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Break on through to the other side....

post #1 of 39
Thread Starter 

I am a different skier than I was three weeks ago. And that is after more than four decades on skis. And it did not have anything to do with new equipment, or new instruction or some newly discovered technique. It had to do with courage.

After more than 40 years of skiing in my home state of Maine, my first time out west gave me the opportunty and inspiration to push my personal comfort boundaries in a way that has influenced more than just my experience on the hill.

Spent six days at Vail in mid February with my wife. The terrain was the first revelation. Imagine skiing in a bowl filled with snow and virtually no boundaries. Coming from the tree defined streets of snow here in Maine, the experience was intoxicating. And that snow. Consistent, dependable, not a shrowd or shill for hidden boilerplate. And that all got me thinking. The first couple days I spent wife my dear wife who begain the week as a solid yet rather timid blue skier. We skied the front side of wide open boulevards of lovely white carpet. For me, hero stuff. And for her, comfortable. Moved into the China Bowl and easy glades at Blue Sky. Stunning. But for me, increasingly unsatisfying. Especially when I looked up the imposing north (?) wall to lines, not trails, with names like Ghengis Kahn, Dragon's Teeth and Jade Glade. At first well beyond my visual comfort level. But as the blues turned into the "blues," about the third day, the need to hurl myself down that face overcame my fear of it. So I ditch my lovely and headed up the Tea Cup Express. Damn if it did not look tantilizing and rather terrorfying floating safely above the cornice that "protects" the lines from the unwilling. Screwed up my nuts and headed down Dragon's. Remarkable. I could ski this. I could own this. And I did. And at the bottom I felt on top of the world. So I did it again, and made it more interesting by cutting over to Jade. And I got stronger with each turn. Survival turned into strength. What else does this hill have.

So I went up the lift again with a father and son who looked timidly over the bar at the Ghengis cornice. And I said lets do it. And they agreed. But the mountain gods exacted a price. On the way up Tea Cup, the light snow showers were whipped up into a full white out by the time we de-lifted. The flat traverse to the top of Ghengis was bizarre in this all white world. At one point, my knees buckled under me. Apparently, I had stopped, but my brain was still moving resulting in instantaneous disequalibrium. A bad omen for our first drop? Finally reached the ultimate lip of the cornice which stood sentry. The elements conspired against us. The world was a white blender, and we were perched on the edge contemplating the blades. And then I moved onto the vertical. And then my feet hit a feather bed on a 30 plus degree pitch. And I turned and I turned and I soared.

A new found feeling of confidence drove my feet for the rest of the day. I had never done the trees before. But my companions took me into the woods for an exhilerating romp in that playground. Hit Skree, a terrain park designed by mother nature. Wood, cliffs and pow. By the end of the day. I truly felt that I had penetrated a barrier woven by a longstanding and limiting fear of terrain that no longer bound me. And it carried me through the rest of the week. I hit terrain with a confidence and determination that was liberating and elating.

There is no going back. Only forward. The ski stars favored me with a trip last week to Deer Valley where a friend scored a free condo for a week. So the first thing I did was to check out the map for the steeps in this area known for anything but. The Daly Bowl and chutes stand sentinel over the immaculate groomers and myriad fart bags. Jagged rock fashion tumbling rivers of snow with mogul rapids. Frightening from a distance. After two days with my blue buddy, that familiar mix of trepidation and determination drew me irresistably to the edge of the Daly Bowl. Damn that is steep, even with side access that led me on. And unlike the China wall, moguls and gashes littering the way. Testicals tightend and in I went. And it was good. OK, kind of survival on this first run down, especially the second half of the line when it gets tight and VW bug sized moguls want to eat you for lunch and then barf you out. And at the bottom, I looked up with no small sense of pride and satisfaction. And so I did it again. And skied it this time. And then again, and I crossed over to the first chute which narrows the turning options considerably. And it was all good and inspiring.

A couple more days with my buddy on the blues gave me the blues. I was grateful for a cancelled flight from NYC to Bangor which gave me one more day of redemption. The day was glorious. Sunny and in the mid forties - with a 40-60mph wind blowing over the Daly cornice. And there I stood, alone, pushing the limit again. Contemplating my first real mandatory air drop into the Daly chute onto a 40 degree or so mogul field. Mother nature's windy arm "coaxed" me over the edge. And then it all went silent, except for the snow beneath my feet. The turns were automatic. Magical. And three turns later, I was half way down the most challenging terrain I had ever attempted. And it was good. And even better the second, third and fourth times.

I am no hero. And as a 52 year old father of three and attorney/musician/photographer, am no fool. I have the skills to ride that wave. I only lacked the desire and inspiration and opportunity. I write this in the hopes that those similarly situated might reach beyond their own comfort level, no matter what that personal boundary may be. To break on through to the other side, as Jim Morrison put it. It will change your skiing and more.

Thanks for reading

Happy trails,


post #2 of 39

Well done.  You really are a much better skier then you thought or relayed to me, prior to meeting you on this trip.  Very comfortable on your skis.  It was wonderful to ski with someone with such enthusiasm and excitement for the sport and the mountains.  I sure hope we all meet up again on a mountain far away.


Next time I'll take that leap. (broken bones be darned)

post #3 of 39

Uh oh...

Now you are hooked.  A Western trip per year is now mandatory.

Good luck and have fun! 

post #4 of 39
Thread Starter 


Originally Posted by lady_Salina View Post


Well done.  You really are a much better skier then you thought or relayed to me, prior to meeting you on this trip.  Very comfortable on your skis.  It was wonderful to ski with someone with such enthusiasm and excitement for the sport and the mountains.  I sure hope we all meet up again on a mountain far away.


Next time I'll take that leap. (broken bones be darned)

And it was Lady Salina who permitted me to coax her over the edge of the China Bowl. She broke on through to the other side in a most elegant and inspiring way. And she and the Old Boot are splendid instructers who helped my dear one move to the other side....of the mountain. From blues to blacks. She even went looking for pow! Amazing.

It was a joy making turns with you and The Old Boot. There will be another time. 

Edited by deliberate1 - 3/6/2009 at 05:19 pm
post #5 of 39

Thank you for sharing your story. I'm being more and more inspired to start some of the harder runs that I've been longing for years but never had enough courage to try.  I can only hope that I find my own moment of breakthrough just like you have either this season or next season.

post #6 of 39

Sounds like a good old fashioned mid-life crisis.    I can relate. Three or four years ago, when I was your age, I had a similar type moment at Kirkwood, CA. Making one of my first runs from the summit I took the big plunge down The Wall, then rode a shoulder of moguls and dipped through a rock slot. After about 1800 vertical feet the run bottomed out in a huge gully called The Drain. Near the end I blurted out to myself, "yes, I can do this!" That kind of adrenaline rush never gets old.

post #7 of 39

Congrats, but there's no turning back now. What you discovered is what makes me laugh about East vs. West threads - the terrain in the west just makes you better.


The terrain in the west can't be found in the east, and suddenly when confronted with it, you realize "so this is what it's all about" - yup. And once you find out, you can't go back - sorry. And yes, I'm fully well aware that Bode's from NH, but I suspect you saw more outrageous skiers in a day (even at Flail) then you'll see all season on the ice coast. If not, then spend a day at A-Basin next time for a revelation.


I do, at most, 10% of my skiing (50+ days) on the least coast - between the conditions and the terrain it's just not worth it. Let's see, last weekend was an ice patch, and this one will be a rainout. On my way at 3pm today to JFK to spend the next week driving the I-70 corridor in search of freshies.


So anyway - welcome to the club - now you get to make early reservations to go to UH for pow, Steamboat for trees, Whistler for terrain, PNW for gnar, etc. etc. Life's too short to ski less than that.

post #8 of 39

Reminds me of a reverse experince I had out west with same moral.  I was skiing down the Spiral Stairs at Telluride. It is a very steep big bumped run.  I was doing pretty well and stopped half way down the face.  As I rested I looked around, realized how freaking steep it really was and started thinking about the consequences if I fell.  I skied the second half terribly simply because of my mindset.  I had just proved to myself that I had the ability, but that if you don't think you can do it, you can't.


Skiing is not about complete control, but about letting it go and believing that you can get it back whenever and to whatever degree may be necessay to safely get down the hill.  The confidence in that space between control and no control is the crux of the biscut as they say.

post #9 of 39
Thread Starter 

SNofun, there is truth to what you say. One does not build confidence in a vacuum. I was willing literally to take the plunge because I knew that the snow was good under me. Dropping into Ghengis at Vail in a blinding white out was possible and sane only because I knew from other runs next to it that the snow I would land on was soft and dependable. In the east, every trail can be a patchwork of conditions - ice, pow, hard, etc. It can take all your concentration just figuring out a place to turn. and that adds to the degree of difficulty. This also makes one a more attentive skier but creates limits. I would have never attempted the Daly Chutes if the surface was not entirely predictable, though it surely was not ideal as at Vail. Because there had been no snow at DV for over a week and a melting/freezing cycle, it was too hard in the moring to ski. I waited till the afternoon for it to soften some. And the big winds also blew new snow right over the cornice into the chutes and bowl. While the bumps were hard, there was soft in the vallies.

