Lowest maxima is 94 degrees American. And it's 100 degrees at 9.20pm, by the way. AND WE DON'T LIVE IN !!@*!!(U(&#$ ARIZONA ARRRRRGGGGHHH.
Anyway. Time was I'd count the short weeks until the gear guides started filling up whatever random slots on the magazine rack the magazine lady chose that year. I can still see her form, her ghost. Mags aren't around anymore. I'd say we're worse off, but there's so much waste in this world that it's a small price to pay for less landfill. I doubt I was alone in this. I'd memorise sidecut dimensions, topsheets, who'd stopped making a good ski in favour of a less good ski. I catalogued as much as I could, and never skied anything in the pages unless I could scam a demo out of one of the hillside shops, which was rare. Sometimes I'd pony up for a paid day, with whatever was left that week from the third (very part time) job at the gas station before Jeff closed it, or with what should have been overtime except the State ain't care if your OT is overage at two jobs.
Opening Day skis. A long way from today.
The King County Fair ran for a few days in July. Some years, it was pretty good. Saw the Kentucky Headhunters there. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Pam Tillis, although I admit that was more cos it was some lady on the radio than a show I actually wanted to see. Then, in what was usually the hottest time of year, The Highland Games. I never knew what went on in there, growing up. By the time I was in high school, we got recruited to march around in front of the Gathering of the Clans. If you are wondering, it's not a scary race war cult, it's big Sottish families, going back to the old country. Lots of tartan, kilts, double-snared drums, sooooo many pipes. Piper John McBride, if I remember correctly, would tune up during the Massed Bands, before our tiny drum and bugle and flute band would lead the clans. I think his sister was some muckity muck with the Games or like knew Secretary of State Ralph Munro, so he was like a really big deal. And no, he was not in tune. Not once. I mean, bagpipes. That's pretty much their thing.
One year, I borrowed a kilt from my friend Peter, who was much taller, plus I got them short Sámi femurs, so I had to hitch all 8 yards of Shetland wool way above the traditional just-higher-than-normal-trousers waistline in order to not be wearing a dowdy old lady skirt. Wool is hot, even if there's an opening for the breeze that never comes.
The first time I marched with that scrappy little band of teenaged nerds, I was between 8th and 9th grades. I played the bass drum that year, and Judy the Director brought along the big one. Holy crap, I couldn't even see over it. I went from being the starting varsity centre the previous October to tripping over a Doug fir root by the fairgrounds admin office. Good thing Peter hadn't loaned me the kilt that year.
The last time I marched around in front of all the clans, I was helping my older brother Eli. He somehow got saddled with directing the band even though he didn't have credentials or a degree or whatever it is you need to walk in a rectangle with 20 or so fellow nerds following you. I'd skipped work at the hill, to my boss' eternal dismay. Seriously, I bet he hadn't forgiven me when he got fired by Alterra whenever that was. He had probly forgot long ago, but still hadn't forgiven. He and I never got along, which, well, who knows how that shit goes. I know I had a big hand in that, but he was a terrible boss, irresponsible, lazy, drunk, the works. Any time somebody defends him, I remind myself of stepping into the work chair at the top of 4, first day I ever did line work. He gestured toward a lanyard--not that I knew what it was--thrown down on the ramp, and said "There's a lanyard if you want." No harness, no instruction, not even so much as a smartass "Hopefully your belt loop will hold you." I was a 19 year old kid, scared as shit, wondering just how much it hurts to fall off an angled Riblet tower from 30 feet up. I got real competent at holding myself up with my right foot hooked behind my left, my thighs squeezing the cross arm. I'm still surprised I didn't end up with a broken back in the grass on Quicksilver.
Anyway, Eli'd asked if I could march with the snare, not a double, unfortunately, just the same beat-up high school drum I played Junior and Senior year after Mercer graduated and I got the good snare. The boss claimed they were rigging for a resplice on new Chair 3. Supposedly it was all hands on deck, which should have included Peter Case, who was one of the hill's only halfway decent big machine operators. When I saw Peter at the Games, he just said "we were never gonna get that done this weekend." The boss fired me, and that was that. Maybe I didn't need to follow my brother John into that career, but I still haven't forgiven him. I have never since been able to stay in the mountains long-term, and he had a direct hand in that. He kept me from getting a Patrol job, kept me from any sort of year-round work at the hill. 22 years later, I'm still bitter about that. I still don't like working inside, don't like working in town.
It's that time of year, now, isn't it?
Back in them days, y'know, with the magazines, I don't know, I had fun arguing with the resort guides. Still do. I mean, the pages had to stand in during these arguments for the writers, those privileged jerks who got paid to ski at this joint or that, who lived in exotic places like Jay or Truckee or, like, Ogden. They always seemed to hold the keys to the kingdom, and they got it wrong every time. I mean, Vail?! Really? Vail sucks. As does Sun Valley. The skiing's aight, I guess, but weren't they always arguing that skiing was only part of the equation? If that's the case, then Vail sucks. The town is a pile of corporate-owned schlock. There's no there there. You want a nice place, try Bethel, Maine. Gibbonsville, Idaho. Duluth. Calumet. Banner Elk. You know the places; not really accessible in any real sense, not somewhere you could live, and yet, just maybe. An actual dream, rather than uniformity and upwardly mobile bullshit. You can argue all you want that the value is at a place like Deer Valley, where the beer flows like wine. Or Aspen, where skiers flock like carp to an electric boat. The vertical, the detaches, the groomers, the, well, the wine and cheese and allegedly-Norwegian sweaters. I can't be clear enough, though. They are flat wrong.
Not Beaver Creek, not Whistler, not Stowe, not Big Sky. And if you turn around, there's a giant stratovolcano looking on.
Those resort guides, with their hackneyed pseudoscientific rankings and pretty people schussing for the camera. The same rankings every year. For some, even the ever hallowed Alta would rank like 45th in the Rockies, and that high only because of something ephemeral like "history" or the Goldminer's Daughter. I'd sit there at the kitchen table, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Labour Day sales, wondering what the heck these turd farmers were getting paid for. Not journalism, not really. I'd say "how can you miss Maverick?" Or "What do you mean Stowe is empirically better than Smuggs?"
None of these things matter, of course, and it was an exercise in internalising futility. And, if I am completely honest, given a stack of cash and a guaranteed byline, I, too, would probly find a way to talk about how The Place That Shall Not Be Named is a good value cos, I don't know, no hotels? The Shoot'n Star? It never ceased to get me going, the Resort Guide. Didn't matter what rag, whose byline, what shimmering imagery. I'd get riled up, think about how I knew better even when I hadn't yet traveled far or wide even. I'd get so wound up, it'd be 2 in the mornin' and I'd be firing off letters in my head to Rob Story or Jackson Hogen (I met that guy once, crazy, interesting, a little weird, and above all, a phenomenal skier I could not keep up with, his age be damned) or whoever it was.
The legendariest burger in all the land: Star Burger, Shoot'n Star, Huntsville, Utah. Take off, all you hosers who ruined Utah for us. This is what I miss the most. Certainly more than the Greatestest Snow On All Of The Earth Tee Em. That, in particular, was a disappointment on the order of Californication, or, I don't know, Atomic shrinking the Big Daddy.
It's an easy and silly thought experiment, this. It's August, the Resort Guides of yore long lost to the dustbins of corporate earnings reports and ad revenue charts. There's nobody to argue with. Leslie Anthony is probly off throwing rocks at telewhackers. The Shoot'n Star is still there, but so are many folks I want nothing to do with. The Elk sold to some hipster hotel magnate. Skiing is far off, both in time and in space. I could hoof it off to T-line, or hope there's still a strip up some northeasterly coulee in the Sawteeth. Neither is really possible with my split weekend and minimal ambition. Everything is hypothetical.
It's here that I'd usually fire off some utterly off-the-cuff list of esoteric joints with explanations of why they--say, Magic Mountain down south of Twin, or Beaver out east of Logan, or Giant's Ridge up northwest of Duluth--were the pinnacle. Anthony Lakes on a sunny Friday after a midweek dump, cos, y'know, they're only open weekends. You know the drill, though. Nothing's really new, and that's totally fine. Good, even. I crave routine, even if I feel trapped by it. I enjoy a new song by a familiar artist, and a new turn on a familiar pitch.
Familiar places, familiar faces. Huh huh. That's funny cos the pitch facing us (HA!) is called The Face.
For a couple summers, I can't think now how many, but too many, I worked in the Enumclaw Safeway. I pushed carts for way longer than I should have. When I finally got a checker job, it was temporary, cos by winter they'd scaled me back to one four hour shift a week. When I got the promotion, I dove in head first. Memorised like fortyleven produce codes. Got my average items per bag up to like eleventeen. When I was in the express lane, my line would never get past three people. It didn't matter. Winter comes for us all, for good and ill. Mostly good. Here' hoping the next one is above average.
Indulge me here:
Tyler Mahan Coe has an incredible podcast about country music. Find it here. Don't recognise his name? I bet you do if you think hard enough. I bring this up because he likes to add liner notes, named after all the stuff artists or labels or management types would add to albums in order to enhance the experience, or educate you, or simply (Radiohead and Tool, here's to you) confuse the shit out of you. Following are some of my own.
- Powder Magazine isn't fully gone, but having a website and emailing ad copy does not a magazine make. Time was, it was the best. It was specifically Powder I'd wait for, right at the beginning of August. I don't remember if the first episode always came out then, but close to it. Maybe the 10th or the 15th. It didn't matter, cos I would go by the Safeway every chance I got to see if the Magazine Lady had updated her display. Seriously, there's only so much Orange-Carrot Sobe one can buy before folks get suspicious.
- Some of the magazines, Ski in particular, really did get it all wrong. Those pseudo-scientific listicles I mentioned were sheer dreck. "Customer driven", or somesuch corporate nonsense, they called it. They'd survey folks at the ski areas, then use the results to rank the contenders. You can bet they didn't sit outside the Pioneer Lodge at Bogus asking Emmett lokes whether Brundage or Soldier was better if graded on scales regarding the quality of cutlery in the cafeteria or the symmetry of the tiller courds on the groomers. They really added nothing to the conversation, just a circular handshake where Deer Valley would pay for copious ad space and Ski would use that money to go survey every single clueless New Yorker with money in the Stein Erickson Lodge and of course they'd say Deer Valley was the best cos they literally only skied at DV and wanted to use the platform to justify their expenditure, and besides, had no clue what else was out there, even in their own state, which has such incredible places as Titus, Plattekill, Gore, and Whiteface. Not to mention the other twelveteen million ski areas in the state. Seriously. New York has the most ski areas of any state in the Union. Suck on that, Colorado. Deer Valley could then say in their ads "RANKED NUMBER ONE BY SKI MAGAZINE," and clueless tourists with money would keep flocking there like the Salmon of Capistrano. Vomit emoji. Poop emoji.
- Thing is, although I don't like to admit it, the skiing at DV and SV is real good. Like, uff da. Long, clean fall line, well planned, lifts where you hope they'd be, it's just, I don't know, still not enough. If I'm tryna fall asleep at night, it ain't the new Cold Springs lift I'm thinking of. It's Chair 1 at Loveland. Or Chair 1 at Baker. Chair 1 at Lookout, Mt Spokane, Lost Trail, Bogus, Dodge Ridge, Donner Ski Ranch. Chair 1 at Hyak or White, if you wanna go that far back. Mission. Silver. 49 North. You get the drill.
- Herewith, just cos, a bunch of rad joints. If there's a big name in a state, I offer these as counterpoints. If there is not, then by all means, ski here or anywhere there:
- Eaglecrest. Mt Spokane. Kelly's. Hoodoo. Sky Tavern. Bear Valley. Sunrise Park. Nordic Valley. Snowy Range. Blacktail. Huff Hills. Terry Peak. Powderhorn. Pajarito. Mt Crescent. Mt Kato. Trollhaugen. Caberfae. Chestnut. Perfect North. Gatlinburg. Sugar. Wintergreen. Canaan. Snow Trails. Bear Creek. Kissing Bridge. Southington. Yawgoo Valley. Jiminy Peak. Saskadena. Cranmore. Bigrock. There's no option in Missouri cos Vail owns both joints. How that's not a monopoly, I do not know.
- Title from James McMurtry's Bad Enough. It sounds good this time of year. Most of his music does.