Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cost of Contentment

The price for a day of skiing at Vail and Beaver Creek is $108.  Let that sink in a little bit.  That’s just for the skiing, of course.  There’s also the parking ($25), Food ($9.95 “Lunch for Less”), and gas to get there (Increasing).  And if you’re going to be skiing Vail, I’d imagine you have to look the part:

This fetching jacket (made of Goose Down, polyester, and Raccoon fur) is only $1,499.  And the hat is only $799.  That’s right.  $799 for a hat.  All that money, and once you get to the mountain, there’s a distinct possibility that you might be punched in the face.

I was thinking about this when I was reading the Salsa Cycles Culture blog.  As many websites/news agencies/tv shows do this time of year, they’re doing the year-end wrap up: Their favorite riding moments of 2010.  I was thinking about my favorite riding/skiing moments in the past year, and I realized that I don’t need to spend $150 to have a great day.

My favorite bike riding moment was our day at the Kingdom Trails in Vermont.  Total cost: Gas to get up there, $10 for the trail pass, $3.00 for an incredible chicken pesto burrito for lunch, $2.00 for some afternoon snacks, and $32 for Beers and Reubens at the Inn at Long Trail on the way home.

My favorite skiing moment was October 16th at Whiteface.  Total cost: Gas to get up there, $0.70 for a bagel with peanut butter on it, and $9 for a six pack of beer.

Good times, good riding, and good beer.  It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Serenity NOW!

Well, it didn't take very long for me to get off of Island Time.  This time of year is always hectic.  There's more traffic, more people, and more money on my credit card.  People are angry, lines are long, and everyone is on edge.  It's like New York City, 3 hours north.

There's a reason I don't live in NYC: I'm not very good at blocking things out.  When someone around me is angry, I get angry.  When someone cuts me off in traffic, I feel like I should cut him off.  When someone starts yelling at a cashier or a waitress, I have to fight the urge not to yell at him.  I don't have the patience, calm, or empathy level that is necessary to deal with stressful situations (especially around Christmas).

So, I'm trying to relax, take it easy, and slow everything down.  It's not the end of the world if everything doesn't go according to plan.  So what if other places have tons of snow, and Gore has grams of snow? Who cares if other people are out getting after it, and I'm headed to the office again tomorrow?

Me! I care!! I can't relax, because I want too much and I want it now.  I want powder.  I want to ski trees.  I want to get some video footage that's worth a damn (instead of a bunch of GS turns down groomers).  And not only that, I want to go on exotic ski trips.  I want to go heliskiing.  I want to ski the Haute Route.  I want to bag some peaks and drink some celebratory beers.  Is there anything wrong with that?

Of course, the problem comes when I get upset at what I can't control.  I can take steps towards the ski trips (saving money, buying more bc gear, reading guidebooks, planning, etc.).  But I can't do anything about the lack of snowfall at my local mountain.  So, with that in mind, I present the modified Serenity Prayer:

Ullr, grant us the...
Serenity to accept things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the base depth to reach acceptable levels
Appreciation for the fact that it's winter and we're skiing, and
Tolerance for those who know not the joys of sliding on snow
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our desk jobs and work obligations, the
Ability to feel the powder billow around us and our love for our bros and the
Strength to get up, brush off the snow, and try again in hopes that tomorrow will be even better than today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pray for (Natural) Snow?

This past Saturday kicked off my instructing duties for the year (two level 1’s).  And Sunday marked the first time that I’ve skied natural snow since October 16th.  Vive la diffĂ©rence.

I have always said that natural snow is better.  It looks better, it skis better, and it melts better (spring corn instead of degraded ice chunks).  I tried to look up some hard statistics to back up my feelings, but all I found were scientific journal entries like this:
A theory is developed to explain the transition from regular plates to dendritic stellar crystals; the corners sprout when material from the vapour phase arrives at corners more rapidly than it can be carried away by surface diffusion and occurs only when the diameter of the plate exceeds a critical value dc, Ds, /Dv, = agrx2p, /Dv, where Ds, Dv, are the coefficients of surface and volume diffusion and xp, is the surface migration distance on the (prism) edge of the plate. The predictions of the theory are compared with observations on natural snow crystals. Equations are derived for the growth rates of snow crystals as they fall through the atmosphere. The predicted maximum attainable diameters of the various shapes are in good agreement with observations
 Which is cool (if you like reading scientific journals), but it doesn’t really explain why natural snow feels so different.  Investigating further, I found this from the Wyoming Climate Atlas:
Mountain ski resorts augment natural snow cover with man made snow, especially during meteorological droughts. 28° F is the "magic number" for snowmaking. When the temperatures drop below this mark, snow production is greatly enhanced. Ten inches of natural snow, when packed, usually adds only one inch of snow to the ski slope’s base while 10 inches of man-made snow adds seven inches of base. Man-made snow is usually more dense and durable
 Okay, so now we’re getting somewhere.  Using a rough estimation, that means that normal Wyoming snow is about 10% water, but man made snow can approach 70% water.  Even if you consider that Eastern Snow has a slightly greater water content than Wyoming Snow (Wikipedia puts it at 15%), that’s still an enormous difference.  Imagine walking through a McDonald’s ball pit where 10% of the space was taken up by balls (and somehow they were floating all around you).  Then imagine a McDonald’s ball pit with 70% of the space taken up by balls.  Movement would be harder, you’d have to use more energy to get through, and the dynamic of how the balls interacted with each other would be completely changed.

That’s the problem with man made snow.  Every single man-made snowflake is heavier, denser, and more watery than its natural counterpart.  And since the number of snowflakes that fall in the world (naturally) is approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, that means that you are skiing through an awful lot of dense snowflakes.

But, I suppose it’s an early season sacrifice that we all have to live with.  This article on Syracuse.com does point out that man-made snow is good for one thing – base buildup:
Harris said man-made snow is more dense and durable. It will hold up better to the abuses of thaws and skis. At the same time, skiers love the natural pow[d]er. Its softer and more fun, Harris said. The idea is to lay down a heavy base of the man-made snow and let the natural snow top it off.

“Then you’ve got the best of both worlds,” Harris said
Can’t argue with that.  Ski areas have to strike the right balance between natural and man-made.  And every mountain is different.  What works for Mad River Glen won’t necessarily work for Hunter.  I guess when it comes to snow, I’d prefer that Gore would heed the words of Saint Augustine:

"Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you." 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Decision

While the life of a ski bum is difficult, the life of the “weekend warrior” is agonizing, especially around this time of year.  It was one thing when the trip reports came from out west.  But now, they’re hitting pretty close to home.  December is when I first start tossing ideas around in my mind, planning adventures, and plotting escapes.  And it usually comes down The Decision: what I should do vs. what I want to do.

Sure, I should just stay in the office; banking time, getting things done, and saving my vacation days for February, March, and April (when the snowpack will be deeper, the days will be warmer, and my skiing muscles will be stronger).  But that’s not what I want to do.  I want to drive up to Stowe or Jay, strap on some skins, and start climbing.  My adventure itch hasn’t been scratched yet, and Saturdays on people packed groomers just aren’t doing it for me.  I want to get out.  I want to live my life.

This is the problem: I have to work.  I have bills to pay, my house needs repairs, and I need to put money towards retirement.  But I want to be able to get up and go at any moment, spend all my money on gas and gear, and take full advantage of every single second of daylight so that each night I can look back and say, “Damn.  That was a good freakin’ day.”

This is the kind of thing that people struggle with for their entire lives, I guess.  A recent study found that people are increasingly dissatisfied with their work/life balance:
According to the APA study, 39 percent of those surveyed expressed satisfaction with their work-life balance, compared to 42 percent in 2009. Furthermore, for the third year in a row, money, work and the economy topped Americans' list of worries. 
We need money to live The Life, and we need jobs to get money.  But then the jobs get in the way of The Life.  And that’s why some people will never be satisfied with their work-life mix.  People will always have to balance their needs and their wants, their responsibilities and their desires, their present and their future.  

All I can ask for is a situation like I have: A fulfilling job, a solid amount of time off, a decent salary, and the chance that, at the end of some of my work days, I can dust off my hands and say “Damn.  That was a good freakin’ day.”

It doesn’t save me from having to make The Decision, but it does make The Decision harder.

(I guess there are worse problems to have).

In a somewhat related note, I was thinking about these types of job-related issues earlier this year, and I wrote a short article for the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Eastern Division Newsletter that some people might be interested in.  It’s mainly written for ski instructors, but it goes into some of the attributes that make one job better than another.  It can be found on the PSIA-E website here (PDF, scroll down to page 22 and look for "Lessons from The Economist")

Friday, December 3, 2010


In keeping with my new philosophy of living in the moment, I’m trying to stop and look around a little more in my regular life. It’s amazing what you miss when you’re so focused on “other stuff” (responsibilities, relationships, random tasks, etc.). I’m trying to dial back the “stuff” and dial up the surroundings – not just at the ski area, but everywhere. It’s weird, too. I guess that snowboarder texting on his cell phone (while completely oblivious to everything else around him) is pretty representative of the whole world. A respectable news source reported that Americans spend 90% of their time staring at glowing rectangles. And it’s true. This just about perfectly sums up my life these days:
According to the report, staring blankly at luminescent rectangles is an increasingly central part of modern life. At work, special information rectangles help men and women silently complete any number of business-related tasks, while entertainment rectangles—larger and louder and often placed inside the home—allow Americans to enter a relaxing trance-like state after a long day of rectangle-gazing.
So really, am I any better than the guy on the snowboard? He’s just doing what I’m doing in a different place (a place that I’ve decided to keep rectangle free).

I think that a lot of it has to do with personality. Certain people have to be connected at all times. Even when they’re not connected, they’re keeping careful tabs on their activities so that when they do connect again, they can quantify their achievements and claim their comeuppance. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy reading about their accomplishments. This dude, who skied 2557 days in a row at the time of this article, probably has some great stories to tell. And 2,000,000 vertical foot skier Greg Hill, who’s described in his bio as a "numbers guy", has some stellar trip reports from his past year’s worth of “work”.

But I’ve never been a numbers guy. I don’t keep track of vertical feet, number of runs, or even number of days. I’m out for the pure enjoyment. A good day is a day that I have a smile on my face. One of my favorite blogs lately is Volks on Bikes. It’s about a pair of brothers and their dad who are riding their bikes from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. They only post about once a week because they are out having adventures that most people could only dream about. The posts are short on information and long on pictures. Short on numbers and long on experiences.

That’s the kind of life I want to lead. I don’t need to see how many miles I rode, I need to see what I saw when I was riding.

I don’t need to remember how many vertical feet I skied, I need to remember the look on Ace's face when we drop into the trees for the first time of the year.

I don’t need to know how many days I was in New Zealand, I just need to know how it felt to cliff jump into the ocean.

So instead of staring at glowing boxes, I want to be out doing things. Instead of being connected, I want to be disconnected. Instead of posting numbers, I want to post life.  I don’t have to look far for inspiration either. On my blogroll on the right, Jill Outside, who has completed the Great Divide Race and the Iditarod Trail Invitational on her bike, continues biking and trail running through the winter months (impressive). And the Vanessa Aadland (the hot skier chick that I posted about earlier) has this post that consists entirely of photos of her conquering mountain peaks (sick).

If I want to create blog posts that inspire others the way these posts inspire me, then I’m going to need to pull myself away from the glowing rectangles, get outside and have some freaking adventures.

Game On.

Monday, November 29, 2010

In The Moment

As the first few trip reports of the season float in, I want to try and reset a little bit.  I’ve been feeling a little down lately.  It’s nothing particular, but November (for some reason), always inspires a general feeling of sadness and self doubt.  Am I doing the right things with my life?  Am I where I want to be with my career, my family, and my goals?  Am I happy?  Every other time of year, the answer to these questions is almost always a resounding “Yes”.  But for some reason, November is different.  Maybe it’s the Squaw Valley trip reports that I read, maybe it’s the financial crush of the holidays, or maybe it’s the dreary gray days, but I always question whether I live in the “right” place, have the “right” job, or feel the “right” way.  It’s not that I plunge myself into a deep depression, I just start to question myself.  And whenever questions are asked, I feel compelled to come up with a definitive answer (even if a lot of things have no correct “answer”).  Sometimes, this gets me into trouble.  Because I’m always questioning and researching and generating future scenarios in my mind, I lose the ability to back up, relax, take a deep breath, and just be content with the present.     

But this all changes with the first ski day.  Skiing, more than any other sport, puts me in a perfect, zen like state of mind.  When I’m riding my road bike, I still think of bills I have to pay, people I have to talk to, or meetings I have to attend.  On skis it’s different.  I’m paying attention, I'm alert, and I'm focused on the task at hand.  I’m not thinking about my job, thinking about my life, or thinking about other places that I could be.  I’m centered.

I don’t know too much about Buddhism (or any religion, for that matter), but I found a list of quotes relating to the concept of living in the present.  This one stuck out:

Miss the present and you live in boredom. BE in the present and you will be surprised that there is no boredom at all. Start by looking around a little more like a child. Be a child again! That’s what meditation is all about: being a child again — a rebirth, being innocent again, not-knowing.

Maybe that’s why skiing is so great for me.  It really allows me to be a child again.  I do the same things now that I always did on skis.  I find fun lines, I go fast, I jump, I fall down, I get back up, and I do it again.  I look around, I explore new terrain, I follow tracks into the trees, and I try new things.  And I am happy.

Obviously, the concept of living in the present is nothing new.  But this article from the Guardian (UK) is.  Money quote:
Psychologists at Harvard University collected information on the daily activities, thoughts and feelings of 2,250 volunteers to find out how often they were focused on what they were doing, and what made them most happy.

They found that people were happiest when having sex, exercising or in conversation, and least happy when working, resting or using a home computer. And although subjects' minds were wandering nearly half of the time, this consistently made them less happy.

The team conclude[d] that reminiscing, thinking ahead or daydreaming tends to make people more miserable, even when they are thinking about something pleasant.

Even the most engaging tasks failed to hold people's full attention. Volunteers admitted to thinking about something else at least 30% of the time while performing these tasks, except when they were having sex, when people typically had their mind on the job around 90% of the time

So skiing, for me, is like sex.  I’m totally focused and into it, I’m completely involved in the moment, and afterwards, I’m ready for a beer.  But seriously, living in the moment, no matter what you’re doing, seems to make you happier.

I was thinking about this today, and I was also thinking about a guy on a snowboard that I saw on Sunday.  He was coming down Sunway, right under the Gondola, carrying both gloves in one hand and staring into his phone.  He was actually text messaging while he was riding!  We joked about it for a little while, that this guy was so important, and that message was so critical that he couldn’t possibly wait until he got to the bottom (or at least stopped on the side of the trail).  But I guess that isn’t really the most important point.

The guy was taking himself out of the moment.  He could have been enjoying the rush of snowboarding, looking around for a fun feature to play with, or working on a skill to improve his riding.  But he wasn’t doing any of that.  He was staring at a little glowing box with words on it, and occasionally looking up to make sure he didn’t hit anyone.  It was ridiculous!

I guess everyone is free to enjoy the mountain as they see fit.  And maybe that guy had an awesome time and I’m just making a big deal out of something that seems to be an increasingly common sight on the slopes.  But for me, I’m happiest when I’m not connected to the outside world.  I’m happiest when the only things in my vision are trees and powder.  I’m happiest when I’m skiing. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Get Well, Hot Skier Chick

Over on Vanessa Aadland's blog, the last few posts have been some of the most depressing/encouraging things I have ever read on the internet.

Here's the post from November 20th:

Today was opening day at Alta. I have been looking forward to this day for a MINUTE! I spent most of my day skiing Wildcat but also got some fun laps off Collins lift. The snow was smooth hero snow and there was so many fun features because of early season snow pack! It was great to see so many old friends again.

And it's accompanied by a picture that's awesome (mostly because you rarely see many girls at ski areas, let alone groups of hot chicks, skiing November 20th, and looking like they are having an awesome time).

Then, the following day, she posts this picture:

And the story behind it (she broke her back on her very first attempt at a back flip).

Then, after hearing from more doctors, she posts her "heal fast game plan".  Finally, just as I was thinking that I couldn't possibly love this girl's attitude and spirit in the face of adversity any more, she posts the GoPro video of the day it happened:

Vanessa Aadland, Decide What to Be. from Robin Abeles on Vimeo.

I don't know who she is, but this girl is awesome.  Definitely add her blog to your list of internet reading material.  Get Well soon, Vanessa.


It seems like mountain people (and people in general) have always had an "us vs. them" attitude.  Hikers vs. Mountain Bikers.  Power boat enthusiasts vs. paddlers.  Snowmobilers vs. Environmentalists.  Natives vs. Transplants. Locals vs. Tourists.  Hooray for our side, "Screw You" to their side.

At ski areas, the famous feud (blindly repeated by the media and 2-day-per-year perpetual intermediates) is between Skiers and Snowboarders.  I used to think that it was a young vs. old thing, and that once younger snowboarders grew up, older skiers would change their attitude from "get off my lawn" to "sick backside rodeo, bro" (okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration).  But, for some reason, snowboarders seem to want to keep the feud going.  And some skiers are falling into the trap.  Here's a cool video by Mike Douglas about the history of freeskiing:

Like I said, cool video, but why the animosity towards snowboarders?  "I think I'm gonna puke"?

And then I got to thinking that I don't really ride with that many snowboarders.  Maybe it has to do with the mountain I ski (Gore has a lot of flats, and for that reason, Snowboarders and Skiers generally populate entirely different sections).  Or maybe I just am locked inside a tight little bubble of people that I ski with, and that is hindering my ability to branch out.

I think it's more likely the latter.  In fact, I don't ride with many groups of people that are very dissimilar to myself.  Mostly, I hang out with other instructors, tree-skiing badasses, and park kids (who also ski all mountain).  I rarely ski with Patrollers, and I never ski with intermediates and below (unless I'm teaching a lesson or with my parents).  I bet it's like that for most people.  Tele skiers ski with tele skiers.  Race parents ski with other race parents.  Boarders ride with other boarders.

And I guess there's nothing I really want to do to change that.  People ride with the people they are most comfortable riding with, and far be it for me to complain about that.  I definitely roll with a certain crew, but I'm up for skiing with anyone (so if you see me on the mountain, give a shout).  If you don't want to ski with me, then that's cool too.  I'm generally a "live and let live" kind of person.  I think everyone would be a lot better off if we just stayed out of other people's business.  So, when a snowboarder says "skiing wouldn't be cool if snowboarding wasn't around", just let it go, Mike Douglas.  And if someone lights a cigarette on your chairlift, maybe you can survive the 8 minutes (or ask him nicely to put it out) instead of banning cigarettes from the entire mountain, Pico Mountain.  And if someone is going too fast in a slow zone, maybe you can give a stern warning or a clipped ticket, instead of fining them $1,000 and throwing them in Jail for 6 months, Park City.

Ski areas are supposed to be fun.  People pay a lot of money to relax, get outside, and enjoy a nice winter day away from their other obligations.  So this season, try to be cordial to everyone at the mountain, regardless of what group you fall into.

And if you don't like that, Screw You.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Ski Bums

Being a “ski bum” is hard.  The few available jobs are low-paying, living in a ski town is expensive, and there’s a decided lack of females.  Here’s a recent article from the Sacramento Bee (h/t Harvey Road):
Not just at Sierra resorts but throughout the West, cradle of the early 1970s ski-bum culture. [Jeremy] Evans argues that Aspen, Jackson Hole, Park City, Telluride and, yes, Tahoe have morphed into playgrounds of the rich – no longer gathering places for those who reject materialism for the hedonistic pleasure of the snowy descent.

One casualty of skiing's growing affluence, he asserts, is that the ski bum, who once could cobble together a life and maybe someday buy a home in a resort town, is being shut out of jobs by nonskiers just needing work to support their families – the preferred work force for resorts taken over by large corporations.
Okay, but by the power Google (“I have the POWER!!!”), maybe this isn’t such a new phenomenon after all.  Here’s an article from Spartanburg Herald-Journal in 1970:
Life, seen through their rose-colored goggles, is indisputably groovy although the housing situation in these ski resorts is tight and life as expensive as in any American city.

Gary Lambeth, 24, of Springfield, Mo., drove his white Corvette to Aspen a month ago with a friend, Su Gathright of Los Angeles.  Su works as a salesgirl for $1.25 an hour and Gary does construction work, mostly shoveling snow.
 The article mentions that one guy lived in a $400 a month apartment that he shared with 3 friends.  It also says that the new “fiber glass skis” (the “Zebra ones” if you’re “in”) were $200 and plastic “flo” boots (which reportedly “mold to the foot”) were $165.  Skiing has always been an expensive sport, usually practiced in expensive areas of the country.  I’m just glad that I don’t have to work 80 hours to afford rent for the month, 132 hours to afford ski boots, and 160 hours to buy a set of skis.  Food and clothing were much more expensive (relative to income) back then as well.

Ahh, but what about immigrant labor, you ask?  They took our jobs!!!!  Well, it seems that isn’t a new phenomenon either.  Here’s a 1979 article from famed New York Times columnist Molly Ivins (back when she was just a reporter):
The ski bum shortage in the great Western resorts has reached such a crisis that resort owners are importing Vietnamese and Filipinos to take up the slack.  The help-wanted columns of local papers run on for pages and good old-fashioned college dropouts seem to be hard to come by.

“The kids just aren’t dropping out like they used [to],” complained J. Richard Elias, general manager of the Manor Vail Lodge in Vail. “The sharp kids are more serious, staying in college and then hanging on to jobs.  There used to be a great underground of kids just passing through and willing to work, but it’s been drying up.”

Whether this generation of college students is in fact more serious than its predecessors is open to question.  What is clear is that the economics of ski-bumming have taken a radical turn for the worse.
So the ski bum has always been in danger!

Really, though, aren’t we just seeing the same story repeated over and over again?  Ski towns are expensive (that 1979 New York Times article mentioned that a room cost in Aspen cost $260 a month, and one bedroom condos were between $80,000 and $150,000 - outrageous!!).  Wages are low.  People are barely scraping by.

And the reason that “ski bumming” is expensive is that it’s desirable.  People want to live in the mountains.  People want to ski all day and party all night.  People want to live a life of (relative) leisure.  Resorts, hotels, and restaurants can afford to pay minimum wage because they’ll always have people looking for jobs, especially in a down economy.  Here’s the Sacramento Bee story again:
[Russ] Pecoraro, Heavenly's spokesman, said the resort has "pulled out of recruiting in international markets this year. With the job market the way it is, there are plenty of candidates right here."

Indeed, interspersed in the long line of locals seeking full-time employment at the job fair were pockets of people seeking to live the ski-bum dream. They were easy to spot, mostly younger and chugging energy drinks in the early-morning chill.
 Luckily, I’ve discovered the solution to minimum wage dishwashing jobs, cramped accommodations and ketchup soup dinners.  The key is to become a “brofessional”.  Here’s a commenter to the New York Times:
“When a ski-bum ‘bro’ goes ‘pro’ – he becomes a ‘brofessional.’ For example, my good friend recently stopped being a seasonal fishing guide and ski patroller to become a salaried general manager of a fishing lodge. He’s become a brofessional. Many brofessionals start their own businesses, but you have to stay within the accepted cultural norms of the trade you are in to keep the ‘bro’ going. (This is all part of a larger vernacular called brobonics.) On a quick search, it seems that some say being a brofessional is simply being a highly-advanced ‘bro.’ It’s all pretty silly.

So the answer to all of your ski bum problems is to move from “bro” to “brofessional”.  You’ll command a higher salary, still be able to live in that sweet ski town, and you can stop poaching food from half eaten trays in ski lodge cafeterias.  You can have the best of both worlds!  Just make sure to keep rocking the Zebra skis.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Equipment (Part II)

After that blatant bit of gear whoring, I wanted to talk about a recent article on skiingbusiness.com focusing on the vast amount of ski gear available, its high price, and the resulting confusion/frustration of many people who would like to get into the sport.  Quote: 

It begs the question of whether or not the ski industry is in a downward spiral, following in the neoprene socks and sneakers of the windsurfing and tennis industries.
Much as windsurfing manufacturers did, ski makers often primarily market gear for hardcore skiers, which can push costs too high for recreational skiers who can be confused or discouraged by too many technical features and jargon. (Ski technology and marketing also play a role in increasing costs.)
 I completely agree.  Unlike the average consumer, I live skiing, and I love gear.  I devour the Powder, Freeskiing, and Ski Magazine gear guides every fall.  My google reader feed follows the TGR forums, where most of the posts are skis, boots and bindings being put up for sale in the Gear Swap section (other posts are decidedly less helpful . . . By the way, an amusing article on various outdoor oriented internet forums here).  Whenever a ski that I don’t know comes up for sale, I research the dimensions, flex and camber profile immediately, to see if I might “need” it someday.

And even I have no idea what’s going on with most skis.  Every time I go into a shop, I see next year’s big thing, the G3 IQ 9.8 Radict FX SLX (or whatever).  What the hell are all of those letters?  It’s no wonder that people get confused.  I’d hate to be the shop tech trying to explain the subtle differences between models to a gear buying novice (“Well, the Prophet Flite is a great ski, but the Prophet 90, with the exact same dimensions and $100 more, has an extra layer of metal that will really take your skiing to the next level”).  Why can’t ski companies just name their skis in the way that they will be used?  All Mountain 85 would be a great name for a ski.  It tells me the waist width and the intended purpose of the ski.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have an entire line like this?  Slalom Race 68, Park Twin 83, Rocker Pow 110.

But that would be too easy.  I think that, in a sense, we kind of asked for this.  As participants in a gear intensive sport, we want to feel like our gear knowledge is superior to the next guy (“Oh, you don’t know the difference between K2’s Speed Rocker and Rossignol’s AmpTek?  For shame!”).  And we have a strong predilection towards the latest and greatest.  For some people, it’s nice to be two steps ahead of the crowd.  But I don’t see gear heads and hardcore athletes ruining skiing for everyone else.

I would guess that the ski industry is less like the windsurfing business, and more like the bike business.  Like bikes, low level skis can be purchased at Dick’s and Sports Authority.  But those skis (and bikes) can only be used for so long.  When you start to get serious about the sport, then you find a specialty shop, become familiar with the staff, make various purchases, get some fitting done, go for tune jobs every once in a while, and refer your friends to the place.  Then, the shop hooks you up with deals, demos, and freebies when they get some schwag.  I suppose that’s the way things should work (save for the random “can’t miss” internet deal).  Ski Shops, Bike Shops, and Shops, in general, need customers.  And if the hardcore participants in a sport no longer frequent the shops that support said sport, what do we have left? 

Plus, there’s something really nice about the feel of a good ski shop.  Ski magazines strewn about, fireplace with real wood burning, shiny new gear perched on the walls.  And when you have a problem with your gear (as I always do), you can talk to an actual person face to face (instead of a goofy photograph popping up in an internet window).  You might even get them to explain what the hell is going on with the AC50 + iPT Wide Ride Bindings.


At the Pray for Snow party, we did four things: caught up with friends, drank beer, ate food, and burned ski equipment.
 Regardless of what that article says, burning skis is definitely an essential part of the preseason party.  It’s the way to let the snow gods know that this year, we mean business.  Another preseason tradition that I’ll be starting is the quiver post.  I’ve never been one to shy away from a bandwagon (especially if the band is playing my kind of music), so, with respect to The Snow Way and The Real Jay Peak Snow Report, here’s my quiver (pics to come later, when I finally have all the skis in one place):

Daily Driver: K2 Apache Recon (170)

I originally bought a pair of 174cm Apache Recons in the fall of 2006.  I enjoyed them that year, but ripped a metal screw on the Marker Binding in the spring of ‘07, and I sent them back to K2.  They responded with a new pair of skis (nice).  So I’ve had these skis since Fall 2007.  However, I’ve ripped that same freaking screw 3 times.  The screw is part of the ski/binding “system” that a bunch of ski manufacturers have nowadays.  From this experience, I’ve decided that from now on, I just want bindings that screw directly into skis.  K2 has been very good about sending the replacement screw pieces, but it always takes a couple of months and it means that I always lose this pair of skis for some part of the year.

Icepick/PSIA ski: Volkl Racetiger (165)

I bought this ski in March of 2008 at an end of season sale for $300.  I ripped one pair of bindings off of them (literally ripped the plastic of the toepiece in half) while doing the PSIA Dev Team tryout.  It was a sloppy spring day at Whiteface, and I would’ve been on my Recons, but they were partaking in one of their shop visits.  I came flying around a turn, skis got caught up in the glop, and my body kept moving forward.  Did a solid forward flip, a couple more rolls, and stood up in fine shape.  Unfortunately, the skis were unusable, and I had to ski the rest of the tryout on my twin tips.  I just bought new cheapo ($99) bindings to throw on them last year.

Park/Teaching/Rock Skis: K2 Public Enemy (179)

I like K2 as a company, and this ski was one of their best.  They’ve made all sorts of changes to it over the years, but this model (I think it’s 2003) still skis pretty damn well.  It’s stiff, and this version isn’t fat enough (I think it’s 80mm at the waist), but it works as my rock ski/rail slider/backup daily driver when my Recons are down.  Plus it’s good for teaching kids and teenagers because I don’t really care if people ski over them and they get trashed.

Powder Ski: Volkl Gotama (183)

I bought these in the Fall of 2008 (they’re the traditionally cambered ones) and I think I’ve used them about 6 times.  I need more powder days.  Or possibly I need to ski more Alpine on the Powder days we do get.  The problem is, I see a foot of snow on the ground, and I look at my tele skis and I say “THAT’S what I want to be doing today.”  It’s not that the Goats aren’t fun, it’s just that I love skiing Tele in powder, the boots are more comfortable, and I prefer the Tele setup for accessibility reasons (easier to hike to certain places, easier to skate over flats, etc.), especially at Gore.  That being said, if I was taking a trip out west, these are the skis that I’d bring.

Powder/Touring Tele Ski: Karhu Jak (190)

I had a pair of uncut skins, and I was going to buy some really light sweet tele skis last year to tour with, but I ended up just cutting them for use with the Jaks that I bought in college.  I think I got these in 2002 or so, during a period where we went to this ski shop in Farmington, Maine (I think it was this one) with increasingly crazy BC setups.  I had these with the same G3 Targas that are on them now, a buddy had Dynastar Bigs with Fritschi Freerides, and another buddy had Skyhoys mounted on 200 cm Salomon AK Rockets.  Totally ridiculous.  As it is, these skis aren’t too heavy on the uphill, and they’re really nice on the downhill.  They’ve got a good width (96) and they rock on a powder day.

Daily Driver/Park/Rock Tele Ski: Dynastar Concept (178)

I got these around 2001 for alpine, but switched them over to Tele when I got the Public Enemies.  Since then, I’ve been beating the crap out of them, skiing over rocks, trees, parking lots, small children, and frozen ice chunks.  These skis are really reaching the end of their skiing life and are destined for the bonfire next year.  I already threw part of the binding in the fire, so I need to buy a repair kit to make the skis functional this year.

So, I guess the next purchases for the quiver are new Tele daily drivers (I’ll probably just buy some $200-$350 lightweight twins) and new alpine daily drivers (I want something fatter, rockered and more reliable).    

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I took a little bit of a break from posting while I've been riding my mountain bike and doing yard work (freaking leaves are the worst part of home ownership).  And today, I'm going to do some more mountain biking.  Plus, I've got a party to go to.  But not just any party.  This is the annual right of passage known as the Pray for Snow Party.  The folks at Backcountry Beacon did a pretty good write up of what it takes to make such a party successful, so I'll direct you there.  Here's the gist:

Every autumn, snow worshippers around the nation—nay, around the world—unite and engage in a sacred ritual called the Pray for Snow party. Anthropologists note that this ritual often includes multiple kegs of frothy beverages and bonfires large enough to be seen from outer space.

So, if you're looking for me tonight, that's where I'll be.  I've got a few blog posts in the pipeline, though, so stay tuned for posts about equipment, cliques, and opening day shenanigans.  Peace.

Friday, November 5, 2010


The 2010 World Series of Poker ends tomorrow with the final table.  I'll be rooting for Mike "The Grinder" Mizrachi.  He chose the nickname himself because it typifies his style of play - sometimes up, sometimes down, but always moving on to the next hand, the next pot, and the next table.  He goes into every tournament with that mentality: There's going to be good days and bad days, but at the end, I'll still be sticking around.

I think this is a good philosophy to have, not just for poker, but for life.  Last night, Ace and I went to see Race Across the Sky, the movie about the 2010 Leadville 100, a grueling 100 mile mountain bike race over punishing terrain, won this year by Levi Leipheimer, Tour de France competitor and three-time Tour of California winner.  All of the athletes talked about how it was mostly a mental game.  You had to push yourself to do more than you thought you could.  The motto of the event, reflecting on the mining roots of the town, was "dig deep".

But it could just as well have been "keep going" (or, if you prefer, Niner Bikes' "pedal damn it").  The movie was filled with a hard rock/rap soundtrack to keep everyone pumped up, but I thought that the best scene of the movie was one with no music.  A nameless competitor was slogging his way up the Power Line climb, 80 miles into the race and completely exhausted.  He had long since abandoned pedaling his bike and was walking beside it, pushing it up the hill next to him, hunched over the handlebars, back parallel to the ground.  Finally, when he couldn't take it anymore, he dropped his bike and collapsed in a pile next to the trail.  Ten seconds later, he sat up, draped his arms over his knees and just looked at the ground.  He sat like that, in silence, for about 45 seconds (which seems like an eternity in a movie).  Then, he got up, dusted himself off, and resumed pushing his bike up the hill.

I don't think they ever identified him, showed his time, or let us know if he even finished, but that moment stuck out to me.  This guy was physically exhausted and thoroughly beat down.  He must have felt like total shit.  But he was able to sit down, collect his thoughts, get himself into the right frame of mind, and get back to the grind.

I'm going to make an attempt to incorporate that mentality into my life.  Sometimes it seems like life is completely shitty.  Like everything is going against you, and you don't even care anymore.  It would be easy to just give up.  To throw up your hands and say, "I'm done", and completely extricate yourself from a situation.  But that's not what you want to do.  You want to keep going.  You want to grind it out.

Because some things are worth fighting for.     

Monday, November 1, 2010

Great Enthusiasms

There’s something to be said for doing something.  It’s easy to read Trip Reports, watch movies, pore over guidebooks, and get into animated discussions on internet forums, but it’s hard to actually get out there and do it.  There are obligations to attend to and other people to consider.  Plus you have to get all of your gear ready, wake up early, pack your lunch, drive all the way there and, once you’re finally set to go, it may or may not be good.  You might do horribly.  Your equipment might fail, the weather might not cooperate, and you might get incredibly frustrated, not only because the trip has been a bomb, but because you’ve sacrificed so much just to take the trip, and now it looks like all the sacrifice wasn’t worth it.

For those instances, I am going to try to remember this quote I found by Teddy Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
 Exactly.  It’s easy to sit at home, never risking anything.  It’s hard to go out and do something.  But the people who go out and do it, even if they fail, are deserving of our admiration.

Unfortunately, that’s not how things work.  Football players are lambasted every Monday by people who sit at home and watch the game on TV.  “He should have thrown to that guy.” “He should have run through that hole.” Thanks for the input guys.  Your insights are really helping the guy on the field.  Next time you see him, instead of telling him how much you respect his athleticism, make sure you mention how he cost you your Fantasy Game in Week 3.

But at least football is mostly objective.  What about the sports that are determined by judging?  In those sports (Ice Skating, Snowboard Halfpipe, etc.), it is someone’s job to decide if “the doer of deeds could have done them better.”  And it’s not easy, especially when everyone is doing their deeds pretty damn good.  Like at the recent London Relentless Freeze Festival (video behind a subscription wall here).     

Instead of knocking Jon Olsson for “only” coming in second with a 1080 double corked truckdriver, we should be celebrating everyone there for putting on a terrific show, in the middle of a city, at a time when the masses are just starting to get stoked on the upcoming season.  Regardless of what you’re doing on the weekends (soon it’ll be leaf removal for me), we should respect the people who are out there ripping sweet lines and riding sweet singletrack.

And when you’re trying to decide if you’re going to go skiing on some frigid February day, ask yourself if you’d rather have a cold body and timid line choice, or a “cold and timid soul” that never even dared to leave the house.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I’m political (I pay attention to stuff) and partisan (I prefer one side over the other), but I’m not presumptuous enough to think that my way is the only way.  I only bring this up because, this being election time, even ski sites are filled with political opinion, flamethrowing, and bickering.  I debated posting this because I really don’t want this blog to be political at all, but I figured: what the hell? 

I used to try to convince people that my way was better, but I’m increasingly finding that I don’t really care.  I vote, but living in New York, my vote doesn’t really count for much.  I’ll talk about politics, but I don’t really try to change anybody’s mind, and I never talk about it when I’m drinking.  I’ve skied with ardent Tea Party supporters and Green Party members, and I’ve had just as good of a time with both.  Skiing is nice that way.  I never ask people on the lift what they believe and they never really ask me.  It’s not because I’m not interested, it’s more that there is a lot of other stuff to talk about.  I’d much rather have a conversation about what trails are good than what aspects of the health care bill are good.

Which is why this article in the Washington Post the other day was so bullshit.  Here’s a sample:

Get into a conversation about television with members of the New Elite, and they can probably talk about a few trendy shows -- "Mad Men" now, "The Sopranos" a few years ago. But they haven't any idea who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right." They know who Oprah is, but they've never watched one of her shows from beginning to end.

Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.

This column has been thoroughly debunked elsewhere, so I’m not going to really get into the entire thing, but I do want to talk about the skiing and mountain biking portion. 

While skiing has had a pretty well established history of being “elite”, to use the author’s word, I don’t know that it’s entirely justified.  Sure, a lot of people who ski are from higher income brackets, but a lot of them aren’t.  According to the Tacoma News Tribune, 46% of skiers have a household income of $100,000 or more.  But a majority of people that you see at the mountain make considerably less (including me).  And a lot of people who would like to ski are prohibited from doing so by excessively high costs.  Mountain biking is in a similar position.  The initial cost to mountain biking is pretty high, and if you live in a city, you need to have a way to get to the trailhead.

I think the real problem here is perception.  The author assumes that Skiing and Mountain Biking are things that only the elite do because it fits into his premeditated story line.  He assumes that NASCAR and Mixed Martial Arts are things that the elite do not participate in (because those two things are the bastions of “real America”).  But going to a NASCAR event or an MMA bout (scroll to the bottom for the really big numbers) would be just as expensive as a day of skiing or a new mountain bike.

What’s really going on here is that people like to do different things with their lives.  While one person might prefer watching cars go around in circles, another person might like spinning his legs in circles.  While one person might enjoy watching one guy beat the shit out of another guy, another person would enjoy hucking himself off a cliff.  Labeling someone an “elitist”, just because of his chosen form of recreation, is a ridiculous injection of nonsense into the cultural conversation.  And I’m starting to wonder if that is the point.  Perhaps this author is just intent on separating people into “us” and “them”.  To me, though, it seems worse than that.  Maybe it’s just because I’m a skier that sometimes struggles to pay his bills, but it seems like he’s trying to attach a stigma to skiing that has apparently already been attached to salad, science, and school.

But, like I said, this isn’t a political blog, and I don’t really care anymore.  If you want to tell the world that skiing is too frou-frou and hoity-toity for the masses, be my guest.  It just means that there will be more powder for me and my “elitist” friends.   

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Here’s something I’ve always wondered:  Why do things lose their luster?  I’m not just talking about precious metals (I guess there’s a pretty scientific explanation for that).  I’m talking about people, things, and activities. 

Have you ever met someone that you like every once in a while?  Or you’ve said “I can hang out with him for a weekend or so, but any longer and I get kind of sick of him.”  But if you go a couple of months without seeing the guy, you wonder what he’s up to, and you want to connect with him again (but not for too long . . .).

Or you buy a new toy that is supposed to be awesome, you use it for a couple of months, and then it starts collecting dust.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone’s Nintendo Wii pushed to a dark corner of an entertainment cabinet, not even plugged in.  I don’t remember the last time I used mine.

And even activities are like that.  I want to go skiing so much right now, I’m actually thinking about driving the 4.5 hours to Sunday River to fight 200 other people on a run covered in snowguns blasting my face off.  I’m not going to do it, but the fact that I’m even considering it is ridiculous.  But by the spring, I can’t be bothered to ski on a day that isn’t springerific (a word I just made up to describe a perfect spring day – which may encompass anything from soft corn to 3 feet of cold powder).  If it’s icy, rainy, or cold, I find something else to do.

I recognize the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility (which basically says that you get less and less benefit from each additional plate of food you get at a buffet), but I don’t understand why some things seem immune to the rule.  I mean, my Wii doesn’t get used anymore, but my mountain bike definitely does (finally back from the shop – nice).  And my previous skiing trip doesn’t make me want to ski less; it makes me want to ski more.  With that in mind, I’ve developed the Skiing To Orbiting Knobby Equations, or S.T.O.K.E. for short.  Taking a variety of factors into account, I constructed the following Formulas:

Skiing Stoke = log10(0.7s + 0.17A1.5 + 0.1E2 + ln[0.4db] - 0.1t)

MTB Stoke = log10(0.17A1.5 + 0.1E2 + ln[0.4db])

Where s is the amount of snow on the ground, A is anticipation, E is probability of an epic day, db is the likelihood of a beautiful day (when you go out skiing or riding), and t is the probability that I might have to teach when I go to the mountain. Each of these variables is a value from one to ten depending on the month.  For example, October has a 10 anticipation factor for skiing, but only 1 for mountain biking.  February has an 8 for amount of snow on the ground, but only a 4 for beautiful days.  For skiing, March gets a 6.5 for epic days because I figure there’s a 65% chance of an epic day when I go skiing in March (counting days that I miss work to ski a Powder day). 

Using these data, it is possible to graph my Stoke for skiing and MTB over the course of the year:

As you can see, there is a noticeable dip in the Ski Stoke from December through February.  This drop in stoke is almost completely attributable to the likelihood that during those months, whenever I’m at the mountain, I’ll probably be teaching lessons instead of freeskiing.  Also of note is that in March and April, while my skiing stoke is at its peak, my mountain bike stoke is pretty high.  This is probably due to the fact that it’s possible that I’ll get a day or two of riding in during those months.  As high as my anticipation for the ski season is in August and September, I’m (most likely) not going to be getting any ski days in.  Therefore, my stoke for skiing doesn’t rise as quickly as my stoke for MTB.

