Monday, September 26, 2022

Lookin up to watch the birds

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

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

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

Some friends are Pa.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Pineapple Pass, Alpental.  Not June.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Well, Mr Confident.  Where you gonna go?!

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

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

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Nothing good ever lasts

The lights are dim, kinda smoky even.  New Year's Eve, 1999, Crystal Mountain.  It's Noël, Chelsea, Peter, and me.  We're all acting like it's a normal night, that the world isn't going to end in a handful of hours, cos, well, why would it end on Pacific Standard Time if it didn't end, say, on Japan Central Standard Time earlier in the day?  We're all in various states of curiosity, though, if nothing else.  All around us are people we don't really know, even if we each know a handful of 'em a little bit in our own ways.  Peter and I had bumped chairs all Summer, Peter first with his head eight or twenty times on my 18th birthday back in June when the two of us were building that old, elevated, loooong ramp on Old 3 from whatever crunchy corn Bruce Engdahl brought up from the Back Traverse.  I don't think Peter'd ever really spent much time around chairs.  Maintenance was running the beautiful ol' '63 Riblet double to find any kinks they hadn't found during the short spring fix-it season.  For whatever reason, Peter couldn't grasp the fool-me-once adage.  I'd felt bad.  Anyway, this night, six months later, it was both light and dark, quiet and loud, quick and slow.

I asked Kim Rausch the next morning, just to confirm, and she said the two booms had been a 50 sack and a hundo.  Or whatever jargon she used.  ANFO, that slow-burn explosive that so nicely dovetails with a stick or two of DynoAP for avy control, makes one heck of a shockwave when Patrol sets off about 45 kgs at once.  I've experienced this twice, and the second was no less surprising than the first.  Kim said that even though they were on top of 70-odd inches of good snowpack that they'd controlled all season, they still brought up dirt.

Walking around the base area was a little surreal, orange light and crazed locals and all.  Griffin Eshpeter slid by us on the slickery* Boulevard heading down, fireworks already all boomed and ANFO all burnt, smoke still hanging above Silver Creek.  Maybe it was Alex Kemp, doesn't matter.  They didn't crash, and I don't know that whoever it was was actually drunk, despite appearances.  They were a year behind me in school, but my age.  (That shouldn't have mattered then, and it certainly doesn't today.)

The light slowly faded, and by the Family Cabin at the bottom of the Boulevard, it was a normal Winter night.  We shared some Champagne, or at least bubbly; I don't know where it was from.  The elkers and White River ghosts watched us from the trees, digging for food under the snowpack.


Lisa leans out from the shack at the top of New 3.  "GO TO SIX NOW!!" she says.  Stina and Catherine and Steve Holmsen and I don't wait.  We point it.  Six has been closed all day, and there's a break in the weather after puking for who knows how long.  I don't know it for sure, but I think Baugher wants some skier compaction before the cycle gets going again.  It's one of those glorious March days, cool and showery, and the snow piles up more than you think.  Steve and I ride up in the quiet.  Baugher is bumping chairs at the bottom, Patrol Director name tag and thirty years of service notwithstanding.  His assistant, Brent, is up top.  He's grinning as he does, crooked tooth and general good nature.

Brent pulled me over once, seventh grade, but I dodged a ticket.  I argued with him like a good 12 year old.  I'M IN CONTROL BRENT WHY YOU PICKIN ON ME.  He was polite and firm, like Noël told me to be with the missionaries in Ogden.  "You were out of control, son.  I know it when I see it."  The difference between being able to change direction, but not stop, and being able to stop on command.  I don't know that I really understood that until I was bumping chairs myself years later.

Stina and Catherine and I wait at the bottom of 6 a good ten minutes for Steve while he digs under the line for his phone, somewhere up near the Punk Rock.  Stina's yelling, as though he can hear us from this distance.  HURRY THE (*&$)@#(*&^#$(*&#^$(*&#^(*#&$^(*&  UP STEVE ITS JUST A PHONE THIS IS SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWW and then he finally finds it.  He reaches his hand up like some kinda treasure hunter, and then heads on down in that albatross stance of his, turns solid, round, expert, and just a little bit goofy.  Catherine and I ride up this time, shoulder to shoulder, still quiet for these two irreplaceable runs.  So unique in the midst of all that year.  114 days on snow that time, and these two runs right under Crystal's marquee stand out like the first day driving Blue by myself, power sliding skidding out of Fed Forest by the ol' hollow-truss bridge at almost 90 cos, well, yer 16.  How else does one drive at 16?


Sometimes it takes years to build a community.  People on this here internet always talk bout building one, but really, you can't.  They happen, quietly and otherwise, through shared experience, or shared value.  Some are as transient as the snow they're built on, some are as durable as the pavement connecting the houses and schools.

Most ski areas, the good ones anyway, this takes a few weeks or months.  Maybe the bonds are tenuous, and years later you sit bolt upright in bed and wonder just where did Food Service Ryan With the Earrings and Goofy Grin go?  It's been 21 years since you lived together accidentally, and you'd long forgot.  Sometimes you wake up in your house in a different time zone, with a friend sleeping in her van in your driveway, boyfriend beside her.  It's funny calling Stina in her 50s and Martin in his 60s "boyfriend and girlfriend", but there you go.  I've known her for over 20 years, and we've been good friends for almost all of that.  I skied up next to her and the Former Guy and Kenny Tataku in line at the bottom of 9 headin South, and she looked down at my skis and said, "Do your skis fight?"  I mumbled something about Ma and Pa bein Scandihoovian and how on a map, Norge is on the left and Sverige is on the right, but basically, she's been there ever since.  I appreciate someone who can joke at my expense.

Eino's car fights with itself.

The dark closes in quickly at the bottom of any valley, killin' woods or not.  The White has those and more, deep cover and crunching elk hooves and the ghosts of who knows how many.  Only a handful of folks in modern times have ever really called it home for life.  It's a ways to town, twenty or more miles just to the bottom of the hill.  The local tribes hunted up here, for elk and deer and whatever else they looked for.  Millennia stretch to epoch, with the alternating quiet and violence of natural life interrupted by snow and fire and flood and lahar.

In peak Pineapple, there's nobody to help but neighbours, conservative-value cliché aside.  Filling sand bags at the Fire Hall, watching a friend's dog if she's stuck in town, loaning your shovel and your time to throw logs from one side of the bridge to the other on the Greenwater to keep the lumber roiling downstream from blowin it out.  It isn't always life-and-death.  In point of fact, it rarely is.  Sometimes you just sit on the floor with Jen's awesome old lab mutt and scratch the poor girl's ears and think out loud.  Discuss the verities, and head home when it's bedtime.  Wonder what those noises are outside the door.

Usually they're just the elk.

Characteristic bull elk glare, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Crystal is known for its view, something I took almost for granted for most of my time there.  Tahoma, obvs, but Pahto and Loowit, and sometimes all the way to Kulshan.  Stuart and the Wenatchee Range, the Castle, Fifes Peaks, Aix, Goat Rocks, countless smaller hills.  The White almost five grand below, silent at this distance.  The upper White isn't this dramatic, punchy place full of toothy giants.  It is home, though, time and distance and interlopers notwithstanding.  Just over the ridge, in the next small drainage, a couple small subalpine lakes sit quietly under some impressive rock bands, with a nice mess of Abies lasiocarpa for company.  Crystal is not known for tree skiing, even though it should be.  Stina and Kenny showed my scores of little lines, whether before we officially met when I was just the 18 year-old kid chasing one or both of them, or when we were there together and on purpose.

One run, not really tree skiing, per se, but with trees, I snuck between some hemlock and dropped about three or four feet onto what I had assumed was a puffy, ten-inch-thick pillow of angel hair and unicorn dreams, just to find it was two inches on top of a rock-hard ankle biter.  My back has not been the same since.  I don't know that Stina or Catherine really knew that my life would be different after, that my chiro bills would run into the many thousands and my identity as a bum would slowly winnow until I'm in a different drainage entirely.  A desert, really.  I can't say at all that my ganked back and fussy ribs led me here, but nothing is ever isolated.  In the rental shop Stina showed me some stretches I still use today, and Catherine did some energy work that I as a cynic don't really believe in, but still absolutely appreciate and cherish.  Sometimes someone giving a shit about you means more than anything else in the world possibly can.


Moving day is hard, really no matter where you are.  Sometimes it's physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes spiritual.  Sometimes it's the last you'll see of someone.  I keep in contact with a handful of people from the various hills.  Some have moved on, some unfortunately have passed on.  I wish them well, mostly.  Even that one jackass who hit on Amy in front of me, and then had the stones to come to my shop for basework.  At least he could make a good beanie.  My other good beanie--besides my favourite that I can't wear here because BoyCee people just cannot let go of BSU--was also knit by someone I haven't spoken to in years.  Kind of an odd reminder, each of these.  These pieces of people, real or felt, keep the past nearby.

We headed down the Boulevard that last day, mid-April of '011.  We'd had a couple beers, shared some nachos on the tiny deck of Rafters The Bullwheel Rafters with Sean, absorbing the late April Sunday evening and the warmth that surrounded us, laughed at some jokes, wondered at the ethereal among the fir and hemlock, generally acted as though it was another day, and, well, every day is just another day, I guess.  No controlling that.  Haven't seen Sean since, though I hear tell from time to time.  Abbie, Sam, so many people whose names I forgot or didn't bother to really know.  Sam, unfortunately, passed away this winter.  The details aren't important, but dammit, I wish he could have caught a break.  He and I started working for Brad the same day, tuning skis and generally tryna avoid responsibility.  We were never close, but he's a good dude and we got along really well.  We joked about entering the Powder 8s on our teles just to do a single Powder 8, but full-length.  He fell into a crevasse doing sweep on the Emmons Glacier as a climbing ranger, and never quite recovered.  His seizures got to the point where he thought speed-flying was a good idea cos it was fast, and he only had a minute or so from start to finish where he was in danger.  He still had to be airlifted a couple times.

Sam was rumoured to be a better-than-decent cat driver, and for a ski area, he was definitely a fairly hard worker.  Stina said the last time she talked to him, he was figuring stuff out, and had been seizure-free for quite some time.  Some sort of medical progress or surgery had helped out, and things were looking up.  His passing was accidental, and yet it wasn't all that surprising.  It hurt more than I expected, that understanding that none of us really controls anything.  I had made peace with the knowledge that either Pa or Stina would call, matter-of-fact as they both are, and I still almost threw up.  Sam deserved better, or at least to be taken while he was chasing some adrenaline high.  I always hoped he'd find some help, the kind that he actually did, and that his seizures and his luck would both improve.  That he'd find another lady, someone who'd love his dog, someone like Abbie, but like, not, at the same time.  I hoped we'd actually one day get to skate out to the Boxcar, and drop in.  Sam first, me following.  He'd go left, make his one right-hander, then I'd jump and we'd make that tandem, knee-dropped left, then I'd finish with my one right-hander, and we'd ski off knowing whoever it was we thought we were competing with so long ago was long gone, and it was just cold smoke off the top of the snow, some mountain hemlock, a little breeze, and a lifetime of stories.


Almost as an afterthought, we dropped by Sean's trailer that last night.  It was closing in on dark, and a handful of instructors and random folks were milling about drinking brown bottle beer and wondering just what came next. We'd already technically closed that year, but as these things seem to go, Crystal kept reopening for weekends until they either ran outa steam or snow.  We left before that happened.  

As parties go, it wasn't.  Just some tired, sad folks slowly aging out of the scene, looking for grander dreams or a way out of the flatland life.  Either chasing a dream of bumming from here on out, or of finding some real motivation and a "real" career.  I certainly wish there was some way of forgetting the emotional damage and the physical toll a life of bumming actually exacts.  I wish I could show up for closing day, wear a cape or whatever and throw a backie off the end of the pond skim, and slither into whichever cave I'd find for the summer, but I cannot.  What might have been, I guess.

As Closing Days go, it wasn't.  Everyone else had already left, LB and Abbie and really anybody, and it was just me and Brad, and then just Brad.  Amy and I met my buddy Jason on the side of a road in Oly and then it was foot-down until Exit 19 in the late afternoon, catching up to Pa and Ma and unloading the trailer they had pulled out of Enumclaw at 5 am.  Ashland, OR is such a different place than Greenwater, WA.  It's a small town, comparable to Enumclaw, but it feels like a city.  Shakespeare and folks from The Bay and fancy hotels.  Lithia Park wedged between million dollar houses, but even with all that money, there are cougars and bears in the trees and chupacabra on the highway.  Eleven years have passed, some successfully and others, well, I speak for both of us when I say I'm happy they are passed.

The nachos we shared with Sean that night weren't memorable, but I still remember them.  The nachos Marquez and his ex shared at the old Caldera dive under 99 the night before we left Ashland three years later weren't any better, but I still remember them, too, also.  Mt A hadn't opened that year, not even for a day just cos, so that quiet night with a couple beers was all that we really got.  Closing Day can border on spiritual some years, to the point where I can't stomach missing it and I also can barely stomach participating.  I grab my Closing Day Poles from behind the door, the ones I got from my Father-in-Law all those years ago, and hope to ski in a button-down and sunscreen and maybe, if we're lucky, some real good spring corn.

Eino on Closing Day, with his Closing Day Poles, 2022

The light is dim, kinda smoky, even.  Catherine and I are at the top of Rex, a couple years before that silly gondola.  It's chilly, the April corn freezing slowly in the waning warmth.  The sun sets quickly, as it does when one doesn't want it to.  The lifts are silent, unlit.  Green Valley is dark, disappearing quickly, and we don't dawdle.  The freezing corn snow is skiable, 100 or so days on snow so far that year.  (4th of July would be 114.)  My legs are solid.  Quads and hams and calves ropy from dropping the knee at speed 10 or 12 days a week.  It's embarrassing, really, but in the 14 years since, I have never been as fit.

To be honest, I don't remember the turns.  I say the snow was skiable, and it had to be cos we made it down, but Catherine's like a PSIA Level 5 Alpine and Level 7 Tele, and I'm, like, pretty good, so skiable is relative.  Six inch sun cups in 4th of July fog is skiable, too, if you want it to be.

It's the light I remember.  The White, milky in the early spring runoff, down below to the west.  The dim, smoky sunset red and black.  The orange flashed and faded, and then we just had to turn tail and run.  Neither of us had lights.  These moments are always there, as are the old ones watching from the subalpine fir atolls.  I don't know if they're benevolent, and I don't know if it matters.  We'll all join em, one at a time.  

Abies lasiocarpa atoll, courtesy of The Gymnosperm Database

Interesting resources for them killin' woods: 

*Pa coined this term.  Don't argue.

Title from Iris DeMent's "Our Town"

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Top 3 Best Skis Ever*

I finally redrilled the one-eight-six Monster for the third time, and for whatever reason, let's say that at 40 I'm better at the skeenings than I was at 28, or whatever, or maybe the handful of gray hairs give me strength, I don't care, the spark is back.  That ski, even in what I thought was too long a, um, length, just skis like a ski should.  Reminds me of an FIS GS board, except that when there's snow to push, it's still comfortable.  Herewith, what I thought of on Chair 3 while looking down at them beauties.


17.  Igneous Mid-fat Fall Line.  Somewhere around the turn of this century, some drunks in a shed somewhere near J-Hole made some skis.  They didn't have metal, so far as I know.  They did have maple, and muchly so.  That's almost as good.  Mid-fat was not the truth.  Skinny was the truth, but it didn't really matter.  If you know, you probly knew then.  If you don't, you probly don't care, didn't care and won't care.  I teled this ski in a 196/197 combo with slightly different core construction foot to foot (see above comment about boozahol) and then put some purple magenta aubergine S914s on there.  I was never as good as this ski needed me to be, but I and that ski made some sweeeeeet turns when I could handle it.  Also, too, as well, a giant head print in the rained-on cream under Chair 5. - EWH

16.  '01 Völkl P40.  Step up to the plate.  This one is a four seamer, about 97, 98 mph.  Probly a little high, definitely inside, but so inviting you can't help but swing.  If you're out in front, you don't even have to try.  Just inside the foul pole in left, upper deck, a beauty.  If you're a little behind, you may even foul it off your face.  It'll bite ya.  But if you get it right...  I'm pretty sure the colour mattered with this one.  Neither my red version, nor my white, blue, and red version skied as well as the orange I borrowed from that one guy in the Baker Demo Joint, which blew my shoes off.  Also, the white one didn't handle well after I ripped a third of the base off on a sneaky shark fin rock on skiers' right of Green Valley the Bad Winter of '04-'05.  Not sure why.  Also, the lady at the old Sturtevant's in South Hill told me they weren't repairable, but Kenny Tataku told me later that he wished he'd been there cos he figure he coulda.  I still haven't forgiven her.

15.  '00-'01 Salomon Supermountain.  Soft, flexible, forgiving, and if you pointed it and didn't care, dense enough to hang.  Slarve that right footer over the knuckle at the top of Gabl's and then send it.  It shared a few things with many good skis over the years: it had yellow (though not in the most copious quantity), it was ugly, it surprised people while flying under the radar as a second-tier model, and made friends with unlikely company.  According to at least 2 Baker Lokes from back then, it teled like a Tua and actually got imported to the states, which Tua did for a while and then did not forever.  Which was sad, cos I wanted them Tuas like some people want cheese or a Lamborghini. 

14.  '99 Salomon X-Scream Series.  Fast, tons of metal, funk, yellow, weirdness, random things stuck on the topsheet, everything.  Also '99.  That was a good year.  Did I say yellow?  That was a theme then, the Turn Of The CENTURYYYYYY.  Salomon was tryna polish its image, or change it, or refine, or, heck, I don't know.  They green-lit (green-lighted?) some pretty wacky idears, like a ski that would go forward AND backward.  Or the two sets of parallel bars glued to the topsheet.  ProLink arms, they called 'em.  Not sure what they did, but they caught yer attention.  Funny thing is, Rossi and Atomic have stuff like that on their race rigs right now.  (And no, that twin-tip Olin Mark IV from '74 totally didn't pre-date the TenEighty by a quarter century years.  Not at all.)  Anyway, a part of the mystique of the Scream Series was just how damn fast it felt if you screwed up.  People still had bumper stickers with goofy slogans like "SHORT SKIS SUCK, BRATI!!"  You had to rock a 195 instead of a more rational 177.  And if you tried to slide around that one Abies lasiocarpa atoll skiers' left of Hamburger, and, well, didn't really actually slide the tails cos you were 19 and not that good a skier, and you got shot out into the chunder at Mach 2.37, the ski kinda giggled and said "I'm good at this! What else ya got?!"  I drilled a few of 'em when I was workin for Brad, and if I remember correctly, they had two plates of metal, but not a metal topsheet.  A base sheet and a mid-core sheet, with two cores and a cap.  So, like, a macaron with a thick schmear of cream cheese frosting and some sprinkles.  Except these macarons ate alligator teeth for brefixt and pooped out gold bullion.

13.  '03 Rossi XXX.  Don't try to tele it in a 195.  Not that you would.  I did, some days well, others pretty poorly.  I also splatted on my face on Highway 542 while skating to work cos, well, sometimes highways aren't covered in snow. Even with some S914s and my Salomon Axe 9 boot with ProLink Spine--through-line is what I think the kids are calling it--it was a handful, but holy crap, was that a smooth ride.  It's top 3 ever in the smoothness department, astride the same line as the Legend and the Stormrider.  It had something called "freeride V.A.S." which was "visco-elastic" (I should start a marketing firm so I could also get paid to make $#!@ up) and a tapered metal topsheet and like, velvet stringers.  It was also very powerful, and looked pretty ridiculous cool in the gondy at Whistler next to Dan Treadway and those over-the-head Oakleys.  I just wish I had the stones to remount mine that are still in the sauna in Enumclaw.  I think I even have an 900S that would go right in those old S914 holes.  Hmm...

Uff da.

12.  The old Nordica Enforcer from whenever that was, I don't know.  The last two years have been the longest decade.  Anyway, the one with the ugly wizard topsheet.  (Or was that that one "big mountain twin" Vōlkl from like '03?)  Anyway, ugly.  Still, it was metal, had no rocker, had a nice round tip like so many good skis around '09 or '010 or '011, and was 100ish mm of awesome like the Mantra to be noted later.  Climbs like a gelada baboon and descends like a snake in a waterslide with rockets on its tail.  Oh wait, that's bikes.  O Great Nordica in the Sky, why did you not just bring that one back exactly the same except with a different but still weird and ugly topsheet graphic?  Why?  The current "Enforcer" is not the original.  It is a pretender to the throne, like Peter the Meh, after Peter the Great and before Catherine the Great.  (Why were so many folks we refer to as "Great" basically just murderous villains?)

Uncle Vlad may be just as crazy and as murderous and evil, but his sartorial flair leaves something to be desired.

11.  Vølkl Mantra, Mark II, somewhere like '09.  A customer brought a brand new pair in to the shop.  I don't know if I or LB drilled it.  Duder came back like thirteen seconds later, fairly nonplussed.  He said it skied like hot garbage mixed with a wolverine.  We drilled it down to needing some detuning.  I did some, to no avail.  LB did some more, much aggressive, to no avail.  I asked duder what his boot sole was, and coincidentally, it was the same as mine.  We headed out, me on his new set, him on his old set.  Midway down Iceberg Gulch, I was in love with the ski.  We traded at the bottom of Rex, and skied the same run.  I almost skied off into oblivion.  Turns out his old Tyrolia FreeFlex 14s had developed some Tyrolia Twist, and made an otherwise real-dern-quick-for-almost-100mm ski into a wet hen.  The mark II Mantra was one of a handful of skis in that 95-100 range that just get it.

