Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Three days of skiing

While the monster snowstorm known as Nemo was pummeling other parts of New England, it mostly missed the area where I live.  We got about 6 inches of snow from a separate storm before Nemo arrived, and then maybe 4 more inches of snow at my house.  Sugarbush was reporting 14" total from the two storms when I arrived at the mountain on Saturday morning.

With the new snow, the mountain was re-opening some natural snow trails that had been closed, and two friends and I headed for one of those trails first.  Despite the new snow, I thoroughly disliked the run we did. I bought a new pair of skis this season.  They are skis that are strong on hard snow, on ice, on groomers, on the race course, and they even do well in mixed snow - also known as "crud".  But, I simply find them too stiff in the bumps, especially harder bumps, and I don't like them in powder or trees.  I am currently looking around for a second ski to cover these other conditions.  I really struggled with those skis in that first run.

Anyway, as the day went on, I was happier with how my skis were performing.  It was only that first run where I was unhappy.  After a morning spent on natural snow bumps and in some easy trees, I got permission from my boss for my group to hike from the top of an open lift to the top of a closed lift.  The runs at the closed lift were open to skiing, but the lift was not running.  I am guessing that ski patrol and mountain ops knew that if the lift was open, the snow would get destroyed by the high traffic it would see.

Most of my group were enthusiastic about the mile-long trek on the Long Trail to get to the Castlerock portion of Sugarbush.  It took longer than I expected, but the trip went without incident.  Here is a photo of my group posing at the top of a rock along the Long Trail:

After hiking for an hour or so, we re-grouped and prepared to ski a trail called Middle Earth.  Partway down Middle Earth, the students wanted to stop at another vista and play for a while, which I let them do.  They spent time exploring "tree wells", which form when small coniferous trees manage to create air pockets where you would expect to find snow.  Falling into a tree well, especially upside-down is fairly dangerous.  It can be tough to get out of tree well on your own, and if you move too much snow around, you can actually drop the snow onto your head in the tree well and suffocate.  It's not a common occurrence, but at least one skier in the U.S. died this way at White Pass ski area last season.  In the photo below, the boys on the right are poking around in some tree wells:
After exploring for a while, we headed down Middle Earth - our best ski run of the day.

On Sunday, things had changed at the mountain.  The fresh snows from the day before had "set up", and many natural snow trails were no longer fun.  Even some of the easy tree runs had deteriorated, leaving us with fewer skiing options.

But, we managed to have fun.  We did some racing, we skied a few natural bump runs, and we skied some steep terrain that proved somewhat challenging.  To end the day, we worked on jumping techniques for a while.

On Monday, I was able to confirm that I would get to ski all day on Tuesday with a friend from out of state. So, I took Monday as a rest day, knowing that a full day of skiing with an expert skier who is also an ultra-marathon runner would be challenging.

And then, it rained on Monday night.  My wife and I had visited some friends for dinner after work, and a drive home that would normally take no more than an hour took three full hours, including 75 minutes parked on an interstate that was completely iced up.

We were supposed to see some snow on Tuesday, but I wondered if the mountain would be bulletproof ice after the rain on Monday night.  What we found was a mixed bag.  Trails that were groomed Monday evening before the rain were fairly slick.  Trails groomed Tuesday morning were choppy at places, but fairly nice.  The upper mountain had been spared most of the rain, and there were even pockets of snow.  Lower mountain terrain that had not been groomed at all mostly fell into the spectrum of "not fun" to "downright scary".  We did one run on a lower mountain, natural snow bump run.  Without a doubt, it was the least fun ski run I've had in years.  But, at the summit, we found a couple inches of windblown powder in a bump line on a double black run and we had a blast there.  We made about half a dozen trips to the summit and skied every snow-making trail that was open on that side of the mountain.  By the time we called it a day, we had skied close to 30,000 vertical feet in one day - the most I've done in a day this year.  Before I became an instructor, I skied that many vertical feet nearly every time I skied, but it's rare to ski that many runs these day.

So, we had a day of powder and packed powder, a day of mixed conditions, and a day of firm conditions.  With warm weather expected today and Friday, Saturday will probably start out firm and fast.  But, we may get up to 6" of snow during the day on Saturday.  And then, starting on the 19th, we enter a period of unsettled weather that may produce three big storms in rapid succession.  That would help the mountains in the northeast tremendously.

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