I am well aware of the east vs. west/who is the better skier debate. What I will simply say is that the conditions allowed me as an east coaster to explore new limits and steeper more technical terrain by taking the snow variable out of the equation. No way I would be charging down a 40 degree plus chute in typical ungroomed Maine condtions. Those banshees out west might have a different experience in my neck of the woods as well.

The snow liberated my wife as well. Got her a pair of Volkl Lunas at Vail to replace her antique K2 Escapes. Ater a day to acclimate and much help and inspiration for our Bear companions (Lady Salina, Old Boot, Vailsnopro and Bazzer), she moved from a timid blue skier to black bumps. She even looked for trees. Utterly amazing and so heartening.

So no doubt that skiing in the west is extraordinary. It was astonishingly liberating. I skied at a higher level there because the terrain willed me on and the snow let it happen. I have not been out on the hill in Maine since my return. It will be very interesting to see if I can maintain that same momentum under more unpredictable snow conditions.

Mudfoot, nice thoughts. I think my entire experience would have been quite different if I had exploded on any of the runs or had self doubt. I was lucky. Fact is that I only got positive feedback from the success I had. Instant gratification and reinforcement. But I "made" myself go back to the Daly chutes on the last day, just to prove it was not a fluke and to reinforce my earlier success. And I pushed myself more that day to take the next incremental step - which was the air drop in the chute vs the wider bowl. Saw a guy lateral from me just lose his footing and explode down the chute. His girfriend went after him and did the same. Kind of unnerved me, but simply took my time. No problem so long as focus maintained. What I came to realize is that the mountain offers no opinions - just the facts. Funny, I was on the top of a mogul run next to a woman who shuffled away saying, "that (trail) adds no meaning to my life." What a great thought. It captured precisely, but in opposite terms, exactly what my experience at Vail and in the Chutes did for me.

post #10 of 39

Deliberate, your experience brings to mind the conundrum of skiing the steeps. The steeper it is the more the natural inclination is to lean into the hill, which is exactly the opposite of what is needed to maintain your edge hold.  How do you get yourself to defy your natual instincts, lean out into space and let go, confidence and not much else.  It sounds like you found yours at Vail, which is a great example of how the big mountains can effect you at very primal and personal level, and also that it's never too late for an old dog to learn a few new tricks.   Nice going.  Keep turning'em!

post #11 of 39
Thread Starter 

Mudfoot, with success, fear is replaced by exhilerration. As I dropped in I  constantly repeated "relaxed and centered." Physically, focused on keeping my shoulders level and skiing into the fall line as much as possible. It worked for me. Good technique breeds success, builds confidence and dispells fear. I should very much like to make some of those turns with you sometime. David

post #12 of 39

Good for you! Way to go!

post #13 of 39

deliberate1, excellent story & thanks for sharing.  Yep, the Western mountains have a way of calling out, "ski what you can see".  And everywhere you look, there is more mountain, more snow, more to try, more to experience, more to ski.  Which really makes me want my old forum signature back !


Really liked the " what adds meaning to our lives, or does not add. "

post #14 of 39


Originally Posted by deliberate1 View Post


Mudfoot, with success, fear is replaced by exhilerration. As I dropped in I  constantly repeated "relaxed and centered." Physically, focused on keeping my shoulders level and skiing into the fall line as much as possible. It worked for me. Good technique breeds success, builds confidence and dispells fear. I should very much like to make some of those turns with you sometime. David

Let me know the next time you head out west and maybe we can hook up for a few runs.  My skiing is pretty much confined to the Rockies, but I cover them from New Mexico to Canada as circumstances and finances permit. It's always good to hear about someone who has been skiing for a long time breaking on through to a new level. It gives me hope that this old dog may not be out of tricks yet.

post #15 of 39
Thread Starter 

I really appreciate all your kind thoughts. If there is any "moral" here it is that my limits proved to be more emotional than technical or physical. And getting to the next level invoved a readjustment in attitude, and little more. But one thing I did learn and that helped me enormously was the advantage of relaxing under fire. Easy arms and definitely easy, compliant legs take the fight out of the mountain. It was the key to speed control, particularly when negotiating the massive bumps in the lower chutes - the ones where you drop five or six feet off the back side at times. Absorbing all that energy with easy knees slowed everything way down. The problem, of course is that the harder it gets the harder it gets to stay easy. But I found that the more this worked for me the less spooky the stteps and bumps were....and the more fun. 

post #16 of 39

Carving continuously with a flexible knee over variable terrain and snow is the unltimate goal for me. It works better and requires less muscle, but is easier said than done. It sounds like you are starting to experience the holy grail of relaxing your physical and metal state while ripping. Once you get to a certain point the steeps actually become easier because gravity is doing all the work.  It really is a revelation when you start to feel that you are no longer fighting gravity and the mountain but making them work for you.


