Sunday, October 31, 2010

Growing a Winter Wonderland

Once the temperatures drop up on the mountain top, something magical happens. All of a sudden, against all of nature's intensions, a winter wonderland begins to develop amongst the trees and trails above 3000'. Men in hard hats and heavy ear protection scurry back and forth between the Great Metal Dragons that line the trees, shooting forth the white-ish blanket that creates a ski bum's dream come true :)

My dad was up for the weekend and his only goal was a pilgrimmage throught the muddy & half-frozen snowcat tracks to the snowy wonderfulness. Even though the mountain is probably opening soon, it was important for him to get up and see the landscaping improvements - of which there are so many this year - before they are covered! It's going to feel like such a snowier winter because of all the trail regrading and pipe replacement that's been going on all fall. Plus, he wanted to check out what kind of snow they were blowing - and if it was skiable yet! It's that super sticky and yellow snow with a white lace on top, which builds an awesome base but is a little trecherous for a smooth descent. ;)

But the greatness is coming. We watch the traffic on the mountain increasing every week. A month ago, I felt as thugh I had entire mountain to myself, but today my pack of two humans and three golden retreivers ran into six hikers, a patroller on a 4-wheeler, three snowmakers getting picked up by their supervisor in the suburban and the head of patrol racing up to yet another meeting. Pretty soon the Winter Wnderland will be complete and I won't be able to count how many people I run into on the mountain.

Thank you Mother Nature, Krom, the Snowmaking Fairy and all your amazing snowmaker minions!

Let the Winter Wonderland Grow!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sing-a-Song of Winter

Where it's snowing
All winter through,
That's where I want to be.

Snowball Throwing,
That's what I'll do...
How I'm longing to ski!
Through the snow-ow-ow-ow...

"Snow" by Irving Berlin

I had the utmost pleasure today to hike up to the snow today. One of my most cherished reasons for living in the mountains - even if there is no snow down here, I can simply walk up to where there IS snow :) But it's the idea of walking across some weather line, as the percipitation goes from wet to moist to hard then light floats down and feels just perfect as it covers the crunch of the leaves.
Vespi loves it too - she was very adamant about not going for a hike, but the look on her face when she saw the weather changing - she was a puppy again! And I? I was a kid again, laughing & running, throwing snowballs and singing at the top of my lungs!

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
Since we've no place to go
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

"Let it Snow!" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne

I love this song, not only is it sooo much fun to sing while walking through a snowstorm, but because it's about the accumulation! There isn't enough snow yet, so they might as well cuddle up in front of the fire and wait until the powder is ready in the morning! Awesome! Simply awesome!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reflection Season

As a ski bum, the month of October has increasingly brought less and less ski time and more and more reflection time.  I tend to think of hiking as reflection time, because my brain has soooo much time to wander about.  Anyways, being post-harvest season there are plenty of things of which take stock and see what you need to get ready for winter hibernation.  And on the Access Road, this means that trips to the Post Office become grand adventures!  But what I tend to focus primarily on a few things...

(1)  Fitness & Nutrition
(2)   Equipment & Technical Clothing
(3)   Household & Traditional Clothing

You might ask if these are in any particular order, and I would say YES.  Definately.  Of all things, my Fitness & Nutriotion levels are the most important.  If I or anyone in my family are not mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming season then what is there?  That's a different blog, but once I have double checked my workouts (am I trail running enough?) and my nutrition guidelines being followed (am I snacking too much?), then I am able to focus on what's really important: My Gear!! 

I love that my reflection time coincides with the beginning of the holiday shopping season, because all these gear catalogues start showing up at The Ski House!  This makes it much simpler to put together a list of all the items that need replacing from having that last final season in the snow and to find new items that I have been trying to add to my arsenal for years (like climbing protection!  argh!)   I call this my Want List, which serves as a miserable reminder that I can ride last year's stuff for one more season and that I don't really need anything on the list  :(  But it's still a great way to reflect on what I have and where I could possibly go in life - think of all the mountaineering we could do...

Finally, I look around at my little condo and try to see what needs fixing, like the tub, and what I would love - like one of those tall faucets for the kitchen.  Oh well.  These things aren't really important to me though.  Just things on the list that society needs me to change.  I guess that I can go reflect on the conflict between my inner self and society now. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dreaming of the First Snow!