10.  '011 Nordica Fire Arrow.  Amy says a lot of women's skis are wet seagull dirt.  I believe her, cos, a, and most importantly, she knows her $#!@, and b, also most importantly, she skis real dern well and knows lots about skiing and turns and the four fundamentals and, like, flex patterns and stuff, and if she says there've been pretty much 3 or 4 good women's skis ever, then there've been pretty much 3 or 4 good women's skis ever.  This was not a women's ski.  Amy skied it with one of her Level-3-aspiring friends the winter before the spring we moved to Ashland, and she and Laura both said it was giggles.  Like a good long-slalom ski, reboundy, damp, reboundy, turny, stable, held the edge longer than Jimi's guitar cable, and like, many more things.  Also, the topsheet was ugly, there was all sorta tech, it was pressed in Mittersill, which is like Valhalla except for skis, may have even had a not-Marker system binding (system bindings are always a knock, but if they ain't Marker, they are 75% less of a knock) by Vist, which is like saying you have an EXT shock on your otherwise very Trek-ish downcountry sled.  Those who know will nod knowingly and those who don't will try to pretend that they don't. . .um. . .don't. - EWH/AEP

09.  Rossignol 9S 10.2 RC.  I think.  Sometime around '001.  It's damp, boingy, manageable, turny, and, most importantly, it gots that 90s slalom gate deflector tip.  With the race plate, it was a powerplant ski for a college gate basher, without, it's a ski to get back into the swing of things after a minor knee surgery you made into a major turning point in your mind.  Amy skied it with the plate, both bashing gates in college and progressing up the PSIA ladder.  I skied it without the plate, but with that one Salomon riser that had a stiffener thingie that really totally kinda did something, I think.  Poweraxe, if I ain't mistooken.  Anyway, that ski was worth chasing after.  Real live.  Yeah, yeah, putting race skis on here is a little weird, who cares.  It was a good ski, and both Amy and I dug it for different reasons, and both as designed and as not designed.  That speaks well.  Also, it were yellow, and yellow skis from the turn of the century were tops.  See the X-Scream Series, the inaugural AK Rocket, and the ever mooned-over Ten-Eighty. - EWH/AEP

Gimmicky bat-wing tips

08.  '010 Vølkl Kendo/Kenja.  Kendo/Kenja the First.  Much metal, much 88 mm.  Too lively to float in more than about 6 or 7, but then, who cares.  That's what ski swaps and demo sales are for.  Where it fell slightly for us is it is not as damp as the Monster or the MX88, but for anyone who wants more snap and pop, that is probly a good thing.  And I can still steal some Instabro's line below the Olympic Start Shack in the sun at 7 or 8 new while he's yelling that he's filming and have way more fun the he ever would cos he thinks you hafta film your line for it to matter and I don't. - EWH/AEP

07.  '08 Vòlkl Katana.  I met one of my best friends while skiing this thing.  "Well, Mister Confident.  Where are you gonna ski?"  Holy Jerbus Toads, it was good.  Tibial-plateau-deep out in O Meadows, chalk in Sasquatch, groomers even.  All the ski mediums all lamented the breakable and maybe a little ill-conceived translucent UHMW (or whatever) plastic swallow-tail giblet, but I think it just added funk to an otherwise workaday sorta ski.  Oh, no rocker, so there's that.  111 mms of givin' 'er.  Much metal.  Named after a sword.

06a. Head Joy line.  Turns out I don't need as burly a ski as I thought.  I actually kinda like having light ski.  Makes hauling children around the mountain easier.  Like any ski that isn't all the metal, it doesn't hold an edge as well as it could on an ice rink.  But damn, they struck a vein with graphene, so much so that they put it in a lot of variations on the theme, including the men's frontside skis.  Ted sold me my first pair.  He handed them to me and said, "Do you want to ski 'em?"  So I did, and when I got back to the lodge, he said, "Do you want to buy 'em?" and the only possible response was yes.  They railed--I couldn't overpower them--and busted through crud, despite being 70-somethin underfoot.  Ted gave me a good price, and it was a few years later before I realized they were the intermediate ski.  Honestly, I couldn't even tell.  I bought the Total Joy a few years ago.  It's the only new ski I've ever bought for myself, which is why it made this list.  It can't do everything, but it does just about everything else. - AEP

06.  '012 Kästle MX88.  Some jackass at Unofficial said it was the ski for rippin' Grandmas.  He's right, cos a rippin lady in her 50s or 60s would definitely ski the shit outa this thing, but he's also wrong, and that's one hell of a backhanded compliment.  Condescension and ascension all at once.  Swipe that away, and yes, a rippin' Grandma could have a riot of a good time on it, and so can anyone with some technique and a little strength.  Two (2!) plates of metal, a nice, dense wood core, some sorta special JuJu we're not allowed to understand, an ugly topsheet and that weird cutout in the tip that used to be orange but isn't anymore; this is the slightly more accessible version of the Monster.  It was even built in Vorarlberg.  (Or somebody stole Head's serial number stamp.)  If you think it was only for discerning women in their late 50s, you are doing a disservice to the ski and to the women in their late 50s who unquestionably ski better than you, Barclay, and with more strength, and for longer.  This is a Good Ski, full stop, and those women to whom you condescend are Good Skiers, full stop.  Not "for a Grandma".  Good Skiers, full stop.  The knock on this ski is it isn't as quick to or as confident on the edges as I'd like.  At 88mm, I'd hope for a bit (tiny bit) more firepower.  So, no top 5. - EWH

05.  '011 Blizzard Bodacious.  (And Bonafide, but, I don't know, you knew that.)  That ski was huge.  At 117, it cannot be top 5, because it just won't be versatile enough, but that's okay.  It's top 5.  This is The Horse for The Course.  Unless you're his sister, Ingrid, or Betsy, his Ma, Arne Backstrom skied with better technique than you and waaaaay more harder than you, and he designed it, including the then-new construction.   He left us far too early.  I never met him, but his father gave me the unmatchable and unmatched honour of mounting the bindings on the first board out of Mittersill in Arne's memory.  I still cry when I tell the story.  I cried when I drilled those beautiful skis, grateful for Brad putting the binding bench in the corner, facing the wall, with the Done Rack between me and the customers.  I'm crying right now.  That ski lived up to the hype.  Even all the hipness surrounding it couldn't thin its legend.  The only thing that could was the bean counters and marketing hacks who asked for, as always, a more friendly ski to sell to a broader audience.  I do not agree with that.  At all.  That first ski did not back down, and did not let you down.  Only you could let you down, and you probably did.  I just wish the fairly strong Brahma skied as well, cos 88 mm is the best mm.

04. '021 Stôcklį Stormrider 95, the recent one before the now one.  A bootfitter I know here in town who works at a ski shop, let's call it Grünewald's cos I don't know if I'm allowed to divulge trade info, says they sold all sorta Stóckli this year.  I asked about who bought 'em and he said "Let's just say they've read about 'em and had the money." He was circumspect and did not disparage, and I respect his tact.  I do not have as much of my own tact when not on the clock, so I will say that there are a decent amount of folks on these skis that really don't know what they have, and don't care, much like most of the folks who demoed my MX88 before I saved them from the trash compacter.  This ski, as I was reminded this morning while skiing and avoiding work, is about as versatile as it gets.  Better on hardpack than skis 15mm narrower, easier to manœuver auf der Wald than skis with less firepower and more slarvy profiles, and so far no speed limit.  Also, much metal, as always.  