After spending years attacking the mountain I finally realized that I could not prevail in that fight for any extended period of time.  For me the break was to almost completely abandon any focus on technique and and just concentrate on feel.  Obviously, you need some basic solid technique to take that step, but once I made that mental change and started feeling my connection to the snow it quickly became a lot easier in all conditions and terrain, and eventually affected my equipment choices.  "Relaxed focus" is not an oxymoron, but the key to every sport. It just gets rather interesting trying to accomplish it at high speed in the bumps, trees or on the steeps.

post #17 of 39
Thread Starter 

Mudfoot, I share your observations. Relaxation leads to more controlled and less fatigued skiing. And I can prove it. I live at sea level - literally. Sea spray hits my front window. I was really concerned how I would fare skiing at 10,000 feet. Turns out. No problem. One day at Vail I skied 6.5 hours straight. No quad burn or alititude effects even though I really did not train for the trip and had only a few days earlier this season. And at DV I could do vigorous top to bottom lift runs effortlessly. Though when I sought out bump runs (my nemesis) I did huff and puff some.

When I really began to relax, a conscious effort, I began to feel more centered and more connected to my feet - like that was where the action was happening.  That was a bit of a revelation as well. Ultimately I could feel when I was not relaxed, because I lost the "center" and the foot focus. Funny, all that is more of a mental thing. A presence. Almost Zen-like. Ski with your brain and your feet. That works.

post #18 of 39

Thanks for the story, and for the thread. It's exhilerating, even as I sit at my desk eating my lunch...  I love that feeling of falling forward down into a steep line and realizing your feet, legs, hips, arms, etc are all working together with little input from the mind to generate that "free, free, free" feeling!  Or darting through tight tree's where your mind is just saying "go there, now there, quick over there" and the rest of you is making it happen. Gotta love this sport... it WILL keep you young and smiling.

post #19 of 39
Thread Starter 

Wallee, know the feeling and love it too. Forgive me but, you live in Denver. Put down your damn sandwhich and get on 70 west.

post #20 of 39

Har har.  Ya... as my roadie friends like to say when someone tries to sneak away from the pack, just as the attacker peeks over his shoulder "I'm wich'ya!". 

Problem is, I gotta make the $ to feed the addiction, especially with a wife and a 10yr old that are (almost) equally addicted!

I really enjoyed reading your thread, and had Morrison going on in the back of my head - excellent linkage...

post #21 of 39
Thread Starter 

Hear ya bud. A "fix" at Vail sets you back $97 per day. Don't even want to think how much that really is. How about that Epic or Colorado Pass next year for you and the brood? The Epic one sounds, well, just that. Happy trails. David

Originally Posted by Wallee View Post



Problem is, I gotta make the $ to feed the addiction, especially with a wife and a 10yr old that are (almost) equally addicted!



post #22 of 39

One of the best trip reports I've ever read, David! Thanks for sharing your personal breakthrough--and eloquently, I might add. It's awesome, isn't it, when skiing transcends the technical and mundane and introduces us to ourselves in ways we never expected. Congratulations, and well done!



 The first couple days I spent wife my dear wife


Hmm.... Hope you got something good! ("I got some new skis for my wife." ... "Good trade!")


Or did you mean something entirely different?



Sounds like a great vacation, either way!


For what it's worth, as much as I agree with you about the wonders of the western mountains and terrain, there's something to be said, too, for the narrow, winding runs of New England. Skiing them well requires its own skill set and tactics. (I'll never forget Vail Sno_Pro's grinning comment on our first run at Stowe, for the first eastern EpicSki Academy: "Wow--I need a whole new turn shape here...my Vail turns don't fit!") And there's something about the smell of hardwood forests in the spring, when the maple sap starts running, and you're cruising through the slushy spring snow.... From a fellow Mainer who still gets homesick now and then, don't knock what you've got back there either. It's all good!


Best regards,


post #23 of 39

Great TR, I feel your excitement in your words. Don't we all live for days like the one you described?

post #24 of 39
Thread Starter 


Originally Posted by Bob Barnes View Post




Hmm.... Hope you got something good! ("I got some new skis for my wife." ... "Good trade!")


Or did you mean something entirely different?



Bob, I looked for a blushing smiley after reading your most kind note. I am touched that it resonated with you and others. To do something for so long only to be blessed with a thoroughly new revelation nearly defies description. What makes this site so special is the fact that we can share in each others successes and miseries.

To clarify, "The first couple days I spent skiing with my dear wife." We both "scored" on this trip.You know what I got. She got a new pair of Volkl Lunas. And at the end of one day, Ric (Vail Sno Pro) spent about thirty minutes with her which revolutionized her technique and expectations. He is a splendid teacher and a very generous soul. Once she figured out that she had poles and knees that functioned, she was off the blues and onto Gandy and the bowls looking for pow. Just today she thanked me again for this experience which meant so much to both of us for much the same reason. Her breakthrough gives me more satisfaction than my own. I want her to love this obsession as much as I do. And she is getting there. Ric had considerabley less success with me. He put me in a traverse stance, got below me and nearly yanked my arm out of its socket trying to get my weight on the downhill ski. Frankly, the sledge hammer approach works pretty good with me. I got it.

I could smell the spring pine and spruce in your post. Last year we took our last runs at the Loaf on May 2 and 3. Seventy degrees and pond skimming. Never had to go in the lodge before because it was too hot. Ladies scantily clad, soft moguls, warm breezes and snowcone snow just never grows old, even as I do. Only thing missing was a tin roof sun tan on the old Harvey Boyington ski shop. Remember that? 

Bob, if you should happen to get homesick enough to make it back to the place that nutured your passion, drop me a note. I'll show you where the scantily clad women are.

Warm regaads,


post #25 of 39


Bob, if you should happen to get homesick enough to make it back to the place that nurtured your passion, drop me a note. I'll show you where the scantily clad women are.

 Ummm...hold on, I'll be right there!


Yes, I do remember Haahvey Boynton's ski shop! I got my first pair of "real" (that is, with metal edges and real bindings and little rubber lace-up boots--Blizzards, they were!) skis there when I was probably 4 years old. Funny thing--Harvey Boynton's shop just came up just yesterday in a conversation on a chairlift at Arapahoe Basin. I'm sure I hadn't thought of Harvey Boynton's ski shop for a long, long time before that.


I'm glad you got to ski with Ric/VSP. I'm sure he steered you right!


I was going to edit my previous post, on your suggestion, but it appears that we do not have a blushing smiley.


Best regards,

post #26 of 39
Thread Starter 

Bob, I ski on Blizzard Titan Cronus now. But my first ones Blizz's may have been the same vintage as yours. Red were they? With Tyrolia bindings?


post #27 of 39

Red they were!


And my Dad trained me to say "Bliz-ZARD," which was how "those in the know" were supposed to pronounce it in the day. Now it's all changed, they tell me, and it's BLIZ-erd, like the snow storm.


I think I'll just stick to "Nor' eastah"!


Best regards,


post #28 of 39
Thread Starter 

You know this has turned into one of those classic Mainer moments. It was always, and remains BliZZARD, for me as well. Damn if going up to the Loaf tomorrow doesn't sound like a good idea. If I get there, I'll dedicate a run down the Gaugue to you.



post #29 of 39

For full disclosure, I should amend my story about those Blizzards. Fact is, they were actually my second pair of real skis. But I got my first pair of real skis at Harvey Boynton's too--just moments earlier.


My very first skis were just varnished wood with pine-tarred bases, and no metal edges, and little hooks on the sides that my dad would loop clothesline through to fasten them to my snow boots so I could play around in the back yard and fields. Then we went to Sugarloaf, to Harvey Boynton's, and bought a pair of used "real" skis with metal edges and real bindings and boots and all that. I don't actually remember what kind those were. They were blue. We hiked to the bunny slope--my dad and me--and loaded the T-bar. We'd probably gone up a good twenty feet or so, when I fell over backwards. The T-bar caught the tails of my skis and ripped the binding screws right out. So, back to the shop, where we replaced my first skis with the shiny red Blizzards!


Come to think of it, I'll bet that's a record! How many others on these forums have worn out and destroyed a pair of skis in just one run, before even getting to the top--at age four? How's that for a pre-release story?



Best regards,


post #30 of 39

Just adding my voice to the choir... really enjoyed this threadThumbs Up

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