear a helmet, so that means I can't die from a head injury. I have been skiing for 39 years, basically my entire life, so I can't misjudge the pitch and roll over a 50 footer skier's right of Pinball. In the dying light of a passing season, this is comfort. Melby, though, was 100 or so feet skier's left of Iceberg Gulch, a main, regularly groomed run at Crystal, when Kristin--"Ten"--found him the summer after he disappeared. The guy back in '03 or '04, he was just below the top of 9, near Patrol's Dyno AP cache. Had he a clean airway, he could have been heard by a patroller sitting bump or me when I was out shoveling. These things can, and do, happen to us all. Jim Jack was an incredible skier, very intelligent, and unfortunately he now watches over Tunnel Creek from wherever he is instead of making another run off 7th Heaven. Slides, tree wells, simple mistakes, they spook us all. Each accident causes introspection and resolution. Some time passes, it happens again. We can limit our exposure, we can make the right choices, follow our guts when they say to stay away. Then one of us catches an edge and another light blinks out.

I haven't been hit too closely by these deaths, but that doesn't change anything and doesn't make me special. The snow still falls. The trees still abide, and the Mountain will win any contest we take to it. Some folks are pushing that boundary every damn day, either getting lucky or just good at timing. Some folks make a living doing things none of us understand, but through courage, a good bit of skill, and--no offense Jaime--some luck, keep pushing on, only to get hosed in bounds at Alta in the early season, and another light blinks out. There are always ghosts about.


In a sense, skiing chose me. I didn't chose skiing. I started the lifelong process in '82-'83, somewhere around 18 months old. One cannot make the argument that I was learning actively at that age, but with repetition and exposure I eventually got to where I am, somewhere along the long road to wherever it is I am going. I have balance on my skis that is hard to learn beyond childhood. Not metaphorical balance, as I routinely stare blankly at folks who might ask what else I do besides ski and work. I mean edge-to-edge, core-over-feet sort of balance. I can make mistakes and still bring it right 'round. I fell three times in '019, three more than my average winter. I do not ski with only a mind to not fall. I ski to ski. Angrily, with patience, with and without purpose, happily, sadly, I ski. I do not avoid falling, but still I rarely fall. Even so, there are always ghosts about. I will always think of my Grandfather, gone these sixty years. He skied, taught Pa to ski. He is always around me, as I hope Pa will be someday when he moves on as we living things tend to do.

There are so many others. I don't pretend they are watching me, or looking out for me, even though I think maybe they really are watching us all. This thing, this turn, skiing, it isn't necessary. It doesn't fix things that clear eyes and full hearts and a good mind for problem solving can't. The raven, though, and the marten, and the gray jay, they can keep tabs on a good few folks. In my more metaphysical moments, I feel their presence. I am not arrogant enough to think anyone is around specifically to keep me out of the creek under Chair 6. I don't think that is what they need to do. If I die on the hill, though, I hope Grandpa or Sarah or someone who's gone before is there to walk with me, just as I hope Hans Saari or Sondre Norheim or some to-us nameless legend from the Altai was around for Jaime Pierre. To show us how they make turns on the other side.

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Title from Emmylou Harris's "One of These Days", written by Earl Montgomery.

An incomplete compendium of snow safety resources: