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.