03.  '014 Võlkl Kiku.  Floats, turns, slarves, carves, even.  Rocker, yes, but like, the whole thingie, so it doesn't ski confused or anything.  Elongated Low Profile, I think die Deutschen called it.  All the things but none of the bad things except coulda had a little metal cos every good ski deserves metal cos metal makes #1.  Not metal is #5.  Also, made in Straubing, which is nice, so #3. - EWH/AEP

02.  '06-'08 Head Monster 88.  It went by slightly different names over the years, and before this iteration was kinda techy and had a funky cap instead of a sandwich, but this was and still is the real damn deal.  Race sandwich, metal (LIQUIDMETAL sung in the voice of Bruce Dickinson) topsheet, funky-shaped tip, full-length edge contact, a speed limit I have never found despite trying with two lengths and four skis with 6 different binding setups, and some real confidence in dang near anything.  Even teleing in 6 inches of day old consolidated Copper Mountain cream.  Yeah, yeah, LB broke a core just loading the ski on Cattle Crossing, but that's LB for you. - EWH


001.  Blizzard Firebird HRC.  Current, in case you think we're just crotchety jerks.  If you can't ski it, I suggest you seek out a lesson or two cos we all can benefit from another person's input; this thing is what a ski should be, so you should want to ski it, like yesterday.  (Except for how spendy it is.  That's a little annoying.)  Fast, slow, steering, laying railroad tracks like you were Enore tryna impress Mimi in the winter of '09-'010 [Ed: he did], if you have the power and the edge pressure regulation and the rotary and the cuff pressure and the tactical smarts and the technique (wow, I sound arrogant) and the 130 flex boot (or more) and a willingness to ignore the fact that certain people in certain circles will think you're preening for a very specific audience, this is the best that has ever been.  Except in dreams.  And if you complain that it doesn't float, well, maybe you don't get it.  Whatever "it" is.  Blizzard has names I don't care about for their technology and whatnot, but it has a full metal base sheet and a metal binding sheet, so that's two boxes ticked.  The original Bodacious had that plus a full metal topsheet for a total of three sheets under foot, and the fact that this ski doesn't have as much metal keeps the HRC from being better than number one.

post script:  There's a special place in my heart (and quiver) for true race skis, but they are not really all that accessible to the skiers who ski less than many days a week or who did not bang gates in college or chase the thirteenth level of PSIA mastery.  It doesn't matter that most aging bums will claim they skied everything on race-stock GS and Super G boards back in '88, race skis just require technique and attention that isn't easy to come by or maintain.  If I jump on the FIS-compliant slalom or GS skis, it takes me a run or two to catch up.  I absolutely love how they ski, but I gotta be on my game, smashing that cuff.  Not everyone wants or can handle that, nor is there any requirement of such; the ski is then less universal.

Alright.  Time to go ski.

 *According to me and Amy who knows lots.  You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Dancing in the Sun

Long-term review, Stöckli Stormrider 95

Skier: Eino Holm, age 27, 39, 40

109 kg, 176 cm, Type 3+ skier, 308 boot sole. (N-9.5, if you were doing the binding chart in your head, which I know you were.)

Locations tested: Bogus Basin, ID; Crystal Mtn, WA, back in the day, when this was the Stormrider DP Pro, and was, like, waaaaaaaaaay stiffer.

Length skied: 184 and 185 (I think.  Advent of '008 is like, I don't know, 27 years ago.)

Bindungen: Flat.  (Mounted with STH 16 today, some random demo binding back then.  Let's say it was a 14 din Tyrolia demo binding.  If you were there and you remember what binding was present, let me know.  Write to us at I'm Somehow a Bigger Nerd Than Enore; The Small House with the Two Subarus, North End, BoyCee, Idaho, 837--)

As is my prerogative, I'll address the various elephants and giraffes and capybara in the room; if you are actually interested in this ski, you are one of maybe three things as a skier and as a person: foolish, bougie, and/or discerning.  Stóckli is one of those brands, like Kjus and Arc'Teryx and Mercedes, where performance is at the forefront, and yet the most common denumericator* is a willingness to outspend other people because in the right circumstances, those who know, know, and those who don't are people upon (pinkie up!) whom you've already chosen to look down.

Stôckli skis, at least at the retail level, are quite well made.  (Not impervious; in '09 or '010 I pulled a screw on a ski formerly owned by the artist still known as Scot Schmidt with his cameraman filming me.)  The hands-on feeling of the ski is that it's just, I don't know, different.  There's a satin feel to the metal (first clue to the type of skier this ski works for) topsheet, something that is not present with any other ski I have cuddled skied.  The on-snow flex feels just the same, silky and a little bit unsettling.

* That's a word cos I wrote it.


The foolish:  If you don't have a ready and willing power plant binding just sitting about like I did, the Stòckli is an even more expensive setup.  Since it is flat and costs $1100 or more, you'll end up spending up toward $1500, depending on where and from whom you purchase.  You don't want to mount just any binding, you know.  You need an STH2 16, say, or a Pivot 15 in Forza colourway.  A Tyrolia AAAttack2 16 GripWalk (to fit those fancy new bar-mode boots of yours).  Gotta keep up appearances.  Alternately, that money could buy two or three season passes at a decent ski area, or many, many, many burritos from Taco Del Mar.

The bougie:  This Stõckli is the Audi A6 Allroad to, say, the Blizzard Rustler 9's used '015 Outback.  Same purpose, same execution, just fancier.  Anyone can get to the hill with good tyres and some patience, but the A6 will make you feel things.  And it will help you glower at the PSIA Level III lady in her '015 Outback who skis better than you, cos you can afford to pay cash for a new A6 and she is making payments on her (gasp) 8 year old, dirty, used (shudder) Subie that basically anyone has access to.

The discerning:  The Stœckli SR 95 is a really good ski.  Surprisingly so.  I went in thinking, "Eh, Aunt Nancy is paying, and when will I have this unbudgeted cash just laying around?"  It is much more than that.  Great edge hold for such a wide, manageably flexy ski.  Decent float for something that is leaning toward all-mountainy.  That silky ride.  I would definitely enjoy a fancy Audi if I could afford it and if it came with a proper 6 speed manual, and it is no different here.  Chop, up to 8", groomers that are harder than you expected, January chalk in the Bowl at Mt A, slush bumps at Killington in May, steering, high-angle carves, slarving through the local Intermountain willow whips, pretty much whatever you want, it is right there with you.  I haven't found a hardpack speed limit yet.  I'm certain I will, but it is much higher than the soft nose, short tail, and early taper would suggest.

Appropriate juxtaposition of bougie and venerable.  Štoćkłį and Riblet.  Chair 5, Bogus.

The overall profile of the ski will look fairly current to most folks.  Mild early rise tip, 80ish% edge contact, progressive flex.  It's physically very stout underfoot, and softens quickly around the taper.  I have found that at speed in deeper snow, this pattern is a little prone to a sort of bent-tip brake feeling, but if you ski the ski the way you should, which is with round turns and a slightly more traditional weight-unweight rhythm, the ski just keeps going.  The old (ancient, even) DP Pro that I skied all those years ago would have had none of this.  You simply would stand on the downhill ski and hold on for the ride, hoping those subalpine fir were spaced for what the ski was going to do anyway.  It was fun when I was 28, and fit, and stronger than today, and skiing 13 days a week.  I doubt I would giggle as dreamily today.

The metal topsheet of the ski might scare some folks who are actually paying attention.  It might also make stronger skiers cast an eye or three.  It's a bit like a car geek seeing an early 90s 911, noticing that it's a 5 speed manual, and then noticing that it's four wheel drive.  Støckli calls it "TITEC PRO", which is short for Titanal Technology PRO, which is jargon for the anecdotally most common metal in skis today.  Titanal, contrary to most brands' abbreviation--"Ti"--is mostly aluminium.  It's a proprietary alloy, with a splash of zinc, a skosh of copper, an soupçon of magnesium, and for skis, a final silken anodisation that helps it bond to other materials well.  It is an isotropic material, as are most metals, meaning it has the same strength in all directions for a given amount of materièl.  This in turn means if you want it stouter, make it thicker, or flexier, make it thinner.  Carbon, that other, less gilded material, must be laid up for desired attributes in multiple directions, as does fibreglass.  (The older nerds out there might remember some 80s and early 90s K2 skis proudly proclaiming they were TRIAXIAL, which just meant that K2 was doing its job on those skis.)  All this to say, METAL.  Yes, it matters.  This ski in carbon would probly break, ski like wet butt turds, and look ugly.  Instead, it's a beautiful, smooth skiing wonder like its powerful forebear, but manageable and, dare we say, playful.  I've read copy on this ski that argue with me, say it can't float, or is a plank, but let's get real, folks.  If a ski above about 90mm doesn't float, it's the pilot, not the plane.  That funky old Salomon Supermountain from back in the mists floated just fine, thanks, and it was a whopping 78 underfoot.


I wouldn't be me without a couple complaints beyond the price of entry.  I really wish Stōckli would build this ski with the same exact everything from bootcentre forward, but add 6 more cms of length to the tail.  I also wish they would have laid up a high speed race base instead of whatever they actually used.  I've skied enough dry race skis that still glide like a bull on ice to know that this ski could be that much better.  Those quibbles aside, if you've got a spare grand or three, and want to be bougie, foolish, AND discerning, well, have I got a deal for you!


Pros: Dominique Peret, Tina Maze, Marco Odermatt, Ilka Stuhec, Martin Cater, Scot Schmidt.

Cons: John Dillinger, Boss Tweed, Enedina Arellano Félix, Butch Cassidy.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

These old records that haunt our dreams.

By Eino Holm

Them's some hairs.

Highway 101 never really got off the ground, even though they had a handful of hits and their first vocalist, Paulette Carlson, has one of those voices.  They were decidedly neo-trad country before Clint Black and Alan Jackson really broke the dam, but after Dwight.  Not really skiing music, when you think of it, but that doesn't matter.  Given some of the $#!@ Matchstick used during the Ski Movie years, one apparently needs to listen to horrible noise with some dreadful misogynistic posturing and terrible lyrics to really send it.  I prefer to listen on the way to and fro, and then just be in my own head listening to the conifer whisper while gettin' after it.  I am sensitive, you know.  An artiste.

Long about Madras, if you grew up like me, you realise this really isn't Kansas anymore.  Nor is it the Wet Side.  That first time was the first time I'd really seen the dry side.  It's open country, sage and bunchgrass; if yer payin attention there are trailers and cheatgrass and truck stops as well.  The Cascades over Blue Box Pass aren't really all that high, yet they are effective orography.  Madras gets a little more than twelve inches of precip in the water year.  If we're feeling poetic, I'd call that a couple drops of trillium nectar north of being Desert.  If we're feeling poetic.  I don't remember Madras at all, other than the Taco Time at some intersection or other.  A popular internet mapping service (thanks, Eben!!) says it's permanently closed.  It seemed to be around dusk, or maybe later, every time we hit town all those years ago.  I still don't know how Ma and Pa could even afford to take a ski vacation, let alone one that today feels as ritzy as heading to Sugarbush on Spring Break from The New School.

From these trips, at least one or two in the old Bronco II, I remember three albums.   Dwight's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., Highway 101's second record, and some to-me unknown Merle Haggard collection that I think, correctly or otherwise, led off with "Rainbow Stew".  Of the three, great though they all are, it's Paulette's plaintive alto that stands out for me.  And, I mean, who can resist a country song with somebody named "Cactus" bangin on them drums?  Not me.  When those high desert lights get to stretching off to the distance, some Mojave dive-haunting honky tonk dripping with Opuntia glochids seems to fit the bill.  Paulette's midwestern roots notwithstanding.  They weren't the most authentic band around, with three quarters of the original lineup being session guys, but since when do most seven year olds even know what that means?  I did not.  Besides, Mr Tambourine Man was mostly the Wrecking Crew, save Jim McGuinn's 12-string.  I merely absorbed that heartbreak, the anxiety, the beat, and importantly, that twang.  Twang and ponderosa are like Athens and a nice Rickenbacker.

Mt Bachelor, the volcano, stands above the plains in the same exact way that every other Cascade volcano south of Stampede Pass does.  This part of Oregon is so crowded, though, that without the association of chairlifts and ski vacations Bachelor remains small.  The Sisters to the north, then Seekseekqua, then Wy'East, all stand taller and more massive.  Broken Top to the north is more complex in shape, and the more remote peaks south of Willamette Pass are just, well, mysterious.  I didn't even know McLaughlin existed until I was damn near 30.  From Mark and Liz' ranch out a little southeast of Bend, one sees a fun jumble of peaks, some 20 or 30, that are certainly or at least most likely all volcanic.  Bachelor, the volcano, is one among many.  To me, a six or seven year old kid, Bachelor was the biggest thing in the world.  It really doesn't matter that Tahoma loomed over Southwood Elementary at home, bigger than life, or that the Root Chakra of the World, Shasta, is even bigger than Tahoma.  Tahoma was local, and for some reason it seems most skiers equate local with somehow diminished and not, I don't know, enough.

All three of us brothers were enamored of their detaches.  At least if memory serves.  Pine Marten and Outback were quads, early Doppelmayrs.  (Pine Marten has since been updated.)  Summit was exotic.  At the time, it was a Doppelmayr triple, one of the earliest detaches out there.  Sure, sure, Byron and crew built detachable mining trams in the 19th century, but, you know, video or it didn't happen.  Summit had faded green slats for the seat back, ran at whatever speed they did then, which was slower than me when I wanted to carve power-wedge Beverly Hills at Mach 7-Year-Old.  We were comparing Pine Marten to Rex, an early Poma detach, which today seems silly cos both are just fine, but then seemed like no comparison at all.  Doppelmayr FTW.  I think the entirety of our experience was that Bachelor was new, and distant, and fancy, and like, Pole House #2 in Sunriver was tops, whereas Rex was local.  That misapprehension again, that anything local is less than anything distant.

I remember the view from that little loft bedroom, looking directly at Bachelor in the Central Oregon sunrise.  Lowland ponderosa fading to montane Tsuga.  I remember Monday night wrasslin' on the cable TV.  That old Bronco II that Ford decided to resurrect but not really.  Battleship. Spaghetti and French bread.  (Why is that a thing in the States?)  J-O dropping his glove off Rainbow and never finding it.  Sidestepping up to Summit, tryna huck all my 50 or whatever pounds off the rollers on Cliffhanger, or hitting Boomerang under the Outback chair after lunch and finally understanding moguls--I thought; I was 9.  Hot chocolate with cinnamon at the Pine Marten Lodge.  These things we build into mythology when really they're just things.  A good turn or two.

The old Summit triple and J.O., late 80s

Vince Gill's When I Call Your Name is the Snoqualmie Valley, heading up to Stevens.  The 4th movement of Brahms' 1st is Alpental.  The Desert Rose Band's True Love is the 2.30 employee bus down from Crystal in a last-gasp inversion, late February, parking lot dust on the floor and that one suicide lane by the mill, the one I'd use on tourists who were tailgating me.  I'd slow just enough that they'd get even closer, antsy to get to Enumclaw and whatever it was they NEEDED to get on to beyond that, like the Ski Inn or 169 or Renton (It's Ahead of the Curve!) or whatever, and at the last chance I'd slide left into the middle lane and all that dump truck dust from the the gravel pit would explode and when I could see them again in the rearview, they'd be a handful of car lengths back, whatever important thing they couldn't wait to get to not quite as important.


Axel Jaffee passed away a few years ago, I don't know, 8, 10, 12 years, somewhere in there.  He (along with my friend and co-conspirator Dustin) taught me to swear.  He also was in his 60s when we carpooled my first year bumping chairs.  Dustin and Peter and I worked with Alex over the summer, after the storied Winter of '99, and in the fall Axel and I were buddies.  He had an old, slow, two wheel drive short-bed Ford pickup in faded white, with sand bags in the bed between the wheel wells and the cab for traction.  I had my front wheel drive '81 Tercel 5 speed.  I think my snow tyres cost $25 a piece including studs.  I never did get that car stuck.  Anyway, Axel, he had maybe two records in that truck.  Don McLean's American Pie, and then his "buddy" Julio Eglesias.  No clue what that one was, but it had "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" with Willie Nelson, and I just couldn't take it.  I'd tune out and watch the Pseudotsuga and lowland Abies slide by, hoping it'd turn to snow before Silver Springs.

