Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Skiing - best of times, worst of times

My first weekend of teaching children was incredible, ending with a powder day on Sunday.  This past weekend was a stark reminder of the realities of skiing in the northeast.  A huge swath of the country was hit by the storm that his us this past weekend.  Sugarbush even managed to avoid the worst of the storm.  Areas to the north were hit with significant amounts of ice.  Regretfully, we did have to deal with a lot of rain and warm temperatures through the weekend.

Frequently, the weekend before Christmas can be somewhat slow in the seasonal ski school programs.  The kids have the entire year to ski, and the weekend before Christmas, the trail count is often low and everyone is preparing for Christmas at home.  The weekend after Christmas, on the other hand, is zoo-like, with huge crowds, often on limited terrain.

The forecast for this past weekend was ominous.  Lots of rain and warm temperatures were the main worries, plus potential periods of icing.  As my wife and I headed home from work on Friday night, the car thermometer read 23F and it was raining.  It was a slow drive home, but the roads weren't too bad.  Well, I also have brand new studded snow tires on a Subaru, which helped a lot.  We saw a handful of accidents in the northbound lane, but southbound remained accident-free the whole way home.

When I got up on Saturday morning (extra early - fearing a bad drive to the mountain), it was 37F and drizzling.  On my way to the mountain, I drop from 1110' (where my house is) to about 690' as I go through our little town.  The temperature in town was 33F, but I didn't encounter any ice.  On the way to the mountain, I cross a ridge-line on a dirt road.  The temperature climbed as I climbed to the ridge, and peaked at 47F.  On the way down from the peak, it dropped to 37F and then returned to 47F at the parking lot at the mountain.

I was very early, picked up my skis from the shop, where they'd been getting a new edge and a wax, and headed to the locker room.  I was supposed to lead a clinic about tree skiing safety, but none of the people who were expected to be there showed up.  We had a number of experienced instructors ready to go by 8:00, but the snow was not fun at all.  Things were firm and un-groomed, and it seemed like a challenging day was ahead of us.  But, the rain had stopped.  And, bit by bit, the warmer temperatures began to soften the snow.  The skiing was really fun as the snow softened, although the trail count had dropped tremendously due to warmer temps.  All of the natural snow trails we'd loved in the powder last week were gone, and we only had snowmaking trails to use.

By 11:00 or so, light rain had returned.  I only had one student for the day and we took an early lunch break.  But after lunch, the rain picked up in intensity and my one student was soaked and cold by 1:30.  She called her dad and ended her day at 1:30.  I headed home, taking every piece of wet gear with me, so I could dry my uniform and gloves and boots overnight.

Rain continued overnight, but unlike the northern tier of Vermont, our temperatures remained a bit warmer, bottoming out at 31F.  My ride to the mountain on Sunday morning was slower than the day before, but there wasn't much ice on the road.  At the mountain, the conditions were again firm and un-groomed, and it was raining.  We did one warm-up run and headed inside for some coffee.  Slowly, the rain dissipated and the temperature started to climb.  I used the varying snow conditions to do some teaching related to pressuring movements - deciding whether to make turns with a dominant outside leg if that allowed the ski to bite into the snow, vs. using two-footed movements on firmer snow where the ski wouldn't grip.  Later in the day, my two students wanted to do some backwards skiing and some single-legged skiing.  I let them do that, but turned both exercises into lessons about how to do those things correctly.  After they realized that even the game they wanted to play was going to be a lesson, they agreed to head back up the mountain for a bit.  We managed to ski right up until the end of the day this day.

The temperatures on Sunday were all over the place.  We would be in fog and cold air on a chair ride, and suddenly get hit by a blast of warm air.  Moments later, the cold air would return.  On my way home from the mountain, I saw temperatures from 30F to 55F - quite a range, and the elevation didn't even seem to be a factor.  It seemed completely random.

So, after a great first teaching weekend, we got a very mediocre weekend for our second week.  Welcome to December skiing in New England.  But, I met some new students, I got paid to go skiing, and I had a lot of fun.  There is no snow in the forecast right now, but the snow-making guns are running at the mountain again.  Hopefully, we will have enough quality terrain for the hordes of skiers expected this coming weekend.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

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