POWDER MOUNTAIN – NOT JUST A TRIP – AN EXPERIENCE (Caution: Wicked long and
Self-indulgent) February 19-26, 2013
Reader’s Digest Version: Best ski trip ever. Period.
Why Powder Mountain:
Not because I have ever been there. Not because I know anyone who ever went there. Just a feeling. Mostly, I was looking for a place that was different from “resort” areas I have visited, like Vail or Deer Valley. A place more like A-Basin which I skied for the first time with Bears at the Gathering two years ago and fell for, metaphorically. Simply put, a place with all snow and no fur. A place like my home hill in Maine, Sugarloaf where people go to ski, not to be. A hill where people crowd into an old lodge and eat elbow to elbow at picnic tables, and relieve themselves in bathrooms not nicer than the ones in my house. A trip that did not require a second mortgage, and mostly, a place reported to have lots of the fluffy white gold in a setting devistatingly beautiful. And I found that place.
February 17-19, 2013 – An inauspicious start for me and Ms. D1:
Man plans. God laughs. When applied to winter air travel, no truer words were ever uttered. It is a three hour drive from my home on the Maine coast to the airport in Portland where we were scheduled to leave at about 3:50pm and arrive at JFK in more than enough time to catch our connection to SLC at 7:10pm. A blizzard on the east coast decimated that plan. By the time we actually arrived in New York, after persistent delays, our plane to SLC was somewhere over Ohio, I suspect. Nothing to do but to suck it up, find a hotel room somewhere and mope. Our $180 stay at a seedy Fairfield Inn gave us more than enough time to stew. After an interminable gear-laden walk along the Skyway (or whatever they call it), we caught the shuttle. It was a short ride. I think we had already walked half the way there. We were alone in the van. And when it pulled into a dark alley with no light or Fairfield sign, I kind of puckered. No worries. A carved turn around the corner brought us to the front door. The property was as beleaguered as our spirits. The yucky Chinese food delivered to our room did little to raise them. I will say that the remarkably thin walls did provide some analog entertainment. Should you ever stay there, be advised that there are no secrets at the Fairfield Inn.
The kind manager of the hotel let us stay in the room until 3:00pm the next day. Then off to JFK for our 7:10pm departure. The Jet Blue lady was kind to us as well. After my sob story, she did not charge for the extra bag. And after seeing Ms. D1’s cane, she put us in aisle 2 – with the extra leg room – gratis. The cane was no prop. On her third day at the Loaf this season, Ms. D1 crossed tips, fell and suffered a non-displaced fx of the distal radius – that non-weight-bearing bone adjacent the ankle. I proposed we cancel the Utah trip but Ms. D1 is a sturdy and compassionate Maine woman, and insisted we go. She was in a boot, not cast. I learned a lot from her experience. Like, carrying a cane gets you good stuff – a better seat and early boarding.
It felt good to get on the plane to SLC. Sat next to a very pleasant woman who was a bundle of insecurities. Neither the drinks she consumed before boarding, nor the four or five she had in flight provided much solace. She talked incessantly about herself and foibles for five hours and, at the end, apologized for not being sufficiently engaging.
Once at SLC at about 10:00pm, we caught the shuttle to the airport La Quinta. That was a planned layover. We spent a very restful night there, and early the next morning, collected our car at Fox rental. A word of advice. The Quita is a really nice place and cheap. The rental assigned to us was not nice and was expensive. It smelled as if drop outs from Smoker Anonymous had their daily meetings in it, with the windows up. So I threw a few more bucks into the pot and got a small GMC SUV. Cannot remember the model, but it was 2 wd. With only 200 miles on the odometer, it was basically new. As we became acquainted, I came to call it the weenie-mobile, or Gutless Supreme. It whined every time you put your foot on the accelerator. But, at $550 for 8 days it was considerably cheaper than a full 4wd model. Those of you who have traveled to Utah know that taxes and fees basically double the cost of a rental.
Set the GPS for Ogden and had an uneventful trip there. Did some provision shopping along the miracle mile on Harrison. I asked the deli lady where a local would go for some lunch, explaining that we did not come 2000 miles to eat at Chili’s. She suggested a local institution called Sandy’s. I found it curious that supermarkets can sell all the beer they want, but not wine. So I inquired of a young employee where one might buy wine. “Why is that people always ask the meat guy where to buy wine,” he asked quizzically. I told him I did not know, but did not reveal that I had no idea what department he worked in. To me he just looked like a guy who knew where to buy booze. Got directions to the liquor store which was not far from Sandy’s. So we went over to the restaurant first. Clearly a local landmark. I felt good there. We have places like this in Maine. At 56 I think I was the youngest by at least 20 years. Lots of blue hair and white mayo. The piece of coconut cream pie Ms. D1 and I shared for dessert was so bad we bought a whole chocolate cream pie figuring if you are going to spend a week in the garden of Eden, you may as well have a dessert that brings you closer to the Almighty.
After making our wine purchases, we drove out 12th St and up Ogden Canyon to Eden which is about 15 miles away. The canyon is a dramatic and severe V shaped rift that concedes little to the narrow road penetrating it. Left at the reservoir, and a few miles later we arrived at the Wolf Creek property in Eden. Ms. D1 and I rented this one bedroom condo from a very nice lady who could not have been more accommodating. She was quite amenable to crediting us the cost of the condo for a trip next year when our plans were uncertain after Ms. D1’s fall. As I think back on it, that was my first “Powder Mountain moment” (hereafter “PMM”). The complex is about 30 years old. Not fancy, but very comfortable and only five miles or so down the hill from Powder Mountain. Very reasonable at $95.00 per night.
Once settled and out of travel mode, my mind returned to the purpose of this journey. It was Tuesday afternoon and I had squandered a day at a seedy hotel in NY. To salvage was what was left of the day, I changed into my gear and drove up the access road for some night skiing. The Gutless Supreme whined all the way up the access road. In all fairness, it is steep and twisting – a 16 % pitch in places. Tach hit 5000 rpm going 25-30mph. First gear. Third gear. First gear. Third gear. All the way up.
It had been a long time since I last skied at night. It was at Lost Valley in Auburn, Maine. My hands began to twitch as memories fired. I remember being spirited up the hill by rope tow to the sounds of Petula Clark singing her new hit, “Downtown,” and McCartney crooning “Yesterday.” On the way down I discovered that my eyesight had changed just a bit over the past five decades. Skiing under the flood lights was all good. Beyond their throw, not so much. But it was a blast and real good to clear the head and get the travel “ya yas” out. Had my second of many PMM moments that evening. At my home hill, everyone boots up in the lodge and just leaves their bags in open cubbies or on the floor. No such “amenity” at this small lodge at PM. But when I asked the young ticket guy what I could do with my boot bag, he said, no worries, just store it back here with me. He got a Sugarloaf sticker (which I dispense for extraordinary kindness). I never remember the Vail ticket guy offering to keep my boot bag for me. The kid was thrilled to have it. I made his day.
February 20, 2013
First day on the real hill. Got there early to buy my ticket. At PM, the window price is $65, but if you buy a multi-day, the price drops to $55 per day. The number of days is irrelevant, and they do not have to be used consecutively. In fact, if you buy any multi-day, you can even add an additional day at the discounted price. Another PMM.
The main lodge is old, and cramped and feels like a comfortable pair of well-worn slippers. People are friendly, easy-going and just crazy about this place. Young, old, kids, skiers, boarders. All good. I booted up and crammed my boot bag under a bench in the main entryway. It did that every day without worry.
PM offers a free 30-60 minute tour of the hill for the uninitiated. With 7000 acres at your ski tips, getting the tour made sense. Joe was my guide. As a mountain host, his job is to spend a little time orienting you to the hill. But it turned into much more than that. And other PMM. He and I hit it off immediately. Rather than the hour tour, we spent the entire morning together. He dragged my ass all over the place for the better part of three hours. We explored on-piste terrain off the Timberline, Hidden Lake, Paradise and poma lifts. The snow was blissful – by eastern standards. The locals complained. Mostly packed powder with some hard crust underneath from a recent warming/cooling trend. The mountain is expansive – more broad than high. And as I discovered later in the week, if you can see it, you can ski it. This triggered a major shift in my perspective. I have always been a groomer skier. I respect the natural boundary created by tree line and snow. But at PM, the boundaries between on and off piste are blurred. And the more I understood that, the more of a revelation it became.
I spent my first day on Kastle MX78’s – the perfect ski for the packed pow conditions that day. I bought Joe lunch at the cafeteria. It was just as I thought it would be. Crowded, chaotic, joyful and like a rave with people in ski boots.
No fancy buffet here. You order your slice off pizza and when it is ready, the pizza guy yells out your name. Of the 8 days I skied, I only ate lunch three times. The rest were “screw lunch” days. When there is powder, why waste time eating.
The rest of that first day, I did fast groomer runs off the Timberline and Hidden Lake chairs. There was virtually no one else around. Skied on the lifts most of the time. Skied to my heart’s content. But where was the powder I came here for?
February 21, 2013
And I got just a taste of it today. I bit of fresh had fallen over night. If a watched pot never boils, expectations raised by weather reports bring inevitable disappointment. I just gave up looking at them and went to the hill to see what had happened, or not.
The skiing experience is what you make of it. Unless you happen to take a wrong turn, the terrain you ski, and the reward it returns, is within your control. The decisions I made that week transformed me as a skier, and it began that day. After a few groomer runs, I made my way over to the poma lift where Joe had taken me the day before. Large stands of perfectly spaced aspens line many of the blue and green trails. You can dip in and out of the trees as you wish. And that is what I did, and then some. From the top of the poma I headed along the flats to Sunrise, a very easy, meandering trail with aspens along the edge. I skied those trees, but instead of bearing left back onto the trail, I headed right, and out of the aspens and down onto a beautiful snowfield. And that lead me to a most wondrous playground of trees and fields, the likes I had never experienced. I had no idea where I was, specifically, but knew generally that this kind of terrain typically emptied onto a cat track. I was alone. It was silent in that natural swail. I made my way, skiing side to side, up and down an extraordinary natural half pipe. In and around huge pines. If you could see it, you could ski it. Though “seeing” it was sometimes a challenge given the fog. But the fog sealed the silence and made the moment more magic and solitary. And with each turn, trepidation succumbed to wonder.
I confess. I came to Utah as a tree virgin. Oh, I have done it, but never really enjoyed it. I think that still makes me a virgin. That day, I dabbled in the widely spaced groves of aspens that loosely mark the boundaries of the groomed trails. And then I found the North Slope area and it was a revelation. The terrain was just what I needed to cultivate an appetite that I would fully satisfy later in the week. Another PMM. A powder playground; the perfect teacher for a Maine boy bred on fast groomers with boundaries. Here, there were no boundaries. And it was all mine, all afternoon. I discovered that entering the aspens higher or lower off Sunrise revealed new terrain and wonders. You could go where your skis took you, because it all emptied on the cat track back to the Hidden Lake lift. A “screw lunch” day for certain. I skied that all day, exploring the nooks and crannies. And all, for the most part, alone. I left the hill that day with both a tingle in my belly I had never felt before and an ache in my quads that was all too familiar.
February 22, 2013
Another PMM. I made pals with Joe, the fellow who schlepped me around two days before. That morning we met up for some runs on terrain where he cannot take his “guests.” But today, he was off duty and we went off piste. About five inches of fresh fell overnight, so I bought out the MX98’s (the ones without metal). That day expanded my personal boundaries even more, and I am indebted to Joe for that. He introduced me to places on the hill that I would never have found, or would not have ventured to on my own. In the morning we skied mostly the front side with his lovely wife. At lunch they fed me out of their own sack. Turns out that Joe and his wife have taken a couple schooner rides out of Camden, Maine. The passage down Eggemoggin Reach took them right by my home. Another PMM. In the afternoon, Joe took me over to the poma area. At the lift top, rather than skiing down where I had the day before, he and I booted up a track to an area not lift.
At PM, you can pay $18 for single rides in a cat to areas otherwise inaccessible except on foot. This was one of them. Somewhere before we hit the top, Joe and I dipped into the woods for what would be the most remarkable run of my life – at least to that point.
After a short run in very tight trees, we arrived near the top of a huge snow field. It was untouched. We made our way down, cutting virgin tracks in knee-deep powder. The base was quite hard and the undulations had to be felt and accommodated. Not easy for me. As an Eastern skier unaccustomed to soft edge, easy knee skiing, I got tossed around a bit. My virginity was showing again. This field emptied in the Sanctuary area which is at one of the far edges of the area by Cobabe Canyon. It is, by my description, in-bounds out of bounds skiing. Much like what I encountered in the North Slope area, but far steeper and tighter. Decidedly more pucker factor for me. With Joe as my guide, we booted for elevation and then wended our way along the Sanctuary spine, dipping down snow fields and then traversing to stay as high on the ridge as possible. This was a secret I soon learned. To maximize the run, you maintain as much altitude as you can. It was not an easy go for me. Even on the MX98’s I foundered as I resorted groomer technique on “groomers” covered by 18”+ of snow. At crux and unnerving moments, my knees stiffened, my weight went off center (usually on heels) and I went into survival mode. As always, hard on my edges just when I should not be. While I did manage a few creditable turns, a lesson was clearly in order. Ultimately, after what must have been the better part of 30 minutes in the woods, we emptied onto the cat track that brought us back to the Paradise lift. As we had come from what I regard as Paradise, it is aptly named. As usual, just skied right on the lift. At PM there is no lift line management. There are no lift lines, except an occasional one at the poma.
Frankly, I have no memory of the rest of the afternoon. That run, from about 9200’ to 6900’ was the most extraordinary run of my life. I did not ski it particularly well, though there were snippets of competence. That did not matter. The very fact that I skied it defined it, and confirmed that I could handle this terrain, if inelegantly. And that was enough. As we pushed the geographic boundaries of the area, I pushed my own well entrenched boundaries. And that was just the beginning.
February 23, 2013 – Here it comes….
As I look back on the week I see a remarkable progression taking place, though one I did not discern at the time. The first day was a night, just finding my legs. The second was a guided trip on groomers. The third was a gentle introduction to terrain and conditions new to me. And the fourth accelerated the learning curve and took me to places on the hill I would have never tried alone, but would later revisit with a considerably different skill set. But first, a blizzard.
It was rumored and promised all week. And on Saturday it hit. The first thing I had to decide that morning was whether to take the Gutless Supreme or the UTA shuttle that collects people from Ogden all the way to Eden. I decided to drive it - the wrong choice. But the ride up the road in the GMC was uneventful. Snow was spitting but unthreatening. As I quickly learned, in Utah, it is all about the altitude. One thousand feet puts you in a totally different weather zone.
At the hill, got geared up and headed over to North Slope again, the place where I was first smitten. The morning held great promise as the snow intensified, as did my concern for the trip down the access road.
By 1:00pm this is what it looked like as snow fell at 2 to 3 inches per hour, with blustery winds.
That is the parking lot in the background. Sitting at a table in the lodge, my face felt the gentle sting of wind propelled snowflakes that penetrated the lodge windows. A dilemma. What to do? Ski in white out conditions or drive in white out conditions. Would the road get better, or worse? I asked a lady at an adjacent table what she thought about the condition of the road. She told me that a bus ran off the road a couple weeks ago, as did “16 or 60” cars. But as to reassure, she confided that the conditions were far worse today. After pondering the unknown, I packed up my gear and headed for the GMC, which I now coined the “Go Mightily Carefully.” The five mile ride down to the condo had a pucker factor of 10. This is what it looks like when clear. As with most pictures, the grade cannot be fully perceived.
I am no stranger to the dynamics of snow driving. Every day I drive 105 miles round trip from my home on the coast of Maine to my office in Bangor, notwithstanding snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night. But we got nothing that rates a DD for steepness. The descent from the lodge was white knuckle for about four miles. Worse yet, I encountered what we in Maine call “greasy” snow. I went as slow as I could. But in many places, the force of gravity would propel me forward even with locked brakes. The anti-lock function did not slow the vehicle down enough to maintain control. At 5 mph you have time to study the road. I read tire tracks like tea leaves. It all went rather well until I hit the dreaded S turn. It is, I suspect, the steepest part of the road. And it is banked, creating a double fall line. Even 5 mph was too fast but I could go no slower. It was a delicate dance. Tapping the brakes would cause the ass end of the Gutless to swing in a counter-clockwise rotation down the second fall line. Part of the turn became a “drift” competition – going forwards and sideways at the same time. I would drift, then let up on the brake and the ass end would swing back into line. I made it through that turn and another. The guy in the 4 wd Jeep Grand Cherokee ahead of me pulled over onto a very thin shoulder, either waiting for the plow or to change his pants, or both. The maneuver around him just added to the excitement. Eventually, with the drop in elevation, the road straightened and lost pitch. I became unpuckered. Before our trip, I read about this road. I knew it was steep and serpentine. And when I finally arrived at the condo, I went on the PM website and saw the “red” road designation which mandates snow tires and chains on 2 wd vehicles, with “no exceptions.” I had neither. It would have been a good day to take the shuttle.
February 24, 2013 Blue Bird Day
And then the cosmic reward. A picture perfect day – one that only exists on your wall calendar or desktop, not in reality. Like an airbrushed centerfold honey you can only lust after, but never cuddle with. That was this day. The official snow was 14,” a very conservative estimate, in my judgment. With 7000 acres at differing elevations, the measurement is only accurate at the spot it is made.
Call me nuts, but this was the day for a powder lesson. So I went over to the ski school and told them what I wanted. The deal is this. A three hour private lesson is $250. A group is $75. But if there is only one in the group, it turns into a two hour private, at the group rate. I was introduced to Denny, my instructor. And it was just the two of us, at least for the first “meet and greet” run. On the groomer he immediately pointed out that, when carving, I often get too much inside the turn. It is something that I am well aware of and was pleased that he quickly picked up on it. He got word that there were two others who would join the lesson. And I was pleased with that as well. I like taking lessons with others. You can learn by seeing people as they progress. And there is often good companionship as well. The two fellows were from Connecticut and were at the hill for the day. They were doing the Grand Tour of SLC hills. And if it is Sunday it must be PM. We had a great time together, the four of us. My pals were not strong skiers, but they were willing and definitely up for a good time. After a run on the little hill, we moved over to the big one and did laps mostly on the Hidden Lake lift. The conditions were perfect for the lesson I wanted. The powder was light and boot top to knee. I got some great tips that immediately worked for me – balanced weight, high hands, articulating knees and easy edges. My turns improved dramatically and I became more and more comfortable in that 3D snow. On the lift, the four of us had too much fun, Denny offered us mints out of a little tin. One of my companions asked if these were “the little blue pill.” When the word Viagra was uttered, the concept of a strong pole plant took on a whole different meaning. The conversation deteriorated into tasteless frivolity – the best kind. The lesson ended at lunch. It was time very well spent. My powder skills improved to the point that Denny said, “you don’t need me.” I told him that I might be the light but he was the switch.
My lesson mates and I had such a good time, we decided to spend the rest of the day together. They had heard about the cat rides so we decided we would do the one that brings you up to Lightning Ridge. You take the Sundown lift (on the night skiing hill) and then traverse to the cat loading area. The cat takes 18 people and the ride is around 5 minutes, I would estimate. But it was very crowded that day and we waited at least 30 minutes for our turn. Apparently, this was a historically busy day. Could have fooled me.
From the top of the ridge you can boot over to James Peak which takes about 20-30 minutes I am told. None of us had any interest and so we picked a line and headed down. I let my two companions go ahead of me. I tend to do that when I am skiing with skiers whose skills are “developing.” It was a hoot to see the both of them cruising along in thigh deep powder trying to put together what they had learned that morning. One got it. The other didn’t. He just sat back on the tails of those rockered Salomon skis and scooted down the ridge in a full tilt wheelie. It was a thing of beauty. This was the aftermath. And I dutifully picked up the pieces.
I was rather pleased with my run. The snow was quite heavy from wind pack. I made some good turns but found that there was a lot of resistance building in front of my skis which were more submarine than surf boards. I did do some exaggerated up/down movements which did help to get my skis moving. While I am quick to acknowledge my own technique shortcomings, I was coming to the realization that there really must be something to those rocker skis. I want to wheelie too.
Looking back up the run to Lightning Ridge
After the cat run, I promised to take my pals over to North Slope, the place of my off piste “baptism.” It was absolutely glorious. One of my companions called it “magic.” No argument.
As I watched them in this winter playground it occurred to me that in just a few days, I went from a groomer-bound skier to a powder hound sharing my favorite off piste place with two new pals. Another PMM. Because I had taken the shuttle up the hill that morning, they ran me back to the condo. Big man-hugs all around. And when I walked through the door of the condo and Ms. D asked how my day went all I could do was giggle.
February 25, 2013
Today was a work day. I tried to put together what I had learned in my lesson with a new found confidence to move beyond my comfort zone. I headed back to the Sanctuary area where Joe had taken me. But instead of retracing those lines I booted up the ridge spine to the highest point. This is the boot track where you “earn your turns” in the Sanctuary area.
Again, this area, on the far boundary of the massif gets very little traffic. I was alone in new territory, but with a new confidence. And it paid off. For those interested, this area is again accessed by poma lift. A short descent down Sunrise and then cut right to the Sanctuary area. From that point, you ski/boot along the Sanctuary spine as high as you care to go. You can drop left for some shorter lines that terminate in North Slope or below. And that is what Joe and I had done. But I wanted the bigger ride. So I climbed as high as I thought I could and then dropped right.
On the map, it was the area between the Fletcher’s Bowl and Larry’s Leap. Sorry that it is hard to read the map. the Sanctuary area is the ridge spine designated as black diamond, and located below the "ou" of Mountain. It is the green line that turns into a black line. For those really interested (http://powdermountain.com/en/the-mountains/trail-map/) The “trail” designations are meaningless. There are no trails. Just beautiful stands of steep, tight and not so tight trees that open into snow fields. If you can see it, you can ski it. And I did. And this is what some of it looked like.
Every run, which took about an hour round trip, was different. The line was limited only by the imagination and willingness to establish new personal boundaries. And I did that. And sometimes it was good, and other times not so much. But it was all exhilarating. In the afternoon, I figured I would boot up from the poma lift and try to find that field that Joe had taken me to last week. By this time, my conditioning was pretty good, despite aching quads. Remember, every morning while I eat my oatmeal I look out at the ocean which is about 15’ vertical feet away. Now, I was skiing as hard as I ever had and had energy to boot up at around 9000’. This was the boot up.
Turns out that I was not able to find the entrance to the woods somewhere at skier’s left in this picture. I thought that, as in Mary Poppins, the entrance existed only when Joe was with me. So I just sucked it up and made my own way through the trees trusting that I would find something yummy. And I did.
Another “screw lunch” day for certain. But by mid-afternoon, I could not buy a turn. My legs were toast. It was like being at a buffet of serious yummies and being too full for another bite. Like that Monty Python skit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJZPzQESq_0).
But how do you walk away from this (my line coming through the trees, thank you very much).
But I had to. There was nothing left in the tank, even if another run would have been “wafer thin.” With just one more day to go, I was just getting started. Turns out that the best was yet to come. So I left the hill happy and tired – too tired to smile or shave. The line behind me is the Cobabe Canyon wall that dumps onto the cat track.
February 26, 2013 - Last Day
Earlier in the trip, I made pals with Dave, the fellow who runs the ski shop. We hit it off when I brought in the MX 78’s in for a tune (at $25 – another PMM). His eyes light up when he saw them, especially with the installed VIST plate system. We got to talking skis and he regarded three skis as exceptional, even game changers. One was the original K2 shaped ski (Scott Schmidt?). The MX78 was next. And finally, the DPS Wailer 112. As he gushed about that ski, visions of wheelies danced in my head. Much as I try not to succumb to the notion that a particular ski will revolutionize my skiing, I could not help but notice that the few guys who were skiing where I was were on DPS and other powder-oriented skis. Well as long as I was here and it was my last day….
So I went into the shop to see if I could rent a pair of Wailer 112. Disappointment. They had none in their rotation. But my pal came over and when I told him what I wanted he took me out back and pointed out a pair of Wailer 112 Pures in 178. They looked like they had been beaten with an ugly stick. The bottoms looked like a Morse Code manual with gashes and gouges. If I was able to translate, I think those bases would have said “they shoot horses, don’t they?” And the top sheets were chipped, flaked and festooned with generous layers of duct tape covering God knows what. And that precious note, written on the grey miracle substance “OUT OF SERVICE.” It was love at first sight. I was smitten. They looked like my legs felt. A perfect match. When I took out my credit card to pay for the rental, David said no worries, just take a few runs to see what you think. Another PMM (he got a Sugarloaf sticker, by the way, and I got a “see you next year”). I said to him, “you are awful nice to me.” To which he replied, “That’s just the way we are here.” True that.
After the quick binding adjustment, I was out the door full of anticipation. Holy Grail or holy crap? Clicked in and headed off on the most curious pair of skis I have seen since I was a kid at a circus. Visions of these things folding under me, or flapping so much that my fillings would fall out quickly dissipated. On the groomer down to Timberline, I used my typical carving technique and don’t you know they hooked right up. Certainly not as quickly as my MX 78’s but not much different than the MX98’s. Now for certain, when I got off edge they wandered. But no worry. I am an Eastern skier. I know how to keep on edge. Up the Timberline lift I could not keep my eyes off them. At the top I stopped and the words for the Eagles came to mind – “this could be heaven or this could be hell.”
I headed down Grizzly Run towards the Hidden Lake lift. It is a wide field with a modest pitch and I knew it well. But I had never skied it as I did that morning. Looking down
at the cut up powder, with about 5” of fresh, my legs anticipated the buffering I usually experience as I plow through this. Some call this “crud,” a moniker I eschew. Crud is the stuff that forms at the corner of the mouth. It is not what transports us to Nirvana.
It took a few turns before I figured out what was happening. Rather than plow through or submarine, the ski tips just rose above the fray and I “surfed” over the undulations. Huh? Engaged edge turns, OK. But that was not what they wanted. Trying to remember what I had learned a few days before, I came into neutral balance, knees forward, flat edges, slow movements, pointed them downhill and … MAGIC. The ski became hard-wired to my eyes. You see. You ski. And so effortlessly. And no wheelies, just luscious slarved turns. At the bottom of the pitch, which I skied for the first time in 8 days without resting mid way, I look up and then down at the skis and thought who are these duct-taped masked skis? I took a few more runs on easy terrain. The learning curve, and there was one for me, was quick. I listened to the ski like I had listened to my instructor. And the more I did, the more I learned. Maintain balance, easy movements. Make a turn like you are spreading peanut butter on warm toast. The more I skied the more fun I had – like I was skiing powder for the first time. I drank the Kool-Aid. This was shaping up as a “screw lunch” day. So as not to take advantage of Dave’s generosity, I head back to the shop. My face gave it away. When I told him I had $40 in my pocket for the rest of the day, he said $25 would do it. Another PMM.
So I immediately headed over to Sanctuary with new skis and a new perspective. Simply put, it was the most magic afternoon I had ever had in 50 years on skis. Run after run I learned more and gained more confidence – mostly trust in this remarkable ski. And the more secure I felt, the more I began to look downhill – not where I was, but where I wanted to be. Looking up, just forgetting about my feet, changed my stance, put me in balance, and all good things happened. The Sanctuary area was my playground. The more I trusted the ski, the more relaxed I became and that even helped the quad burn I had struggled with all week – that and the looser top buckle and Booster strap per Noodler’s suggestion. That new-found confidence altered my tactics and expectations. I began looking for the steepest lines and tightest trees which I skied twice as fast as I would have ever dared on my other boards. As I became more intrepid I found stashes and lines of untouched knee deep powder. Again, all alone. Just me and the Wailers. Like my trusty yellow lab. We frolicked in groves of trees, gateways to fields of sparkling white. Down. Then over. Then down. Connecting dots we made along the way. Skiing not so much for the sake of skiing, but as a mode of transportation and exploration. Surfing effortlessly, weightlessly. Me and the skis As the afternoon wore the Wailers taught me how to ski powder. All I had to do was to listen. And by the end of six straight hours on the hill I was not only skiing powder better than I ever had, I was skiing it better than I thought I ever would.
But it was not just about the powder. The long run back to the poma begins from the top of the Paradise lift and runs down to the Hidden Lake chair. The route can included a run down mogul fields. Now, I do not fancy myself a great mogul skier. But on the Wailers I slayed it. On them I did everything I had ever tried to do to a mogul. Carver, slarve, skid. It was intoxicating. The skis (which are probably 130cm underfoot in those conditions) come around instantly making speed control a non-issue. Skiing those soft bumps was another revelation.
I could not leave the hill for the final time without revisiting one last time the place that I first found so mysterious and wondrous. By the time I made my way over for that last run down North Slope, the clouds had lowered. While this may have unnerved me a week earlier, I knew this place well. I dipped in to the trees lining Sunrise and slarved right down into the North Slope. I skied it with a style and joy I could never have imagined on my first tentative run here just a week before. I now stopped, not to rest, but to take in the moment. To reflect on the majesty of this place and simply to give thanks for being alive and fortunate enough to be here. Could I have had that “moment” some place other than PM. Perhaps. All I can say is that from the time I arrived I felt like I was skiing at my home hill among friends I had not yet met. Never had that feeling anywhere else. And that’s why I will be heading back to PM next year – with a pair of Wailers.
But dear, they match my jacket.....
You will not mistake PM crappers for Snowbasin's (forgive the look - I am unaccustomed to taking pics in men's rooms)
Lifties could not have been more stoked or thirsty
This tree was not sponsored by the LDS
My final PMM - in the lodge. Feet by the fire. Nice
Thanks for reading
Edited by deliberate1 - 3/6/13 at 6:09am