One of the most prominent preoccupations of ski resort locals is tracking the weather.  I don't mean that we watch the Weather Channel when we get up in the morning and then go about the rest of our day.  I mean that we follow the weather, checking the radar several times a day, comparing our analysis of the upcoming system versus Jim Cantore, Alexandra Steele and our friends.  I have spent hours of my day watching for minute changes in the radar, hoping that the Nor'Easter will somehow combine with the cold air at the peak and give us a hint of what the upcoming winter will be like.
Waking up to Winter
First Snow 2009-2010 Season
Cooper's Lodge, The Long Trail, Killington, VT

Since I tend to be an extremely impatient person, I tend to have my bags packed and ready to go at any moment.  Go where?  To the peak, of course, because the first snowfall usually happens around 2 or 3 in the morning, when the temperature drops just enough to turn that fall rain storm into something more wonderful.  So we watch the weather in hopes that she will reveal exactly which night we should camp out above the snow line.  There is just something magical about hiking up the mountain during autumn and waking up surrounded by winter.

You can smell the difference coming as the humidity changes and the air becomes crystal clear, almost burning your nostrils with its clarity.  That first breathe in the morning, full of snowflakes and the fresh mountain air, is one of the most wonderful and magical moments of the year.  I always end up jumping out of bed, in a rush of excitement and end up wrestling in the fresh snowfall with Vespi.  You can feel the snow squeaking underneath your feet, with the freshly traumatized leaves crunching below.  Nothing makes me feel more like my six-year old self than racing around in the freshies, trying to experience all the snow before it melts by noon.  :)

Both the Weather Channel and are claiming that snow should fall in the Killington area either Friday or at least Saturday night.  These predictions have been confirmed by both Chef Frizzie and Aaron.  The only problem that I can foresee is how I am supposed to work those nights in the restaurant until 11pm and then hike up to the peak for the most magical morning of the season: the First Snow!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

One Season Does NOT a Ski Bum Make

Over the past several years, more and more visitors to Killington have explained to me that either they or one of their kids was a ski bum once.  This means that they spent an entire winter working somewhere in a ski resort town, either as a waitress, liftie, bus boy or even a ski instructor.  This "year off," both mentally and financially supported by the parents, is meant to expose the youth to the real world and convince them of the righteousness of the nine to five.  I am told stories about the horrors of living with 'burnouts' and the relief of getting skiing out of their system so they can return to graduate school or some other brainwashed profession.  These individuals cannot cope with the lack of financial security, running quickly home to their parents and the materialistic American lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed.

Female Ski Bum-in-Training
The Summit Lodge, Killington, Vermont
These seasonal workers never were, are not and will never be ski bums.  The ski bum lifestyle is not something that you can get out of your system in a single season.  It is a way of life that penetrates every breathe and thought that occurs, no matter the season.  A true ski bum could never blow off the mountains after a year of selling tickets or working as a liftie.  A real ski bum would quit that job halfway through the season because they didn't have the days off to go skiing!  The true ski bum doesn't care what kind of people live in the town, what kind of restaurants are available or if there is an acceptable theater district in the area - they care whether the mountain can sustain them for an entire lifetime of skiing and riding!

Being a ski bum is NOT easy.  You try balancing your budget when you can't work days while the mountain is open for skiing.  Sometimes I struggle to pay my heating bill, but that's why I have a -20 degree down sleeping bag.  I work nights as a waitress and bartender at the Birch Ridge Inn because the owners and the chef understand why I am here.  In fact, five years ago I went to my interview straight from the mountain with my snow pants on.  Winter weekends are spent coaching the Killington Hopefuls, so that I can ski while most locals are blacked out.   In fact, I have been told that when I don't get to ski, I am a real bitch.   I can't spend my money on late nights in the bar, expensive vacations or a closet full of clothes.  After paying my mortgage, my first priority is to make sure that I have all the necessary gear for the upcoming season.  Life is not about holding down some 40 hour a week job so that you can make your retirement dreams come true.

Skiing is Life, and you just work around it  :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't Blame the Boots!

I have always been fascinated by the skier who always blames their equipment for any fault in their own performance.  I have watched people flop down the Powerline, getting tossed backwards by an unnoticable terrain change only to have to them swing their arms wildly forward, resulting in some kind of fore and aft struggle.  Or how about the skier who slaps through the moguls, skis slamming into each mound of snow like they were giving it five.  My personal favorite is the groomed trail skier who, if only they had the precision boot fit, would have been able to more easily maneouver down that 'poorly maintained' section of trail.  They all come skiing up to the group, barely having noticed their arms and legs flopping around them, and proceed to blame the failure to perform on the quality of the boots.
Summit of Mt. Adams, Presidential Range
White Mountain National Forest, NH
It seems to me that these people would much more benefit from redirecting their attention from this year's hottest trends in metal and plastic and would instead focus on what is actually happening when they ski.  The lack of a properly fit boot is not the reason for your lack of balance and control in variable terrain: it is your body's complete and utter lack of awareness of what is happening and how to resolve the imbalance.  A good, balanced skier doesn't get thrown off balance because they are not stagnant.  Instead, they are aware of their body's every movement and are constantly evaluating the terrain and determining its probable effect on the skier's body.  Once the body is awake and functioning, only then does the fit of the equipment even factor into the sitiuation:  you have to know how to use your body before you can use your equipment!

