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kevinbroderick.com » Blog Archive » First Ride Up Vista

First Ride Up Vista


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After spending most of Christmas Day working, I decided to take a few runs after dinner. There are a lot of downsides to living twenty yards from your office, particularly as the lone person in an IT Department, but there are also benefits. Taking three runs after dinner is one of the more important ones.

If you haven’t been following the press releases, the Vista Quad is a fixed-grip Doppelmayr installation that replaces the Vista double on Ricker Mountain. Although it doesn’t go to the true summit of the mountain, it does gain a bit more vertical than the old double; it also has the advantage of starting from the bottom of the hill rather than just above the top of the Mid-Mountain Double. It has 15 freestanding towers plus the drive and return terminals and opened to the public at 1145 hours on Friday, 23 December 2005.

I’ve been looking forward to the quad since I was taking some construction photos a week ago and noticed that Alta Vista and Spillway were already well-covered in snow; the terrain served by 8801 is nice, but the cover is all-natural and subject to the vagaries of Vermont weather. I stepped out of the hotel just before 1900 hours, loosing my grip on the exit door to an overpowering guest of wind; I worried that the lift might be on wind hold, but it was still turning. After stopping briefly for the lift operator to step out of the shelter at the drive terminal, I began my first ride up our new lift amidst harsh freezing rain. I resorted to hiding my goggles and face with my hands, in the hope that I’d be a bit more comfortable and still be able to see when I got to the top. In doing so, I realized that the pit zips on my Burton AK jacket were wide open, and I wasn’t quite warm enough to justify that. I took a deep breath and removed my gloves to close the jacket; it performed quite admirably from that point on.

As I continued up the lift, I could hear the frozen raindrops skittering off my helmet and the Gore-Tex shells of my jacket and pants; it seemed oddly anticlimactic to be riding our shiny new lift in the middle of a nighttime storm on Christmas. I peeked out from behind my gloves as the frozen stuff abated near the top of 8802, and noticed that the landscape around Spillway had changed dramatically due to the new lift line. Despite having hiked through there more than once over the summer, I hadn’t quite realized the extent of the change. The vast majority of Spillway—the steep part, to be more specific—is now clearly visible under the lift; I watched a snowboarder do what appeared to be an extended sideslip for most of the headwall. The snow looked rather firm, although certainly not icy.

At the top, I decided to take a run down Sherman’s first; I would have liked to give Alta Vista a shot, but it’s not an option after the sun goes down. The snow was firm but quite grippy, but visibility was even worse than on a normal night. Between the ice on my goggles and the ice that was still falling from the sky, I was quite tentative over the first few rolls; the additional vertical provided by the new lift also made the angle of attack coming into Sherman’s slightly different, and I wanted to be quite sure not to take a wrong turn in one of the dim spots between the lights.

After running a bit of one-ski drill on the middle flat, I started to feel more confident; I began to attempt the left-hand hairpin on my left foot before caution got the better of me and I put my right foot down. As I came by the top of 8802, I carried just enough speed to glide onto the top of Beach Seal and link a few good GS turns before hitting the runout to the lift. The snow on Beach Seal was excellent; it was grippy while still quite firm, allowing plenty of edge angle without much risk of the snow breaking away underneath the ski or the edge failing to bite.

On my second ride up the quad, I paid a bit more attention to the trails underneath me; the ice seemed to have slackened a bit, and I was okay leaving my face exposed. The areas under the lift seem much more open than before, and I’m quite curious to see how that plays out once we have a bit more snow to fill in the low spots. I also realized that more of the ride up seems to be lit now; the eerie feeling of riding in the darkness above Show Off seems to be gone, but the reflective precipitation might have contributed.

Feeling good about the turns I’d made on Beach Seal, I decided to tighten up my boots before I gave Spillway a shot. In the process of testing their flex with the buckles a bit tighter, I lifted my heel clear out of my left ski. That’s the second time I’ve inadvertently stepped out in a non-critical situation this season; I also managed to double-eject while attempting to rock forward and lift my heels on the flat near the top of 8802 on the 15th. I’m beginning to wonder if I really want to leave them at the by-the-book DIN setting or not, and I’m definitely looking forward to having FK’s turntables on my new skis.

With both skis attached, I headed down Spillway. Being my first run down a steep pitch this year, I was tentative; the combined effect of the lights and the weather didn’t help, either. The snow was similar to that on Sherman’s and Beach Seal–it was firm, but soft enough to be grippy. As I expected, there were a few spots that were a bit more slick, but my skis being only reasonably sharp was still enough to control my descent on the way down. Despite my initial intention to get myself forward and make some real slalom turns down the headwall, I backed off in deference to the light and snow conditions and settled for well-faked short-swing turns; the lack of trees along the edge of the trail is a bit disconcerting at night, as it’s not always clear which way the trail bends over a knoll. Once I hit the bottom of the pitch, though, I was able to carry a bit more speed across the flat and onto Beach Seal, which again exceeded my expectations for snow surfaces tonight.

I decided to get in at least one more run and headed back up the quad. To my dismay, I noticed that I didn’t need to protect my face at all–the precipitation had taken a sharp turn for the worse and was remaining in liquid form all the way down. A small amount of facial discomfort is well worth the knowledge that the weather isn’t eating the snow like a swarm of locusts in a blossoming field.

Somewhere above the top of 8802, though, the weather turned back towards freezing and the falling ice resumed its attack on exposed skin. It kept up the battle even as I linked turns down Sherman’s, assuming a modified high tuck that allowed my hands to again protect my face. Shortly thereafter, I pulled up outside the breezeway and tried to remove as much water (both frozen and liquid) from my clothing and equipment prior to coming back inside and turning to a small home improvement project.

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