Sunday, September 5, 2021

I've seen them all.

By Eino Holm

Let's say you live in Vermont.  Say, Woodstock.  You ski a lotta days at the Beast.  You have a racing background that is, maybe not successful, but informative.  You don't have a lot of money, but on many days you're the best skier on the mountain.  (I don't have the numerical values memorised, but you're pretty rad.)

I'll pause here and say that I was born within breathing distance of the Salish Sea, have skied through multiple 500"+ winters, and have no idea what a real Ice Coast winter is like.  Still.  Hear me out.

Anyway, you've been pounding nails a while and have the seasonal swing down pretty good now.  You pick up hours at the hill scraping wax for a cheap pass and to keep from totally draining your savings each winter.  You are first in line at the ski swaps, and you know how to patch your Gore and rebuild your blown-out Impact CS 120s a fifth time.  You have a pretty good stash of skis in the pantry of your lean-to, the one you told the landlord you'd build so's you could put up food for the winter, but really it's to house all your skis.  There's no doubt about it, you've got a ski for each day.  You grew up skiing here, running gates and avoiding rain days when it made sense to or was possible, meaning you had your share of rain days like any good Vermonter.  You've got that 30 metre Radical WC you found on a trip to Acadia back in '015 when your boss needed shingles he could only get from that one shake mill in Windsor and you decided to make a road trip of it. That board rips on those day-after-the-rain days when it seems like you can see all the way to Mt Washington, but can't find an edge to save your life.  You've go the Big Stix 106 you bought as a joke on ebay a few years back, the one with the faux wood paneling from who knows how long ago, and then found out you like on those rare moments when it's day three of a five day Nor'Easter and the wind takes a breather and there's some okay viz and you burn a free ticket to Stowe a rich customer gave you last summer and you find some of those rocky glades Ski the East always has in their edits.

There's a few skis in there you only step into if you're up for patch hopping down Superstar on the last bits of manmade, or for joke turns on that first heavy frost before the fans and wands really start blowing.  There's a slalom board for whenever you feel like pinning on a number for a beer league night, and that Bonafide you got off KSL in Huntsville a few years back when you had a wild hair and chased a storm for the only time you could afford in your life and the Big Stix were too big cos it didn't fire the way the TV weather folks said it would, but you didn't want to be caught in UT on your skinny skis.  You promised yourself you'd never watch the TV weather folks again.  There's your totally clapped out, but still ripping Monster 88, all blaze orange glory, and its slightly smaller sibling, the one you reach for most days when you're at home, the '07 Monster 78.  Green, and mean, and fast.  You knew the radius once, but you've forgotten in the twelve years since you bought it used from a guy whose cousin Sarah out in Wenatchee met Dean U'Ren from Head at a bar after a demo at Mission and badgered him relentlessly to sell her the ski at season's end.  That ski, man, it rips. Still.  Much metal, many woods, only been drilled at most four, maybe five times; those yellow 900S Equipes totally clash but they still pass the test.  Vermont Safety, natch.  You scored that from a one-man garage shop in Brattleboro who retired in '03 when you were just out of college.  All the shops use a Speedtronic now and tell you they won't test your several non-indemnified bindings.  You are set, though, until VS stops calibrating your, um, calibrater.

The Ripping Monster 88.

That ski, though, it eludes you.  The One Ski to Rule Them All.  Every fall, since at least the 90s, some company or other stakes a claim.  Or all of them do.  It's so tempting, the myth of the quiver killer.  "I could just grab my one ski and go! None of this 'I'll bring three and see how the day goes' bull$#!@."  But nothing grabbed your eye, even though looking back that 185 XXX was probly as close as anyone came in '03. You still couldn't let go of that sexy orange P40, though.  It railed, almost like your high school GS board except better somehow, and, well, FRICKIN ORNJ.  Those are still in the pantry, of course, but you don't really ski em.  198 is just silly these days.  Maybe when your younger sister is in town from out west and you want to show her how big bro still rips the tar out of them groomers and he ain't need none a that rocker business.  Then you put em back away for another year and breath a sigh of relief that you don't always hafta try and keep up with her.  I mean, it's fun and all, really, cos most of your buddies drifted off a few years ago to real jobs in big cities like Burlington or Portland, or, like, Bethel or whatever, but she's just that much better and seven hours straight beats you up pretty good.  So again, you start wondering, what if?

I've seen claims of this brand or that brand's One Ski Quiver, and they are often absurd.  An email I got from MDV one year was an advert featuring Ian McIntosh saying his 117 mm Coastal BC heli weapon was all the ski he needed.  Well, sure, Ian.  I get it.  A) you are a monster, like really really dang good and stuff.  I'm this moderately above weekend warrior status ski guy, while you are, well, Ian Frkn McIntosh. Grade A Badass.  B) You don't schlep your Forester to the local non-profit to dodge California transplants who complain about the wilderness toilet at the bottom of 3, you climb or get a ride to the top of some really æsthetic, wild, huge, and untouched peaks in some really remote places.  You depend on your ability to send it, day in, day out, and most of what you ski demands a big goshdarn ski.  The rest of us?  117 isn't ever useful.  (Well, maybe at Baker or Mammoth.)  Other brands claim their 85 mm all mountain ski with tip and tail rocker and a carbon insert and some P-Tex is gonna handle it all.  Never mind the occasional deep day will swallow it and the second week of a Southern Idaho chalk-drought will deflect it off line all day.  But sure, that mild-mannered lawyer of a ski can do anything!

I won't list all my skis here, but suffice it to say that for once I am a splitter, not a lumper. I like having the right ski for the right day in the right conditions.  Sometimes, I probly miss a run standing by my front door debating.  I always enjoy when I get it right.  Last winter, still rehabbing my knee, I had a cool, sunny Wednesday on my big GS board--yes, I have a small GS board as well--where everything just felt right.  Groomers, obviously, but the chalk bumps in the upper Triangle and some funky scratchy hardpan on the Face as well.  Before you get wistful and say "Back in my day, we skied everything on big GS boards and loved it," remember that that kinda sucked.  I mean, yes, it was skiing and by extension, therefore quite fun, but skis of today, even an unforgiving race ski, are much more rewarding and much more manageable.  My big GS ski is way easier for me to handle than whatever Plake was hucking on in '87, as well.  I'm real dang happy about this, too, cos I am no Plake.  That guy can shape a turn like pretty much nobody else can.  I can, well, as Pa's Army buddy in Garmisch said back in the early 70s, I can turn both ways and stop.

All this to say, just giver.  Watch the end-of-season specials.  Haunt as many ski swaps as you can.  Scroll through Craigslist during your morning constitutional.  You might net a barely used Legend from a few years back that a guy who does demos in the winter with a buddy in SLC is clearing out, or a 182 HRC that some dentist bought because his buddy who still zips up a speed suit at least once a week said it'd lay tracks like a 19th century railroad baron only to find that even if the ski could, he couldn't. If you are lucky enough to chase a storm, see if there's a used shop somewhere nearby.  Rich city people sometimes have different needs and agendas and dump gear rather than take it home.  The Gold Mine in Ketchum, say.  2nd Tracks (now Level 9, I have learned) in northern Utah has a few shops, and pawing through their used and consignment racks is like reading back issues of Powder Magazine from the glory days.  Do you ever wonder?... Or, if you have a flexible schedule or are "funemployed", look for a ski shop or instructor job.  Then work the whole season, keeping your promise.  Don't be that person who shows up all excitedly only to wither in the face of not skiing during the holidays while selling skis or filling the Mercury. Stick it out, all the way, then use that pro deal.  You'll run across all sorta marketing collateral telling you that the new KB7UXW with RaceRocker and Franjo-Carbotinum stringers is the perfect blend of race-room confidence and pow-slash manœuverability.  That the new hybrid pin-tech-race-carve binding with SilkSmooth heel track will ski just as well on your Pat's Peak ice day Tuesday as it does for Jenny Prostuff in the Mt Shredly skin-to slackcountry on her twelfth deep day in a row.  That all you need is those sweet, sweet Euro touring poles with the carbon shaft and exchangeable baskets and you'll be National Team materièl. Truly.  That touring boot will bend your new full metal, full camber 75mm teaching skis just as well as Mikaela's custom Redster WC hors categorie plug boot does.  All this jargon is just that.  Read reviews, talk to friends, find demo days if you are able, and find what you like.  Because a ski, or a boot, or a jacket, something that's real dang good at one thing, it isn't going to be all that great at other things, and that's just fine.  

When the sun gets weary and the sun goes down, well, I'm a skeptic.  I know this.  I was in 7th or 8th grade when Ryan Clevenger told me I was too cynical, and I took it as a challenge and as a compliment.  I don't read marketing copy for anything other than unintentional humour.  I read reviews for a baseline, I try to hit the free demo days, and then I just hope.  Sometimes I get lucky and someone leaves a pair of MX88s in Lost and Found for 18 months and I get to take em home for a nominal fee.  Sometimes I find a good deal on a demo Girish or Katana if I leave the demo bindings behind.  Sometimes there's a 186 Doberman GSR (27 metre, which some dude skiing his older model Atomic SLs on the wrong foot on purpose told me is the best radius) that's only slightly bent at the BBSEF ski swap for $35 and I trade some labour for a PX 15 Racing and use my Father-in-Law's drill press and a paper jig I found on the internet.  What I don't do is expect one thing to do all things.  I could hide money from myself for a year, scrape together enough cash to buy a new ski that's real good a lot of the time, or keep my eyes open, spend much less money, and always have the right tool for the job.  And I'll let you in on a secret:  those Leki poles are really nice, they have a great swing weight, and the big pow baskets don't sink in the deep, but I use my parking-lot-score 90s-replica Scott World Cup GS poles unless it's puking, and them free sticks sure do also do the job adequately!  Now, I just need to find an original.  That'd be worth some couch cushion change.

With apologies to Paul Simon.  Title from "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints"