Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Monroe Skyline Trail (Aborted)

It seemed like a great plan at the time . . .

We had a scheme to try to see some of the PSIA Alpine Level 3 exam yesterday (March 28th), but get around the $78 price for a full day (midweek) lift ticket at Sugarbush, VT.  Our plan was to get a single ride on the Mad River Glen Single Chair, slap on some skins, and traverse the portion of the Long Trail that runs between Lincoln Peak (Sugarbush) and Stark Mountain (MRG).  We envisioned a triumphant ski down at the end of the day at Sugarbush, a beer in the bar, and a bunch of stories about our epic 5.5 mile hike.

Unfortunately, I completely missed the trail.  The guidebook said that the trail would be pretty clearly marked with white blazes on the trees.  Unfortunately, with the pretty fantastic amount of snow they got this year, the white blazes must have all been covered up.  As guide (i.e. the only one who had read the book), I poked around skier's right of Antelope, but could not find the trail to save my life.  I kept diving in the woods and going further and further right, only to be closed out.  We eventually ended up somewhere around the 20th hole (for those familiar with MRG).

I though we should kind of hike in a little bit further, just to see how much we missed the trail by, so we set off on a pretty well trafficked traverse:

We even strapped on the skins and went up towards the ridgeline for about 20 minutes.  After Sugarbush North came into view, though, it was clear that we were not even close to where we wanted to be.  We decided to just ski back out to the 20th hole and go down to the base lodge from there.

We took another run, just to see if we could find the trail at the top.  I noticed a faint yellow ribbon in a tree just about where Antelope makes a sharp turn to the left.  I followed the wind loaded, bumpy terrain up the ridge until I found another yellow ribbon and a faint, wind exposed, narrow trail in the altitude shortened trees.  Jackpot.  Don't know if I'm going to get back here this year, but it definitely feels like something I want to try at some point.  I still want that celebratory beer.

In other news, I went to Pittsburgh on Saturday and Sunday (so I didn't get any skiing in), but Ace has been up at Killington and Stowe for the past few days and it sounds like she's got some great stories.  Maybe I can convince her to write a guest blog post.  I'm thinking of adding a regular Friday feature which will basically be a link dump of all of the ski stories I found interesting over the past week.  I have a Google Reader account with just about every ski blog (and a few bike blogs), and I'm constantly "sharing" things, but they aren't going anywhere.  I finally found a way to "share" them to my twitter (@mattchuck2), so they'll pop up there, and then I'll compile the best of the week into a Friday "Big Dump" (or something more clever if I can come up with a better title). So look for that as the latest addition to the blogging phenomenon known as ski=mc2.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sugarbush PSIA Exam (Day 2)

I made it. I am now a PSIA Level 3 Certified Skier in Telemark Skiing (and Alpine, which I did in 2008).

I have to say, after going through several other exams in my 10 year ski instructing career, I thought I would feel the same way after this test as I did after my Level 3 Alpine exam.  But I felt completely different.  It was weird, really.  On my Alpine exams, and earlier Tele exams, I almost felt entitled to the pins (pins being the awards given out in PSIA - Bronze for Level 1, Silver for Level 2, and Gold for Level 3).  Maybe "entitled" isn't the right word, but I felt as if I was skiing and teaching at a ridiculously high level, and that I deserved everything that I was getting and more. I was actually waiting for them to just dispense with the formalities and start promoting me to higher and higher posts in the organization simply because of my awesomeness.

Okay, maybe I wasn't that crazy about it, but I did have a certain attitude about everything.  On Sunday, it was completely different.  After the exam, I skied an extra run and started talking about how I've changed as an instructor and as a person.  Instead of arguing one side to the death, I've started trying to see the other side.  Instead of taking issue, I've started letting things slide.  Instead of making definitive statements, I've started to ask more questions.  Maybe it's partly because I'm getting older and wiser, or maybe it's because of experiences like the one I had on Sunday.

In addition to the two Level 3 candidates in my group, there were three candidates for the Development Team (above Level 3 and at the point where they would be instructing other instructors). Over the course of the two days, each was able to affect my skiing in a positive way.  If I hadn't been open to their teaching, I never would have had the breakthroughs that I had.  Whether it was driving my lead leg around the bottom of a bump, matching my hands to the pitch of the hill more, or slowing everything down to really feel my releasing movements, every one of the Dev Team candidates helped my tele technique.

But that's not the only reason that I felt different this time around.  The Nordic PSIA examiners are a little more . . . umm . . . expressive than the Alpine Examiners.  I feel like they wear their heart on their sleeve a little bit more.  They really want you to do well.  And you end up wanting to do well not just for yourself, but for all of those guys (who've helped you get there).  When they finally read my name and I looked at Mark and Mickey, I felt something that was a far cry from the feeling I had when I got my Alpine level 3. It was a feeling that can only come after you've been built up, knocked down, and built back up again.  A feeling that doesn't say "It's about time", but instead shows what all of their time was about. A feeling that seems to be increasingly rare (but desperately needed) in the world today:


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sugarbush PSIA Exam (Day 1)

I had a pretty good day of skiing and teaching today.  I'm going to head out to dinner now, but I'll update this post when I get back.  For now, here's a picture that I took at the end of the day to tide you over.


So, today was was I would consider a good exam day. We had some good skiers, we bounced some teaching stuff off of each other, and most importantly, we had a good time.  I'm going to go into some of the exam stuff, and this might get a little wonky, so feel free to scan past this stuff.

We did a couple of short little teaching segments in the morning, and I had a little thing I wanted to try with synchronized skiing and a little twist on synchro skiing (rear person skis synchro turns, but moves alongside the front person, then drops back, then goes to the other side).  It worked okay, but it was a little tough with the amount of people on the trail, and the fact that I flew off the side of the trail during my demo.  So, rough on class handling, okay on the basic idea.

Then we did a lot of skiing, I thought I was skiing pretty damn good (if I do say so myself), especially in the hard, icy bumps (conditions du jour, as the tele guys call it).  I felt a little less confident in the hardpack (icy) groomers, but, I still felt like my turns were pretty solid.  My second teaching segment ("bring your own"), I focused on the movements necessary to move the downhill leg into the next turn (movements in the foot, ankle, and femur).  I think it went pretty well, bur my only regret was not giving everybody a chance to ski it out at the end (it's always important to give people a chance to play with a new movement in regular turns).  I also tried to give some individual feedback, but I don't know if I did enough.

I feel pretty good about how everything went today, and I have a killer lesson plan for tomorrow (if given the chance), so I'm feeling pretty confident.  I just have to keep skiing athletically, keep teaching descriptively, and keep discussing organically (if that makes any sense).     

My hip is feeling a lot better today (after taking some Advil), so I'm going to keep pounding pills and pushing hard.  Right now, though, I'm going to rest up for another big day tomorrow.  Peace.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mad River Glen (Day 2)

Killer day at the mountain today. I was skiing really well, feeling great, and then, right before lunch, I hip checked on a steep section and pain shot all the way up my leg. Not good. I skied the rest of the afternoon, but now that I'm just sitting here typing, I can feel my hip stiffening up. The PSIA Level 3 exam is on Saturday, and it pains me to walk down stairs. Ugh.

Anyway, though, I had a great time today, and I had my camera with me all morning, so here are some shots from my first great spring skiing day of the year.

I like the last picture the best.  Blue sky, soft bumps, and the single chair.  Classic MRG.  I didn't really improve my skiing too much over the past two days (probably too late to make adjustments at this point anyway), but I definitely improved my eye - diagnosing the problems with people's turns, and providing the right ways to fix the problems.  I'm probably going to bag the BC trip tomorrow to give my hip a rest, and I might go over to Sugarbush to explore some of the terrain we'll be skiing for the exam.  Ice and beer tonight, Sun and snow tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mad River Glen, PSIA, and Blogging

Where am I?

This was our view for most of the day (except when we were in that cloud and our view was "chowdah").  Give up?  Here's another pic:

Okay, maybe that one gave it away (How many mountains have a single chair? With "Mad River Glen" written on it?). I think this is my first Mad River Glen visit (couldn't remember if I came here as a kid), and I gotta say: I'm a fan.  Nice to see a place that doesn't put grooming, groms, and "guest services" above everything else.

Today was kind of windy/rainy/soft/cruddy, so I didn't want to bring the camera out with me.  Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and warm, and there are $17 lift tickets for people who wear green, so I'll try to bring the camera tomorrow and snap some crazy pictures of crazy people.

I'm here for a PSIA event, and there is a dearth of PSIA material online.  I think this might be because people are trying to work on their ski instructing careers, and don't want to jeopardize it by posting things about PSIA on the internet.  Well, I'm going to change that.  I love the fact that people like "The Rusty" post some of their tricks, tips and tactics online.  And I love it when people get down and dirty and discuss ski instructing on Epicski.  I may not participate in their ridiculous discussions on proper edge angles or inside leg steering, but I read a fair amount of it, and the back and forth has really helped my instruction.

So here it goes: I'm taking a trees and steeps clinic at Mad River Glen today and tomorrow. On Friday, I'm probably going to do some backcountry in the Camel's Back area, and then I'm taking my Level III Telemark Exam at Sugarbush on Saturday and Sunday.  My intent is to blog about the entire experience.  If PSIA doesn't like that, than I guess I'll fail.  But I really feel like it's important to let people who are going through the system know what the system is all about.  I'm going to try to be honest and direct about everything, without any sugarcoating or gloss overs.  Hopefully, this turns out to be a positive experience.  But I'm ready for anything.  Here's to adventure.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Never Stop Exploring?

I really enjoyed this post from Heidi Swift about bicycle touring.  Tidbit:
Riding a loaded touring bike seems valiant or poetic, but it’s a voluntary act made (oftentimes) by privileged people who are searching for something that they can’t find at home: simplicity, detachment, clarity. You leave everything you own behind and pack a small selection of essentials into a few bags. Then you tow them and, somehow, the weight yields an internal lightness. It’s a startling inversion. It’s a trick of the mind.  
The real work of touring starts when you come home and stand in front of your kingdom and try to figure out what it means and why you left it.

It seems like a battle is constantly waging with outdoorsy people who live in the city (or in my case, suburbs).  It doesn’t need to evolve over a multiday bike tour either.  Every weekend, we drive hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to escape the “drudgery” of everyday life.  For a few fleeting moments, we forget about mortgages, bills, and responsibilities.  We’re focused on skiing (or biking, or ice climbing, etc.).  We’re into the moment, and we celebrate afterwards.  Then when we get back home, we slip back into the same routines.  Wake up, go to work, come home, make dinner, watch TV, go to bed, repeat.  Boredom. Monotony. Stasis. 

But if “routine” is the worst of all possible worlds, then what is the best?  Is it a non-stop bicycle tour with your entire family from the northern tip of Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina ? Is it an “all-in” non stop trek of the Appalachian Trail, North Country Trail, Great Divide Route, and Pacific Coast Trails? Is it a sail around the world on an old sailboat (looks pretty good to me)?  Is the key to enlightenment actually a clothing company tagline (“Never Stop Exploring”)?

Personally, I don’t think I was ever cut out to be a nomad.  I like to have a home, and a sense of place.  I like to go out to bars, watch baseball games, and grill meat on my back porch.  I like warm showers and down comforters and cold beer.  In fact, I always find that the best meal of a multiday camping trip is the one you have when you return to civilization.  While I might never stop exploring, I’m okay with taking a break every once in a while.  Heidi, who seems to have somehow turned this “blogging” thing into a career, comes to the same conclusion:

In my case, I try to figure out why I always want to leave it again and again. At the same time, cradled in the expanse of a soft king bed, flanked by cats that have become temporarily affectionate due to their perceived near-abandonment, I know with exacting clarity how my home can be both shifting and static.

I guess it’s about balance. Unfortunately, I feel like my balance has shifted too far towards the safe, boring, routine side of things. It’s time to set sail.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Northeast Ski Blogger Summit: Change

Change is inevitable.  Regardless of whether it is good or bad, anticipated or unanticipated, minor or major, change is going to happen eventually. Like when you're standing in a little plastic room, and all of a sudden the floor gives way and you find yourself careening down a water slide in a tilted corkscrew:

I only mention this because the "Aqua Loop" is one of the many planned features of the new Jay Peak Waterpark.  And I gotta say, I want to give it a try.

I've written before about resorts catering to many types of skiers (I even used Jay Peak as an example of a resort that remains "pure").  I have always felt that different people go to different ski areas for different reasons, and these days, ski areas have to cater to all of those differences (during the day and at night). I don't really know anything about advertising, but it seems that in order to draw a lot of people to your resort, you need to spread your marketing tentacles really wide to encompass everyone; whether that means advertising in a family magazine, or letting 6 bloggers ski and stay slopeside for free in hopes that they'll write some good stuff about your area.  And sometimes, it might lead to mixed signals:

FURTHER UP. FURTHER OUT. At another resort, they're questioning whether to tip the ski valet.  But up here, no one questions anything.

But if there's no ski valet, who will watch my skis while I'm on the Aqua Loop?!?

Like I said, though, I don't begrudge a ski area simply for giving the people what they want. It sounds like they're taking the necessary steps to develop the mountain into a year round "resort."  And in a time of increased costs for snowmaking, electricity, and personnel, this is the kind of thing that keeps the lifts turning every winter, which is something that every skier wants.  And they even found an innovative way to pay for it: The EB-5 program, which provides funding and local jobs (something I think we should all get behind).

I do want to talk a little bit about another option, though.  Last Friday morning, we started skinning up an old trail in the area.  We eventually found ourselves in pristine wilderness.  It was quiet.  Really quiet.  There was none of the hustle and bustle that we'd been accustomed to over the last couple of days in the resort.  Just us, the sounds of our skins sliding up the slope, and the sunny silence of an empty trail.

We weren't that far away from Jay, but it felt like another world.  Calm, serene, soothing.  The snow was velvety soft, too:

 Eventually, it got a little more dense::

And we had to start ducking:

So the slopes weren't perfectly cut, it took a little work to get up, and the extreme roadside snow bank barrel roll still needs to be perfected.  It was still one of the most fun times of the whole trip.

And that's what I'm trying to get at.  Regardless of how "overdeveloped" and "corporatized" your home mountain becomes, somewhere in those hills, there's a way to escape.  There's a way to leave everything behind and, even if it's just for one morning, there's a way to go back to skiing the way it was before the slopeside condos, resort villages, and ski valets.  There's a way to just ski.

I still want to try that Aqua Loop, though.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Northeast Ski Blogger Summit: Inspiration

I'm mostly going to load this post with pictures, but I wanted to talk a little bit about inspiration.  Going into a semi-blind meeting with a bunch of people you've never met before (in real life) is kind of an uncomfortable situation for me.  I'm not the kind of guy who goes up to random people at parties and strikes up conversations with them.  I mean, sure, I'll talk to anyone I meet, but it usually takes me a while to get comfortable with someone enough to open up a little bit.

But whenever I'm skiing, it's different.  I definitely feel like I'm in my element at ski areas.  I think a lot of it has to do with the group dynamics of a bunch of skiers.  Here's a quote from the scholarly book Group Dynamics in Recreation and Leisure: creating conscious groups through an experiential approach:
Many recreation and leisure groups involve people who want to learn and grow from their experiences.  They are aware that learning and growth are a primary motivation for being involved with others in recreation and leisure activities.  These groups can be referred to as conscious groups.  A conscious group recognizes that besides its other goals or productivity objectives, the personal growth of its members is the main objective.  Members of a conscious group strive to better themselves and their relationships with others in the group – and probably beyond the group as well.  In fact, this is why many people engage in recreation and leisure pursuits – to relax, meet others, and engage in activities they enjoy, all of which helps them become better people. 
This is my goal in every group lesson that I teach when I'm ski instructing.  And it's amazing when it happens organically. I think it took about 2 runs in the morning on Wednesday before we got to that point at the ski blogger summit.  You see a lot of trip reports that say something like "everyone was pushing each other and the level of skiing was really high." Some people even refer to it as "bromentum." Well, after these last few days, I feel inspired.  Inspired to be a better skier.  Inspired to be a better blogger.  And inspired to be a better person.

So without further ado, here's the pictures from Thursday at Jay: