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A Bad Day Skiing Is Still Better Than ....

I had a great time Saturday at Monarch. (This is a much too overused term, but this season really has been ... “epic”.) They had 300 inches total and 90 inches of base at mid-mountain. Saturday it was snowing at about one inch per hour. Since the week before Christmas I don’t think there’s been four consecutive days without an additional 5-10 inches of fresh...!

Pow was between boot-top and mid-thigh even on many of the front side runs. In the trees and on the backside it was from knee- to hip-deep.




And my skiing was the second-worst I can remember since 1973(!). Seriously, Patrol should have pulled my pass as a “mercy killing” just to get me off the mountain. (Maybe they left me there because I made everyone else look so good by comparison?)

I’m hoping this rant is therapeutic. I’m also hoping it counts as another “word to the wise” about the importance of skiing with a buddy and paying attention to what your body is telling you.

Please also note a few threads with good precautions
about tree wells:
Tree Wells and other dangers
Tree Well Almost got me
Tree Well Story

(If you are still reading) I had “spells” of good runs. About a dozen times in the day I’d link ten or twelve rhythmic floating turns together. It was these brief episodes that kept me going ... and when I was “on” I was grinning and whooping just like my two buddies.

Then the snow snakes and gremlins would take me out again.

I don’t technically know how to name the quality of the snow, but the pow was ... erratic. The front side runs were challenging because there were moguls under that pow in places. Turns there were “soft, soft, firm, soft, firm, firm, etc.” with no real way to anticipate if you’d still be floating in knee-keep ... or if you’d suddenly be absorbing an invisible mogul. Also, Saturday’s fresh ten inches was just enough to obscure the not-frozen-but-somewhat-firmed-up tracks from skiers of a day or two earlier. I’d call it “pow on chop” or even in places “pow on crud.” But I don’t know what the connoisseurs of pow would call it. (One complaint I have with my 4-year-old Rossi 9Xs is they are too easily deflected by crud.) Skiing that powder -- with my legs “softened” to be ready for either floating or absorbing -- made for more deflections by the chop beneath. It was challenging.

But that wasn’t my problem. My problems were twofold:
1) My skis were -- all on their own -- targeting trees. (Is it fairy dust or gremlin piss which makes your skis behave as if they have a mind of their own? Whatever it is, they did a number on me....)
2) My instincts in the trees led me consistently wrong.

I am quite a capable skier. I love steep and deep. I love skiing the trees. And I’ve gotten to the point I don’t fall very much. (I’ve had times when I realized I’ve skied without falling the last three days in-a-row.) I also know I am not “that guy” everybody watches because his lines are so pure or because his style is so fluid. But I can ski ... so I’m posting my rant....

1. Targeting Trees
The visibility was poor enough to -- on the front side -- make me want to ski near the trees on the trails ... and IN the trees in some of the glades. (The contrast of tree and snow tends to lend definition to the slope, so you are not skiing by the “braille method” quite so much.)

I’d swoop around one tree and my skis would try to either impale me on the branches of the next Lodge Pole Pine or dive into its tree well. I’m still thanking God for protecting me ... especially during one particular turn in the steep trees.... [We were in a much tighter section of the East Trees of Mirkwood (backside) than I usually prefer. (In fact, I usually avoid the East Trees; they are too close together for my liking. We’d been planning to come down the spine of the ridge into the section known as Lodgeview. In the snowstorm we got a little off course.)] Anyway, I sensed a more open section beyond the one big Lodge Pole I was quickly closing on. I knew I was going to flirt with its well so I chose to carry my speed to help me blast through to the other side.

Oops! I tracked even closer than I meant to. I was going to have to whap that branch that was bent down into the snow ... cutting between the uphill branch and the lodge pole. Just a split-second before executing this move I realized, “That’s not a ‘branch;’ it’s another TREE! I angulated a LOT and managed to *tag* the thick-as-my-wrist trunk with both knees. Instead of “whapping” through that tree, I stopped.

“Imagine that! Here I am in my fifth(!) tree well of the day. And I might have broken something,” I thought. “What an idiot!”

I took some time to work up my BDA [Battle Damage Assessment]. It appeared that both knees still worked. (Thank you, Lord!)

Both buddies saw my mishap and reported it wasn’t tree well fluff that almost suffocated me, but the *dump* of snow I knocked off the tree top ... which fell right on me in the well. The panic of “I’m gonna drown in here” was short-lived.

I managed to crawl/roll/dig out. [Gasp! Wheeze!!!] That’s a lot more work than skiing....

[I’ve skied for over 35 years. I’ve skied the trees at least 20 years. Until this past Saturday I’ve never fallen into or been sucked into a single tree well. Now I’ve been in SIX! Ugh!!!]

If that had been happening to someone else I might have thought it was funny! It wasn’t funny.

2. Bad Instincts
It was snowing so much, familiar areas seemed less so, and I kept getting off course in the glades I thought I knew so well. When I’m in “Normal” tree-skiing mode I
have grown to trust my ability to judge the “lay of the land” and sense the frequency/density of trees in my chosen path.

Not this day.

I cannot recall two times when my intuition was right about which way to go in the trees. (Not “two times in a row” but “two times, period!”) Man!!! That was rough!

In hindsight my “internal GPS” wasn’t just “off” a little. It was way out of whack. I was amazed at how many times I’d reach the Cat Track runout at the base of the bowl and be astonished at being at least 150 yards East of where I intended to meet the Track.

In fact, thinking about it now, I always seemed to err to the East; no matter if I was skiing Front side or Back. (Hmmm.... I wonder if there’s something to this...?)

Anyway, when I combined my near-perfect misreads of the terrain and timber ... with my board’s having minds of their own and wanting to bash me into the trees ... I had a pretty challenging day. (My buddies were very good sports.)

The irony is, I still had a blast! So ... if my second-worst day ever of proficiency can still produce a cheshire grin, what am I complaining about???

The Moral(s) Of The Story
First, it was good to ski with buddies. I didn’t need them to rescue me from any of my tree wells ... but it was nice to know they were nearby. (This makes me remember how difficult it was to keep track of each other in the forest and heavy snow. Especially when “Z” was wearing all white. I recall a sign which used to be prominently displayed at the Bear Mt. base at Killington: something like, “These mountains will be just as cold, dark and dangerous tonight as they were 200 years ago. DON’T SKI ALONE.”)

Second, I should not have given-in to my ego and kept going. This day I should have just stuck to the front side trails and let my buddies ski without me. Determination is one thing; obstinacy could have gotten me injured.

Third, keep smiling! There are still several tracks to be put down the next trip.

- KK