That winter, '000, I was pretty certain listening to female singer-songwriters would draw me closer to either of the two women I couldn't get out of my head.  (To this day, I am grateful they tolerated my utter uselessness and that I still get to call each a good friend, distance and time changing all in its path.)  Along with Jonatha Brooke and Tori Amos, I had Mary Chapin Carpenter's Stones in the Road stuck in my craw.  Axel for some reason would think the volume in his truck was petering out after the first song, even though the song had simply ended.  He'd turn the volume way up, uncomfortably high.  The second song, "House of Cards", starts with a loud kick and snare, and those tiny speakers always sounded broken.  I'd commandeer the volume knob from there, until the next time we'd listen to the record when he'd do it again.  

That winter wasn't particularly big, especially since it followed the Big Winter of '99, but we still got good snow for most of it.  Many cycles we'd get snow down to the river.  There was snow in Greenwater most of the season.  It passed like all those conifers bending under their blankets, the dark stands of timber my buddy Todd calls "killin woods".  I never knew if Axel actually liked Stones in the Road, or if he simply tolerated it cos it's a fairly straightforward record, easy for the uninterested to tune out.  I still enjoy the record, and some of those mid-90s social commentaries still resonate.  I still laugh inwardly every time those twin drum beats hit.

If I was driving, if Axel was in a talkative mood and I wasn't, I'd put Tori Amos or Jonatha Brooke on, and those soothing voices would put him to sleep.  Usually by the Sand Flats, at latest by the bottom of the Boulevard.  I know I have been driven like the snow. . .


The next Winter, I bumped chairs at Baker.  I'd headed to Bellingham to finish school, AA under my wing and a BA in writing on the horizon, but life gets in the way sometimes.  This one lady, Amrah, we were talking at the bottom of 5 one day, making a list of pros and cons.  It's funny to think that little list led me here, out in the desert, 21 years later, but that's definitely the way these things tend to go.  

I'd attempted to register for Winter quarter, but some compounding mistakes on the colleges' part--with some ignorance and a lack of curiosity on my part--added up to me being without actual admission credentials.  When I asked why I'd been able to register for class back in August, the dude at the registrar's office sighed in a condescending manner and, Eino-phrasing here, said, "D'uh! We give you a quarter's length grace period.  Yer sposeta figure it out."  I asked why no one had let me know that I was derelict in whatever it was, and he just said it was my job to know or find out my status.  Turns out GRCC hadn't shipped my transfer degree/AA up to Western, only a class transcript.  I'd only been admitted to Western on state transfer regs, so classes and grades (3.49 gpa) and strong SAT scores be damned, I was only accepted to University based on token agreements.  After hanging my Grandmother's old cordless landline in its cradle and gassing up the GL, I high-tailed it the 115 odd miles south, grabbed my degree, then headed back north.  In the morning, I got my admission straight, but I was at the back of the line, and missed out on every class I could have put toward this phantom writing degree.

On the cons side, Amrah wrote "harder to restart than continue," and she could not have been more correct.  I took Winter quarter off to ski.  Now I'm a 40-year-old English major with no actual credits toward that major and no fancy paper to back my hubris up, but with, I don't know, 1500-odd days on snow and countless turns, and the memory of Amrah rewinding Dulcinea over and over on the tape deck so she could hear "Something's Always Wrong" again, and again, and again, them killin woods slipping by in the dark.  I only had a few cassettes in that red GL wagon.  Ropin' the Wind, August and Everything After, and Dulcinea.

In among the decent snow that January, Amrah, some dude named Andy from Mount Vernon who did. like. binding repair or fry frying, and a lady from South Africa whose name is escaping me, and I had time to take the Tsawwassen ferry over to the Island.  It's an incredible ride, across the more northern/less western of the two northwestern-most corners the lower 48, through the Gulf Islands, landing at Schwartz Bay on the north end of the Saanich Peninsula.  It was cold, wet without any rain, and we huddled on the deck so we could watch those mysterious islands drift past and the gulls ride the ferry's slipstream.  We slept on the floor of a float house in Victoria's Inner Harbour, owned by I think an older woman who had at some point dated the lady from South Africa's Pa at some point in the hitherto.  Or something like that.  The gentle swells of the Inner Harbour, combined all the driving I'd been doing as the sole owner of a car, knocked me out early.  In the morning, we headed back east.  Across the water and up the Nooksack, through all that endlessly deep conifer wood, up the lower Arm to the E-Lodge, and then I don't even know where one of those kids is.  In the three days off the hill, I'd missed three days of skiing.  The next winter, I decided that wouldn't do, and by July I'd been on snow 127 days.  I only missed possible ski days if I was anærobic from too many days straight in the deep.  800" in a season is not a time to be gallivanting, and so I did none of the sort.

At the dock in Tsawwassen, there were giant screens to convey informations and entertainment.  (I will not utter that most horrific of portmanteaux.) One could tune the car radio to the correct FM station, and the audio would come alive.  Or that's what the ferry folks wanted.  That day, they just looped Our Lady Peace's "In Repair" for the entire two hour sailing wait.  It's not a bad song, and I still enjoy hearing it every year or two, but that's a lot of repeats.  Maybe that's just how the Canadians do.


School of Fish's Human Cannonball is driving the ol' puke-orange Tercel up Chinook in the Spring, nothing specific lyrically, just full throttle alt-rock that fit in during the Grunge era.  It was loud, a little off-kilter, much distortion.  Those hairpins and Abies lasiocarpa.  I spent my 21st up there, shuttling road shots with John John Rutherford's Pa, John Rutherford.  We got after it pretty good, skiing from morning until almost dinner time.  The last time climbing into the GL, my left hamstring locked up like I was still playing football.

Way up here, it's crystal clear.
(That one corner's hiding down there, just above the soup. Behind that one Doug fir.)

The Turnpike Troubadours' albums, all four, hit pretty hard here in the desert.  I don't care why.

Turning the corner above the new Stack Rock trail, that goofy 90 degree left, where before the trail, you'd find less expensive cars and some Fred Meyer winter clothing and $8 discs or garbage bags, you'll now see a new Defender in amongst the new Outbacks and new F250s.  The awkward, less-than-thought-out jargon for the corner was "Ghetto Sleddin'".  Today, with the addition of a trail, it's a "trailhead."

Evan Felker's plaintive voice and Kyle Nix' roughly, expertly sawn fiddle, I don't care what day it is anymore.  Sometimes it's above the capping layer, sometimes it's puking, some days it's just mare's tails and faded blue denim above.  Ponderosa mixing into the struggling, mistletoe-addled Doug fir.  The country was cold, with the sun westward sinking; it's good to be back in this place.  My hands around a Belgian-made Brownin', my mind on the lines of her face.  Experience.  Something off-handed, but still meaningful.  McMurtry's "30-year crush."

The dying fir slides past, if there's some snow I'll goose it just a bit to try and egg the engineers over in Shibuya City on a little, hope I can get sideways before the ABS stabs at the rotors and that stern voice says NO FUN FOR YOU.  "How good does it feel?!"  Sometimes I slip that CD in cos a) I'm old, now, and b) dag, it sounds good.  It hurts, too, sometimes.  Yesterday, I was droppin the knee for a third of the Throne per turn, 8-10 new and the maze at the bottom of 6 overfull, Pa laughing at me and also--hopefully--with me.  "The whole line was watching, you know."  Today, I'm 40, mysterious knees draining my youthful impudence.  I'm afraid to drop the knee at all.

The punchline to the joke is that when I hear Evan sing "you belong in these hills," I'm seeing Grass Mountain, and the Sisters, and Carbon Ridge. Corral Pass, and Suntop, the White and the West Fork, Lonesome Lake and the Dalles.  Governor's Ridge, and Yakima, and Naches, and Sheep Lake.  The upper Silver Creek drainage and the King.  Pa quoting Clint Black.  The lights are on, but nobody's home.

- -

Title from Zoë Muth's "What Did You Come Back Here For?"

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Complaining About Arthritis

By Amy Post

My first day on snow this season was delightful.  I skated to the chair with a spring in my step, felt that little bit of exhilaration as the chair scooped me off my feet, and I giggled as my skis slid along the snow, all the way to the top of Showcase.  I was even more thrilled when I was able to make turns, top to bottom, without pain in my knees!

Even though it was fun, the first few runs felt a little off, technique-wise.  But they always do, the first time back on snow each season.  And now I’m skiing with an old injury, active arthritis, and a higher level of pain.  So, I experimented with different ways to turn my skis in order to not aggravate my knees.  If I don’t bend my right knee too much, it doesn’t hurt too bad.  Meanwhile, my left knee woke up and started barking at me, reminding me that it too has arthritis.  But after a few runs, that knee settled down and worked the way it’s supposed to.  I discovered that if I muscle through my turns, my knee hurts a lot more.  But if I focus on actively releasing the opposing muscles, my body picks up the slack and engages the necessary turning muscles just enough to make the movements, without as much pain.  With some feedback from my colleagues, I was back to symmetrical, dynamic turns by lunchtime.

Catching face shots in the neighborhood.

The first hour was almost pain free.  But during the second hour, my bad knee started to ache a little, a few twinges here and there.  Before I went to the mountain that day, my plan was to make a few runs and just see how it went; stop if I hurt too much, ski a few if I felt good, and if I ended up skiing for a few hours, bonus!  So, I thought about going home at lunch time—you know, quit while you’re ahead—but I decided to stay for the afternoon session.  As we started the afternoon, I was pleased that my pain didn’t spike on the first run after lunch.  My pain often reveals itself once my muscles cool down, so taking an hour-long break can sometimes be really uncomfortable.  But my knee didn’t feel any worse than it did right before lunch, so off I went!  Skied awhile more, started to get a little more sore.  But I was skiing with other instructors, so there was lots to focus on besides my knees, and we were standing around talking a lot too, because that’s what we do.

About an hour into the afternoon session, I noticed that I was starting to brace against my outside ski by making my outside leg stiff.  I do this when I start to get fatigued, my knee starts to hurt a lot, or both.  Actually, it is a vicious cycle, because knee pain shuts down quadricep function and lack of quadricep strength causes knee pain—one of the many gems I’ve taken away from physical therapy.  Once I notice myself bracing, I actively work on relaxing those muscles instead, which makes better turns anyway.  At one point during the next few runs, I bent my knee in a way that made me yelp with pain.  I think I skied one more run, but was getting to the point where I couldn’t stop bracing that outside leg, so I called it a day.

Even though my knees were screaming at me on my way to the car, I forced myself not to limp and iced them immediately when I got home.  I was on a high for the rest of the day and the next from the joy I felt because I got to ski.  Plus I got to ski almost a full day without unbearable pain!

The next day, I woke up and my knee was 3 cm larger than my other knee, and it hurt like hell.  I couldn’t walk normally and spent the rest of the week icing, elevating, wearing my compression sleeve, and pouting.  Today, a month out, it’s still not back to where it was before I skied.  For two weeks, stairs were impossible, even going up.  My knees have disliked walking down stairs and hills since I first injured them 20 years ago.  But I’ve always been good at the up.  Even when I’m out of shape, I can hike up a hill like a Gelada baboon.  (As opposed to the clichéd mountain goat.)  But not right now.  By now the swelling has gone down and the pain is less, but stairs are incredibly difficult.  That’s a problem.  It’s one thing if I can’t ski; even though skiing is an important part of my identity, I know that I can have fulfilling life without skiing, even if I don’t know what that looks like right now.  But if I can’t get around because I can’t handle stairs, that’s a real problem.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned lately.  You guys, I have chronic pain!  Maybe that sounds obvious, but in the past, I have not thought of my pain as a chronic condition.  It started when I was 18, got really bad for a few years, then I learned to manage it and did OK for about ten years.  Then it came back and has steadily been getting worse for the last five years.  I don’t know what I thought it was before, but I guess I just always hoped it would get better and go away.  I always thought, if I got stronger, fitter, lost x number of pounds, ate the right food, or found some magic fairy dust and learned to fly, my knees would feel good, even though I also knew that my patellar cartilage was damaged and degenerating.

A recent episode of the podcast Ologies featured an interview with Dr. Rachel Zoffness, a pain psychologist.  (She also has a book that I ordered and haven’t started reading yet but it looks very good.  Link here and at the end of this post.)  The interview made me realize that I am dealing with chronic pain, which requires a unique approach.  She approaches pain with a three-pronged method; bio-psycho-social.  That means that pain is influenced by biological, psychological and social factors.  So, for example, when I first left Utah and was going through a mental breakdown (I believe the medical term is actually “acute stress disorder”), my knee pain came roaring back.  Intense psychological stress increases the pain signals in your brain to “danger, danger, danger!” levels all the time, even if the stress signals are from a separate, physical injury.  Alternatively, when I’m skiing with friends and colleagues, it’s easy to ignore the pain because my brain is in a happy social mode.

Most astonishing, I learned that chronic pain tells you to do three things; isolate, stay home, and don’t move.  This is a survival message in response to the pain.  Which is pretty much what I’ve wanted to do from about 6 weeks post-surgery when my physical therapy started to hit a wall.  She also said that this message our brain tells us about chronic pain is a lie, and that being social, getting out of the house and moving are the best things for chronic pain.  The thing I most appreciated about the interview with Dr. Zoffness is that she told me that the challenges I’ve faced since my big knee injury almost three years ago are, well, normal.  Sucky, but normal.

The last time I went to physical therapy, Rob said he thought it might be time for surgery.  When your physical therapist says it’s probably time for surgery, uff, he’s probably right.  I had an MRI last week, so that may give me some useful information.  (I wanted to do the MRI in October, but then I got COVID, and then it took almost three months to get it pre-approved by insurance.  Grr.)  My knee is a lot better now than it was a few days after I skied.  But I’m scared of the pain and doing anything that might cause weeks of swelling.

It’s hard to end these types of essays.  I want to end on a positive note, because that feels like the appropriate arc when writing about something disappointing.  And truthfully, I am still optimistic about my knee health and the future of my skiing life.  But I don’t have any answers yet, and right now I’m in the shit.  I haven’t skied since that first day back on snow this season.  The pain has reduced to an intermittent sharp pang in my knee cap when I bend it under load, an ache during and/or after activity, and an unsteadiness on stairs.  So, I might try going skiing later this week and really limiting myself to a couple easy runs.  This time, just for a little while and take it real easy.


Zoffness, M.S., PhD., Rachel.  "The Pain Management Workbook: Powerful CBT and Mindfulness Skills To Take Control of Pain and Reclaim Your Life."  New Harbinger Publications, 2020.

"Dolorology (PAIN) with Dr. Rachel Zoffness."  Ologies with Alie Ward, 10 November 2021.