Over the years, I have found that pilates has helped me to understand how my body works.  While Yoga introduces us to the presence of our body parts, Pilates can show us how these parts function during movements.  Variations of a single movement have exposed me to the minute adpations which my body can perform and the ability to control these movements.  This awareness has helped me to make preventative rather than reactionary movements while skiing, biking & trail running.  I can understand how to use core muscles to maintain stability of the upper body, can adjust the flex and angles of my ankles to account for variances in terrain, make minute lateral movements of the femur in the hip socket to adjust my turn radius on demand.  Control over both big and small muscles in the body have provided me with a more stable platform from which to approach the mountain, and have given the opportunity for increased grace of movement.  If we truly wish to become great skiers, we must turn away from this dependency upon external sources and instead focus on our ability to perform through the control of our own bodies.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Green Jacket: Marmot Ama Dablam

Bombproof Warmth:
Marmot Women's Ama Dablam Jacket
A couple year's ago, we walked into Base Camp Outfitters at the bottom of the Killington Access Road on Route 4 and I saw her.

Soon, Soon...

Ah, the beauty of Vermont's foliage.  Every morning it is such a treat to look out the window, gaze out at the multi-colored trees that are right outside my window and wonder, when the hell all these people are going to leave so that I can go play? 
Foliage in Vermont
For a ski bum, the foliage season means working until you're too exhausted to even go outside.  First, we have the leaf peepers, an extraordinary group of people that really do not belong in Vermont.  Although they have the most fascinating stories to tell and revel in just looking at our beautiful scenery, they do not understand our way of life.  They react in horror to tales of walking up the mountain, rarely offer gratuity above fifteen percent and constantly complain about the cold weather.  You are in Vermont, people!  Instead of trying to participate in our way of life, they park on the side of the road with their cameras and take pictures from inside the car!  It's almost like they feel death upon them if they left the safe confines of their vehicle. 
But now the Columbus Day Weekend is upon us, marking the end of the great foliage exodus.  Now, all the weekend skiers come up to clash with the leaf peepers.  They come with all their corporate money saved up to spend on this year's brand new gear and equipment that ski bums could only dream of.  But at least the weekenders bring dreams of the heavy snowfalls and powder days that are not so far in the future.  Yet they too serve as a reminder of the life left behind, the narrowness of the escape, the money and stress that could have been.
 Soon, all these city folk will return to their skyline apartments and McMansions, housekeeping and trying to figure out what Vermonters could possibly do up here all summer long. Soon, they will leave us in peace to once again enjoy the peace and quiet of our Vermont foliage - even if it is all over the ground and no longer on the trees.  Vespi will be able to run around off lead without worrying about the possibility of giving some blue-haired Brooklyn-ite a heart attack or having some Minnesota Baby Boomer gush over her for thirty minutes.   Soon, the leaves will fall from their branches and cover the ground with beautiful yet fading colors, reminding the tourists that nothing is perfect for long.   Soon, I will have the energy to head out into the woods and play, rather than having to rest all day to make it through my shift tonight.  Soon twig season will arrive and peace will return to the Green Mountains of Vermont. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

The First Hot Chocolate!

Whenever it rains in September, the conversation inevitably turns toward predicted snowfall.  Over the past two days we have gotten enough rain to have been over two feet of snow - if the temperature had been about twenty degrees less.  But it's the dreaming that makes the foliage season so much fun.  Every leaf that falls, every drop of rain means that we are that much closer to the real thing falling from the sky.  It's so cold and damp that when we close the curtains and make a fire we can pretend that it's snow blowing around outside rather than torrential rain.  But nothing marks the oncoming winter season like that first mug of hot chocolate. 
Hot Chocolate: A sign of winter's much anticipated arrival
My first mug of cocoa this year was at my mom's house in Vermont.  I had just gotten home from working at the Birch Ridge Inn and was feeling simply exhausted.  The autumn wind was howling outside and leaves were blowing just about everywhere.  Aaron had the most wonderful fire going in the two-sided stone fireplace and I immediately knew that there was only one thing left to make the evening perfect as I snuggled up in front of the fire with Vespoli and Aaron: a nice warm mug of hot chocolate topped off with a thick layer of mini-marshmallows. 
Today is another one of those blustery, torrential downpour kind of days.  Unfortunately, I haven't done my winter shopping yet and am desperately missing both my cocoa and my marshmallows.  Yet another sign that it is not yet quite winter.  Oh well.  I know that everything will work out in the end.  The snow will always fall when Mother Nature finally decides to drop the temperatures below that magic number of 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  The only question now is WHEN?!