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The Zen of skiing blind

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

I had one of those eureka moments this past weekends in the unlikeliest of places.

On Sunday I was at my home hill - Sugarloaf, in Maine. The most challenging on piste skiing is on the front side, basically straight down from the summit. The trail I am talking about is White Nitro. It is reported to be about 30 degrees, with a pitch just before a cat track rumored to be 20 more. Skiing it the first time each season always gets the heart fluttering a bit, and I picked the afternoon to do it.

From the top of the chair, you cut right past the sign that says "Experts only." At that time on Sunday, I was the "only" skier of any kind there. Now, on a typical day, you stand at the top and admire the view to the north east, towards Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It is a dizzying, even disorienting, view because Nitro is the kind of trail that falls immediately away from view. Only faith that something beyond the immediate horizon actually exists prompts the feet to go.

But this time was different. Very different. You see, there was nothing to see at all. First, the light was flat - no detail to be seen. The world was like an 18% photographers gray card. But beyond that, legions of snow guns were barfing out dense shrouds of man-made gold on the trail just to the north. And with a strong northerly, much of that snow missed its target and enveloped me and Nitro. And still it was just me and the trail. Others more observant or sensible took the path more traveled.

There was no way to go but down. Down on a frozen, wind-blown cat track of an imagined slope. Down without the advantage of sight except for the view of my skis and boots chattering in short turns across a presumed fall line.

It was a remarkable ride. Without the benefit of sight, I had little choice but to "feel" my way along, one linked turn of faith after another. It was a feeling of skiing in the present that I have not experienced before. Physical forces and my body's reaction to them were amplified. Oddly, I seemed to become more aware of my surroundings even though I could not see them. But I could, in my mind's eye, visualize where I was on the trail. What I could not seem to perceive was the steepness of my path. It was all flat, but I was moving like it wasn't.

And I reached the cat track that bisects the trail, and the experience ended. All was revealed.

The next day, I stood in the same spot at the top of Nitro. But it was a very different place. The sky was bluer than blue and the sun shone brilliantly. And I skied that same path. This time, I had use of my eyes. And it was an exhilarating romp, as it usually is, but it was not magic.

I may just have to ski, just a little bit, and when the time is right, with my eyes closed.

David

post #2 of 26

166430_10150132719892905_596762904_7548735_2745438_n.jpg

 

Just under 13,000 on the continental divide with 60+ mph gusts. I've found dropping in is the hardest part in those conditions.

post #3 of 26

OK from now on D1 is known as DD1.

Yes use the force Luke feel the pressure along the bottom of the boot young skywalker

post #4 of 26

A trainer I know says that he has used a technique where one skier puts on a blindfold, a second skier skis behind them (I think he said with a rope around their waist) and tells them what's coming up what to do.  He claims it's a great exercise.

 

I had a similar experience skiing down the front of Vail in a snowstorm, piles of snow everywhere, small bumps.  Total white out.  All I could see was my friend (who lived there)  all I could see was his coat, not my skis, nothing else.  Just keep his coat in view or I'm screwed.  Skied the whole way, just as you said, by feel.  It was a breakthrough experience for me.  

post #5 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by SkiMangoJazz View Post

 

 

I had a similar experience skiing down the front of Vail in a snowstorm, piles of snow everywhere, small bumps.  Total white out.  All I could see was my friend (who lived there)  all I could see was his coat, not my skis, nothing else.  Just keep his coat in view or I'm screwed.  Skied the whole way, just as you said, by feel.  It was a breakthrough experience for me.  



Steve,

I had a similar experience at the top of the China Bowl on my first trip to Vail two years ago. We got off the chair and headed over to what I think was the top of Ghengis Khan. Total whiteout. I fell on the traverse over on the flats becasue my head said I was still moving when I wasn't. It was a total act of faith to drop into that trail without being able to see where you would land. But I did it because, well, what else was I going to do. And, I know there would be a lovely cushion of snow to land in, which there was. That was another of those special moments.

 

The water version of that is sailing blind along the coast of Maine in a pea soup fog. Much scarier. I would rather fall than sink.

 

David 

post #6 of 26

I can remember skiing Tremblent on a very foggy morning, I could see about two ski lengths  ahead, all white until you get to the tree line at the side of the run.  It was surreal. I remember thinking I needed fog lights on my ski tips.

post #7 of 26

 Your body movements shouldn't change. It's really not that hard with practice and a guide. I rather enjoy the challenge of limited sight while skiing. The sensation of your skis leaving the Snow before you know it and then making the next turn is exciting. Long live Braille skiing, that's what separates the boys.

post #8 of 26
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by slider View Post

  Long live Braille skiing, that's what separates the boys.


icon14.gif

post #9 of 26

I used to be able to ski by feel in whiteouts, but somewhere along the way I lost it.  I can't do it anymore.  Now I get really tense, ski badly, and hurt myself.

post #10 of 26

If you're truly in the zone, it can be trippy, and beyond that there are drills that focus on keeping your weight centered that are very effective in those conditions. If you're not really into it, it's a dumb way to get hurt. It can go either way.

 

We have a huge bowl that gets white out conditions a lot. sometimes you want to traverse the whole thing to access another area. that is a very unusual experience. fun when you know the feel of the bowl and can get across no matter the visibility, and in fresh snow it's blind and silent, sick.

post #11 of 26

I love a good white-out!!!Ott+Wedeln.gif

post #12 of 26

With all due respect, there's whiteout and there's whiteout. At my hill, we ski at 3,000 meters. The closest tree is just below 2,000. If there's enough snow, and there usually is, the last rocks have been covered, so there isn't even any brown or gray for contrast. When it's cloudy -- and I don't mean clouds up in the sky, I mean clouds parked at 2,500 meters and up -- you don't see. If it's not steep enough, you can't really even tell if you're descending or not.

post #13 of 26

FOG, is what you're talking about Prickly. I'm heading to Snowbasin next week, I'll ski a white-out, but bitch about a FOG-out. One usually doesn't find both together here, I can't speak about Italy.

post #14 of 26

Yeah, they call it fog here too (nebbia), but I'm not sure it's actually fog in meteorologic terms. Seems like low cloud to me. Either way, it blows when there are no trees.

 

I've skied fog fog in the Rockies, and where there are trees, it's not so bad. Here, I'm lost. Only the old-timers, who are half blind anyway, seem to be able to navigate on those days.

post #15 of 26

Prolly are clouds, just the same, need trees either way. Though I recall slamming into a workroad at Steamboat years back in a white-out while ripping the trees.

Quite a slammer it was to, never saw it coming. Someone said I had missed the sign. Yeh, thanks!

post #16 of 26

Totally relate to what it feels like to ski onto a road that you don't even see ata all. It happens so QUICKLY! Before you know it could happen, you're taking stock of what the heck is going on, you have not one fraction of a second's notice that you are about to fall. I hit so hard once, dropping about 8 feet onto it, that I cracked my boot where it tried to flex all the way forward. It is among the rudest falls you can takedevil.gif, likely caused by this snow snake, IMO.

 

My vote on what a truly ugly white out is:  where as Prickly said you can not tell if you are going up or down, and sometimes, in fresh snow, you can't tell if  you're moving or stopped. When it's like that,  the cloud is settled down onto the mountain and you are essentially skiing right in the cloud, in the middle of it. If the cloud is above your skiing level on the mountain, it will be dark and contrast will be absent, but it's not as flat as when the cloud is lower. The profound white out is caused when light is illuminating the terrain equally from all angles. If you stop the light from one direction with trees or cliffs, there will begin to be some definition, or sometimes, perfect light.

 

I have put a pole out to lean on and suck air, only to find out I was still sliding, the pole zipping past before I could rest on it; picture a chair being pulled out from under youbiggrin.gif.

post #17 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by prickly View Post

With all due respect, there's whiteout and there's whiteout. At my hill, we ski at 3,000 meters. The closest tree is just below 2,000. If there's enough snow, and there usually is, the last rocks have been covered, so there isn't even any brown or gray for contrast. When it's cloudy -- and I don't mean clouds up in the sky, I mean clouds parked at 2,500 meters and up -- you don't see. If it's not steep enough, you can't really even tell if you're descending or not.



Pshh, 3000M is lower than our base. tongue.gif

 

If you can see anything but white, it's not a whiteout. Even a single point of reference makes it so much easier.

post #18 of 26
Had ab experience like that skiing Cham for the first time. Took the tram to the top of Les Grande Montets with a Bosnian local transplant that I met. I instead of heading left to the pistes we went right on to the glacier. Was totally socked in my fog. The guy turns to me and says something like "ze shall follow closely no?" and headed out. Was unreal. I just followed his red jacket and later his track very very closely. Was an amazing experience.
post #19 of 26

Pshh, 3000M is lower than our base. tongue.gif

 

 


Well, aren't you special. The treeline is much lower here, that's the point.

post #20 of 26

In Meteorological terms,any cloud that is in contact with the ground is Fog. There is a point (vertigo) where skill level just doesn't matter. Vertigo can make you sick and dizzy.

post #21 of 26

Hey, that's useful, thanks. So it is fog, sometimes.

post #22 of 26


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by prickly View Post


Pshh, 3000M is lower than our base. tongue.gif

 

 


Well, aren't you special. The treeline is much lower here, that's the point.


rolleyes.gif

post #23 of 26

Now I have learned something as well. Fog sitting in the bowl. That's clear. (or foggy).  we do have some big brains at Epic. thx

 

skiing base above 3000 is going to make the air pretty thin. have you acclimated permanently? do you have full strength at that altitude now? something I've wondered about Colorado, being from California where we ski 6000 to 9000 mostly. so you're up to 14,000?

post #24 of 26

Ah, whiteouts. Quite a common occurence in Europe, as Prickly alluded to. It's just something you get used to, because so much of the skiing is above the tree line in the Alps. It took me quite a while to adjust when I first moved over. But once I did, I started skiing better in general.

 

Last week in St. Anton, I saw a group of blind skiers and their guides in the middle of a whiteout. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

post #25 of 26

I advise anyone coming to ski in the Alps to bring a book. Some days, you're just not going to want to ski much. A couple places, like Serre Chevalier, have some good skiing in the trees, but a lot of hills don't.

post #26 of 26

I peropose Whistler as the King of white out conditions. Snow / fog / clouds / fog / etc. Some days you can barely see the hand on your outstretched hand. Not only if is awful, but it's almost constant. I've never been at a place with as many miserable visibility days as WB. They blame it on being 10km from the ocean, which is probably right but of the maybe 120 days I have there (it's close to customers), for sure 85 have been absolutely dreadful.

 

Just watch the web cams on a regular basis and see what you see (or don't).

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