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kevinbroderick.com » Blog Archive » First Turns

First Turns


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Sometimes, you just have to go skiing.

When you get hit with two feet of Vermont powder in late October, you are experiencing one of those times. I got a hint of what was to come when, on the night of 25 October 2005, my car wouldn’t go all the way up the access road. I’ve worked at Bolton for over two years now and was living in Burlington until last April, and that’s the first time I’ve ever gotten stuck coming up the hill. Admittedly, it’s the first time I’ve tried to make my summer tires work in a snowstorm, but that just adds to the excitement.

After a flat-tow from Timberline to the main base area, I left my car in the middle of the parking lot and went to sleep. I woke up to find piles of white, fluffy snow on my deck. Every instinct I had was telling me to grab my rock skis and head up the hill. Work can usually wait. Powder won’t.

Unfortunately, I had two problems.

  1. Work will usually wait, but I usually don’t spend a whole day during pre-season preparations at Jury Duty.
  2. My rock skis were last seen in my parents’ basement, 180 miles away

So I took a shower and got ready for work. As I stepped into the hallway, my neighbor was stepping out of his apartment with a pair of snowshoes in hand and his snowboard strapped to his backpack.

"Going hiking?" he asked.

"Nah, I need to work," I said, as the power went out.

Lest you forget, I’m the computer guy. There’s not much for me to be doing when the power is out, aside from hoping that it comes back on soon and that none of our computers get too upset in the process. I thought it might be a sign—if you can’t do anything useful, why hang around work instead of going skiing?—but then again, it might come back shortly. It had already flickered and come back twice that morning, so I decided to wait it out.

After checking in with Mountain Ops to make sure my stuck car wouldn’t be in their way, I went hunting for work that I could do. Around the time I had scared up a flashlight, the power came back on. UPSes began to wail, computers beeped, and the network was generally unhappy for about two minutes; after that, everything calmed down and seemed to function as it normally did. I returned to my office and set about dealing with a number of pre-season issues that needed to be tackled soon, if not sooner.

One of those issues took me over to Snowdaze Outfitters, our retail and rental shop. Kim, the shop manager, was there with Russ, a member of our accounting department and her fiance. They were discussing the possibility of a hike before the weekly Ops Meeting (at 1300 hours), and asked if I’d care to join them. We planned on meeting up again around 1115 for a quick run, and Kim let me borrow an old pair of rental skis. I rushed back to my office—there were a few things that needed to get done first—and then to my apartment, where I quickly dressed to ski. As one might expect, my boots had shrunk since the end of last year and some of my ski-specific clothing was nowhere to be found. Nonetheless, I threw my camera and a water bottle into a small backpack and headed back to Snowdaze.

At Snowdaze, I put the loaner skis down on the carpet and found that—by either fate or coincidence—the forward pressure was already correct for my boots. With a quick DIN adjustment, the skis were ready to go. I reached for my poles and realized that they were still in my apartment; rather than clomp back over in my ski boots, I borrowed a pair of rental poles to match the rental skis. Russ showed up, and we were off.

We decided to steer clear of the Vista project construction, so we followed snow machine tracks and someone else’s bootpack up the Wilderness Lift Line. Roughly five minutes up the hill, I remembered how much it sucks to hike in ski boots. Around thirty seconds later, I remembered how much aerobic capacity I don’t have, and I decided to stop for a breather. When I turned around, I realized that Kim wasn’t right behind me; she had been smart enough not to attempt Russ’s pace the whole way up. As she caught up, I almost managed to catch my breath, and we continued upwards. After what seemed a lengthy hike under Lift 1, we veered to our right and continued upwards.[1]

As we continued hiking, my lack of aerobic capacity did not improve, and I became quite aware that it was lunch time and I had not yet eaten. Given the ease with which I had reached the top of Wilderness repeatedly on my after-work hikes through the previous weeks, I told my body to shut up and deal—we weren’t even to the midstation yet. It didn’t prove a particularly good listener, and I was forced to admit that we weren’t going to make the summit. Or at least I wasn’t.

Kim and Russ prepare to ride the first snow of the season"Guys, I think I’m running out of gas," I said as we stopped for a brief water break. Russ suggested that we try to get just a bit farther—he and Kim were a bit more sensitive than I to the lack of pitch where we had stopped, which is the small payoff skiers get for putting up with great punishment while hiking. The deciding factor turned out to be time; as Kim pointed out, she and I were supposed to be at the Ops meeting at 1300, and it was fast approaching 1230. We hiked another hundred yards and prepared to descend; while Kim and Russ strapped in, I pulled out my camera.

We began our descent and quickly found the powder even deeper than expected. Other than a few stream crossings where running water had eaten away the snow, the ground was well-covered by a coat of Vermont powder. Unlike the fluffy and dry snow that occasionally graces the East (and for which the Rockies are famous), this snow made a good base layer and did not let you float right through to the dirt. On the other hand, it didn’t allow you to float effortlessly down the hill, either. I led the way, my camera now tucked under my jacket, and quickly found that my balance was almost as good as I’d like it to be. The snow, though heavy, was even; it grabbed consistently rather than suddenly, and I was able to adjust well enough to fake a few turns before one of my skis torpedoed downwards and the braking power of wet powder became evident. Harnessing just enough balance to stay upright, I pulled off to my left and quickly got ready to shoot, pulling down my goggles and removing my camera from the protection of my jacket. The snow was still falling steadily, which raised a little concern for the well-being of my camera and a substantial doubt about the capabilities of its autofocus system. I decided to see what would happen and hope for the best.

Russ appears in the distance, through the falling snow

Russ was the first rider down the hill, appearing through the snow after a moment or two, but Kim passed him and evidently enjoyed the snow before running out of momentum. Russ tried to keep going, but they both ended up walking for a bit. Putting my unfair advantage as a skier to use, I tucked my camera back into my jacket and skied past them. From below, it was quite evident how deep the snow was.

As Kim went by, I got my favorite pic of the day, shortly before she verified the snow depth herself. With another schuss and a quick turn or two, we had reached Lower Fanny Hill and then the base lodge.

We acknowledged that the run was short, the snow heavy, and the hike a fair bit of work—but it was October, and we had gone skiing in a powder dump that would have been exciting any time, much less a month before opening day.

With that, lunch time was over.[2]

Notes

1. I believe we probably hiked Work Road, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m far too unaware of trail names for someone who’s skied here for over two years; my apologies.

2. OK, so I did run back to my apartment and change before the Ops Meeting, resulting in an appearance at 1305 rather than 1300. Trust me—you didn’t want me to show up in my polypro.

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