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!