Additionally, this graph proves one more thing about my skiing and mountain bike riding:  with the increasingly short days, I have way too much free time on my hands.  Maybe I’ll go play some Wii. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I’m all for supporting local ski resorts. I grew up skiing at Maple Ski Ridge in Schenectady. I ski at West Mountain a lot. I’ve been known to make appearances at Willard, Royal, Hickory, Titus, and Big Tupper. If I’m in the neighborhood, I’ve got the skis in the car, and I’ve got a few hours to kill, I’ll ski just about anywhere.

But I draw the line at taking vacations to “resorts” with 750 vertical feet. I only mention this because one “lucky” woman has won a “ski and snowboarding adventure in New York at Holiday Valley Resort” on Wheel of Fortune. Don’t get me wrong. I like a vacation as much as the next guy, and I’ve skied Holiday Valley before. The town of Ellicottville is pretty cool (get the Pale Ale and the Shephard’s Pie at Ellicottville Brewing Company). But when I think of ski areas that I’d like to visit, Holiday Valley ranks somewhere around 387 (between Mt. Brighton in Michigan and Sundown in Connecticut). Seriously, if you’re going to give away a New York ski vacation, why not let them go to Lake Placid? Or at least the Catskills?

But that’s not the worst part. The total value of the trip (staying at the new slope-side Tamarack Club) is an eye-popping $5,736. Wow. For that price, you could fly to Salt Lake City (which, now that I look at it, is only $300 round trip, Hmmm . . .), then spend 40 days at the slopeside Alta Peruvian with all your meals covered. You could fly to Calgary and get 4 days of cat skiing, lodging and meals at the Island Lake Lodge in British Columbia for $4,000. Hell, you could pay for an apartment in Jackson, WY for an entire season for $5,800. I guess if you’re on the game show, you shouldn’t look the gift horse in the mouth.  And maybe the trip was for 4 people or something.  I still think I’d have to ask Pat Sajak what the hell was going on.

Although, one thing that Holiday Valley does have going for it is the rule that Crock Pots are not only legal, but considered a “family tradition”.  I haven’t partaken in this kind of activity (I’m usually the lazy bastard who brings chips and salsa to a pot luck), but I think I might start. There’s nothing better on a cold winter day than a hot meal cooked over a few hours in a crock pot. I’m sure the organizers of the Crocktoberfest Crock Pot competition would agree. In fact, one of the judges is a skier:
Mr. Rosenberg, who lives in Boulder, Colo., said he's currently waiting on the $1,200 skis he custom-ordered from Folsom to advertise his obsession with pork products. "You can get dancing girls. You can get ones that say 'I am cool,'" Mr. Rosenberg said. "But very soon there will be two pieces of bacon skiing down Vail Mountain."
I guess there are all sorts of ways to spend your money . . .

Monday, October 18, 2010

Film Contest Idea

“One good thing about music: When it hits, you feel no pain.” I was really just looking for something mellow for the video in my previous post, but I’m glad I chose Bob Marley.

If feeling no pain is the good thing about music hitting, feeling good pain is the one thing that hits when skiing happens. Regardless of how many miles you pedal, trails you climb, or kilometers you run, you’re always a little bit sore after your first day on snow. And I gotta say, I’m cool with it.

I’ve been on a high the last couple of days, and the only reason is that I skied on Saturday. I’ve got a skip in my step, I’m feeling a lot calmer, and I’m pretty content with everything going on around me. It’s pretty amazing how a short, 30 minute run down a relatively flat pitch is able to completely change my mood, but I guess that just shows how much I love to ski.

In the spirit of my new, laid back, calm mood, I present to you the acoustic version of the skiing internet hit My Friend’s a Pro:

The original version was created for a video contest in which contenders have to set up, shoot, and edit an original ski film over the course of 3 or 4 days. I think this kind of contest would be incredibly fun to do. I edited my video from Saturday in about 2 hours while writing a trip report and doing various other things. I didn’t have access to a computer on Saturday night, I didn’t get home until 4:30 on Sunday, and I still got it done by around 8:00, uploaded by 9:00. Today’s computer technology is amazing.

I think it’d be great if there was a short film contest at Gore that started on the first chair Friday morning and ended at around 5:00 on Sunday. The Ski Bowl could be opened both nights for twilight shots. People would have basically 3 days to film and edit a short (sub 5 minute) movie using the mountain as a set. If it catches on, there could be a different theme every year (something vague like “Adventure”, or “Freedom”). On Sunday, everyone could sit around, beers in hand, and watch the finished products. Then, the judging would have different categories (Funniest Film, Best Skiing, Best Trick, Best Cinematography, etc.), and prizes would be handed out. The mountain could even strike a deal to use some of the footage in its commercials if it wanted.

This kind of thing has been done before, so it’s not the most original of ideas, but I really think that it would work well at Gore. There’s a pretty good sized group of people filming themselves these days, and that number is getting larger every year. Why not tap into a growing part of the skiing community and get some free publicity at the same time? I’ve had ideas for contests before, but I really think that this one’s a win-win.  Given three days, I bet that I could make a freakin' masterpiece.  I want to try.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Skiing and Nudity

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The period between now and the first turns of the season is the hardest time of the year to be a skier. It starts to get too cold to do things outside, but not cold enough to get enough snow in the mountains. It’s dark outside when you get up, and (after November 7th), dark when you drive home. There are only so many ski movies you can watch, magazines you can read, and gear sites you can browse before your brain devolves into a gray sludge that won’t become normal again until you feel cold wind in your face and fresh snow beneath your feet. Adding frustration to the general malaise, my mountain bike has been in the shop for the past three weeks. What part on a mountain bike could possibly take three weeks to fix, you ask? Exactly my point. So I’ve been resigned to riding my road bike, scanning internet sites, and dreaming about winter.

One site that caught my attention was Unofficialsquaw.com. Like the Famous Internet Skiers, these guys are addicted to snow, and their site is a collection of trip reports, information, and video that is virtually guaranteed to pump you up. In addition to the weather reports, resort news and gear reviews, the site boasts its own freeride team. Sick!

Because the site is “Unofficial”, they don’t always hem closely to the resort’s party line (although they do like to party, and they definitely rip rowdy lines). You may have heard of their recent incident involving the game of G.N.A.R.. If not, here’s some detail:

McConkey and Gaffney created G.N.A.R. — short for “Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness” — as a point-based system for determining who was the “raddest” skier at Squaw within a given time frame, be it a week or an entire season. G.N.A.R. points are awarded based on the discomfort a situation presents and your attitude towards conquering it. Following that formula, stomping a big cliff air might get you 500 points — but skiing that same line naked after shouting at the top of your lungs that you were “about to rip the s--t out of it!” would earn you over double the points. G.N.A.R. points are also won or lost for random acts as defined in the rulebook: Losing your goggles in a crash costs you 1,000 points, while skiing into the High Camp hot tub fully clothed earns you 10,000…

The Unofficial Game of G.N.A.R. commenced on Tuesday March 9, at about 4:30 a.m., or at least that’s when the first contestant arrived at the KT-22 lift line to claim his 5,000 points for first chair. What transpired once the lifts spun is unlike anything the Valley had seen in many, many years.

Not only did every skiable line get ripped, but the zany competition pushed the athletes to up the ante and toss tricks or look for other means of scoring extra-credit points. One skier tossed an inverted Lincoln Loop off the Fingers to earn a 1,000-point trick bonus. Dozens of skiers dropped technical “BN” lines — BN being short for Butt Naked — and earned even more.

The freak freeskiing fun showed no signs of stopping until about 2:30 p.m. when a BN run went sour. Squaw Valley General Manager Mike Livak personally caught one of the contestants skiing naked after a Palisades lap. Livak was not amused. He pulled the skier's pass (5,000 point penalty) and asked to speak with Unofficial. Despite attempts, Unofficial was unable to contact Squaw management that Tuesday evening.
The G.N.A.R. negotiations began unexpectedly the next morning when Squaw Mountain Manager Jimmy King met up with the crew as they waited in line for KT-22 to open. He immediately told them the game was over until further notice, pulled their passes, and asked to hold a meeting with everyone involved that morning.

I think the real story here (besides the fact that Rob Gaffney and his brother Scott grew up skiing at Big Tupper), is the increased corporatization of Ski Areas and the resulting blandness of the skiing experience. The naked ski days at Crested Butte are gone and panty trees all over the country are sporting old, faded bras that haven’t been in style since the 80’s. And speaking of the 80’s, where are all the hijinks that seemed to occur so regularly in my cheesy movie collection? I haven’t seen a crazy prank or on-slope ski-off in years (it’s possible that the dearth of over-the-top antics means that there’s a shortage of smarmy Austrian antagonists, which may be related to the recession). Resorts are being groomed, corporatized, and childproofed to death. And now, it looks like you have to travel to Europe to see a decent bikini race.

Really, I just want to see ski areas retain their individual identities. Not every area has to be Stratton. The Starbucks/Helly Hanson/Faux European Clock Tower-filled base village doesn’t have to be at the bottom of every mountain. Some resorts should be developed with the family market in mind, but others should retain the wild atmosphere that dominated the earlier days of skiing, the 70’s freestyle era, and the early 90’s “extreme” movement. So, a few guys and girls are skiing naked for a G.N.A.R. competition . . . Big Deal. And a few people want to get naked at the end of a long ski year . . . Who cares? At the heart of it, I guess I just want to see more nudity. Perhaps my brain has already turned into gray sludge.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Adventures vs. Sessions

A lot of my trips are sessions.  Every ride at SMBA, every trip to Gore, every hike up Cascade is something I've done before, and I'm doing again.  Sure, I might do some interesting new stuff when I get to the mountain (ski a new line, try a new trail, etc.), but the general routine is the same - get up at the familiar time, make the familiar drive, get on the familiar lift.  I call them sessions because it's kind of like when someone in the terrain park is sessioning a kicker (or a rail, or whatever).  Basically, he's doing the same thing over and over again, practicing, dialing in new stuff, and getting better.  Certain attempts are extremely sick (or even epic), but it doesn't change the fact that he's just going up and down a familiar feature.

Because most of my trips are sessions, my trip reports will all be pretty similar.  I generally like to hit the same trails, with a similar group of people, and do similar things afterwords (i.e. drinking heavily).  That's not to say it's not absolutely fun (because it is), but it doesn't lend itself well to the blog format.  There's only so many times I can post a video of skiing on Rumor (or mountain biking Bee at SMBA, etc.) without it getting boring.

With that in mind, I resolve to have more adventures this year. Times when I don't get up and drive to the same mountain.  Times when I might camp overnight, or see a line from a backwoods road and attempt to ski it, or do a new activity that I don't normally do (snowshoeing? ice climbing?).  Besides, adventures are more fun to read about - even when they happen on your home mountain.

And speaking of adventures, the new Powder Magazine apparently has some photos from an adventure that was ummm . . . less than fully legal:

Inside the magazine, you'll find a two-page photo (by a photographer who's used a penname and an unnamed skier) and a story written by Peter Kray on skiing in Bryce Canyon National Park, a feat that's rare for two reasons: One, it rarely snows enough in southern Utah for the skiing to be any good and two, it's actually against the law to downhill ski or snowboard off the rim in Bryce Canyon National Park

Ha.  I find it a little silly that this particular national park does not allow skiing (the official reason is "Our cliffs are very steep here"), so I can kind of see the appeal of an adventure that skirts the law, especially with photos like the one on the cover:

The best part of the article seems to be the bit about some skiers who got nabbed:

Kray's story talks about how a photographer and some skiers got approached by a ranger in Bryce Canyon. "They did get caught, but they didn't get a ticket," Powder editor Derek Taylor told ESPN. "They apparently told the ranger that they didn't see any signage indicating they couldn't ski there."

Excellent.  The old "I didn't see any sign" defense (sorry officer, I didn't see any sign that said I couldn't BASE jump off the Statue of Liberty, so I just assumed it'd be okay).  This, of course, is second only to Dave Chappelle's "I didn't know I couldn't do that" Defense.  But regardless of how you get out of the mess you've gotten yourself into, at least you'll have a good story to tell.

And really, isn't that the whole point of an adventure?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I’m a big fan of sports.  When I was a kid, I played basketball, football, baseball, and lacrosse – in leagues and in the neighborhood.  I love competition, I love athletics, and I love the camaraderie of team sports.  Everyone wins together, or everyone loses together.  As I get older, though, it seems like team sports are fading away.  I don’t know why, but I can never seem to find 17 other guys to go play baseball with me.  So people my age seem to pick up individual sports: Triathlon, Golf, Skiing.  By making this switch, we’re mostly picking up sports that are more convenient for us.  But there’s a subtle change in the nature of the “competition”.

When I was playing football in the neighborhood, the competition was between our team and their team.  More specifically, it was between me (the receiver) and that guy covering me.  I would win and he would lose (touchdown), or I would lose and he would win (interception), or something else would happen on the field.  It was pretty much a zero sum game, though.  Everything that was good for my team was bad for his team.  But the in the sports we are choosing these days, it’s completely different.  It’s us versus the course, us versus the mountain, us versus ourselves. We’re all on the same field and we’re all playing it our own way.

I kind of like it like that.  Without the immediate pressure of competition from the outside, I’m forced to try to get better at the sports I do all by myself.  I go to the putting green and practice my chipping before I play golf.  I try to beat my personal best time on my road bike route.  I’m taking steps to personally better myself without having to feel the competition from outside sources.  If I need an extra boost, however, there are some easy ways to light the competitive fire.

Some people bring the winner-take-all mentality into their individual sports.  They enter bike races, golf tournaments, and bump contests.  They keep meticulous count of their calorie intake, their training schedules, and their workout regimens.  They count their vertical feet skied, power generated on bikes, and greens in regulation on the golf course.  For them, not only must you achieve success, you must also quantify your improvement (and later, post it on the internet).

I don’t think I’ll ever get to that point.  I like stats as much as the next guy, but I don’t think I’ll be getting these goggles any time soon. But there is something to be said for a little goal setting in personal development.  For example, I’ve never ridden my road bike as much as when I was training for the 100 mile Tour de Cure this past June.  Even though I didn’t get to finish (horrible mechanical problems), I was definitely a stronger rider because of the training.  And if you’re not training for something, simply riding with other people seems to kick in a little something extra.  Ace goes out on group rides with a bunch of local women, and she’s always pushing herself to be faster on the climbs, quicker in the sprints, and stronger on the downhills.  Just skiing (or mountain biking) with friends gives you a chance to size up the people you’re riding with and dazzle them with your sweet skills.  Because, even though this is between you and the mountain, it never hurts to show the mountain who its real competition is.