The Casual Blog

Tag: ski

Utah ski tips

IMG_0480As much as I love skiing the big mountains of Utah, I had mixed feelings last week as we headed out to Park City. Vision in my left eye has been very limited, which has affected my depth perception and balance. But exploring physical limitations is part of what makes skiing interesting. I was looking forward to the kinetic excitement and raw alpine beauty, and to seeing old friends.

Our flight through Dallas went smoothly, and it was snowing hard when we landed in Salt Lake City. We took a shuttle (which our driver called “the Love Van”) up to Park City over snowy roads through limited visibility. When we arrived, some of our friends who’d arrived a day earlier were sitting by in the living room by the fire, and others were in the hot tub in the back. After saying hello, we walked three blocks to the lift area and to rent skis. I went with Volkyl Mantras, an all mountain ski I’d liked in previous editions, and which turned out again to be highly versatile in changing conditions (powder, groomed carving, chop, and bumps).

The next morning I cracked a good sweat trying to jam my feet into my ski boots, and for a few moments I thought they simply would not go, but in the end they did. The day was cold (low teens), but we were dressed adequately (five layers over the torso and two over the face). There was not as much powder on the mountain as we’d hoped, but on the whole the snow was light and workable. After doing two or three groomed runs, Sally and I tried some bumps. We were a little rusty at first, but managed ok.

We ended up skiing the first two days at Park City and the last two at Deer Valley. The usual knock on Deer Valley is that it’s too sweet, with such amenities as good on-mountain restaurants, comfortable lifts, and careful grooming. This is not untrue — the food, lifts, and grooming are quite nice — but it’s also not the full story. We loved the skiing there. The system is elegantly laid out and linked together. There were almost no lift lines. Yes, there are a lot of cruisers, but they’re really good cruisers, some quite steep, and there are also some exciting bumps and gladed areas.

At this stage of my ski career, I enjoy the rush of shooting down groomed cruisers, but I soon find myself craving more varied and challenging terrain (typically rated as black or double black diamond). Finding the right degree of challenge is part of the secret of happy skiing. When you’re right at the inside edge of what you can handle, you experience a special type of happiness. During th event, you don’t know your’re happy, because you’re completely focused and absorbed in solving the intricate speed chess problem of the next few dozen yards. The challenges are constantly changing.

This is an aspect of flow, which I read about last year in Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, another book which has some worthwhile ideas but too much padding. Anyhow, I try not to spend too much time just doing those things that come easily. This trip I was focusing on steep moguls,and found myself getting more adept at them.

Here’s my tip, which I got from a teacher in Telluride: getting pressure to the inside edge of the down hill ski about twelve inches from the tip. Particularly when coming into the backside of a mogul, force this spot down into the snow. This causes you to press your weight forward, with your shins driving hard into the tongue of your ski boot. This technique helped me stay out of the back seat, which is where problems usually develop, and to feel well in control.

Anyhow, I felt stronger and more confident on the slopes than last year, or ever. It could be my personal trainer’s innovations, yoga, more swimming, foam rolling, or eating a healthier diet. Or perhaps a combination of some or all of these. At any rate, we skied hard every day, with many exciting challenges, and my legs never gave out.
My vision problem didn’t hamper me too much. Especially in more crowded areas, I tried to be conscious of looking around carefully for other skiers, but we usually stayed away from those places. It’s possible that my hearing and sense of touch were carrying more load. It’s also possible that adrenaline increased the speed of visual processing, and cropped some of the bad signals from the left eye. At any rate, I was able to forge ahead.

Sally really lifted her ski game this year. She was going much faster and looked relaxed and happy. I persuaded her to change out her trusty white cap for a white helmet, which she agreed was comfortable and warm as well as safe. It was a pleasure to watch her.

Skiing at Aspen

My trusty ski boots

Last Saturday I got a 6:00 a.m. flight out of Raleigh, made the connection in Houston (barely), arrived in Aspen at 10:15, checked into the hotel, rented skis, bought a lift pass, and got onto the lift at Aspen Mountain at 12:15. It was a clear, cold day, and so windy that many of the lifts were closed. I spent the afternoon working off of the A-1 lift. The snow was good. Toward the end of the afternoon, I was charging down a bump run with rhythm and confidence, right under the lift, and I had the thought: this is how mogul skiing is supposed to look and feel. After years of trying, I had finally got it! And just then, at the bottom of the run, caught an edge and crashed. As the Bible says, pride goeth before a fall.

On Sunday I met up at Aspen Highlands with a couple of friends who live in Colorado and are strong skiers. They knew the mountain well, and took me down some of the most challenging terrain. I felt a new level of confidence, and only an occasional spasm of fear. After lunch, they began referring to taking “a little hike.” I finally figured out they were talking about the hike up the ridge to Highlands Bowl — a trek that took all my strength to finish a couple of years ago. This time was difficult, but not agonizing. When we reached the summit (12,392 feet), the sky was clear, and the view of the jagged surrounding peaks was awesome.

Monday morning Gabe Tiller joined our group at Ajax. His skiing was strong, and I worked hard to keep up. But I was not pathetic! Gabe called it a day mid-afternoon, because of a bad night’s sleep, but I hung in there until the lifts closed. Chuck and I took the gondola up with a fellow who was at least 80 (he’d started out as a ski instructor in 1950) and spent much of his life at Aspen. As Chuck noted later, if we’re still skiing in our 80s, this will have been the early part of our ski career.

We ate Italian that evening at L’Hostaria, where Jocelyn and Gabe sat to my right and left. They were entertaining, and the food was excellent. Tuesday we had ten inches of fresh, slightly heavy snow at Snowmass. My demo skis were DPS Wailer 99s, which were wide and had rocker tip and tail. They floated beautifully. I was flowing, and not wearing out my legs. It had taken a long time, but with several seasons of practice and new ski technology, I was skiing powder with true joy.

Wednesday it snowed some more, and we had first tracks on the virgin snow at Highlands. It was quiet and beautiful and exhilarating.

I’m sorry to say my Sony point-and-shoot expired, presumably as a result of one of my falls that left some snow in the circuits. It was a good little camera. My Aspen photos were casualties. The picture of my trusty Dalbello boots was taken with my SeaLife DC1400, an underwater camera. The boots are now four seasons old. They are hell to get on, and hell to get off, but communicate well with my edges and ski great.

Ups and downs in Telluride

My life is full of technology and intense mental activity, and I’m glad of it, but from time to time I crave an interlude of pure natural beauty and physical activity. And so for a long President’s Day weekend, we skied Telluride, Colorado, where the San Juan mountains look something like the Alps — jagged and imposing, yet peaceful in a way.

Set a human body sliding down the snowy slopes, and interesting things happen. Exhilaration at the speed, microbursts of fear, quick happy recoveries, or minor disasters. I had my most dramatic fall on Bushwacker, reportedly the steepest groomed run in America, where I’d got off the groomed terrain and into the bumps. Tips crossed, I launched over the top of my skis, which came off the boots as designed, but rather than stopping I then found myself sliding fast downhill headfirst and accelerating. I eventually managed to flip over, spin around, and dig my boot heels into the snow to brake. By this time, one ski was 200 yards below me and one pole was 50 yards above (a classic yard sale). I am always happy to rely on the kindness of strangers, and gratefully accepted assistance of one who picked up my pole and another who helped me resituate on one ski. Then I lowered myself inelegantly down the slope to retrieve the other.

A couple of my colleagues at Red Hat have written about failing fast and often as a means to success, which in skiing translates as falling fast and often. It entails some moments of embarrassment. But by golly, I’ve really improved this year. I took on steep, deep powder runs, glades, and double black moguls, as well as carving on high-speed cruisers, all with great joy (and occasional terror).

We had fresh snow falling our first day and night, and a classic powder day the second day. I insisted that our group (Sally, Charles, Chuck, and later David and Kimberlie) move out early to try for first tracks. We found lots of beautiful light snow and varied terrain. Those first two days I stayed well within my comfort zone and had great fun. Each night we ate in good restaurants, (Excelsior, Rustico, Honga’s, and Siam), and one night had delicious pizza served by my sweet Jocelyn at the Brown Dog. The group included old familiar friends and lively new ones, and there was good conversation and laughter.

On day three the skies had cleared, and Gabe and Lindsey, who live in Telluride, had days off and came out to play. They knew the mountains well, and managed to locate pockets of non-skied-out powder. For the first time I felt reasonably comfortable on steep gladed runs. I was inspired by their beautiful skiing, and proud that I could more or less keep up with them. Riding up the long chair lifts, we caught up on things in general, considered the state of the world, and got to be better friends.

New Year’s skiing in Telluride

To ring out the old year, I flew to Telluride CO to see Gabe and Jocelyn and do some skiing. Sally could not be persuaded to go; she said it was too much travel for her after our Bonaire trip. It was in fact a tough journey, with multiple cancelled or delayed flights, and ended up taking 22 hours. I got my wish for heavy snow (so much so that I worried whether we’d make a landing in Colorado), and the mountains were well covered with a 49-inch base when I arrived. I slept for 3 hours, and then got up in hopes of getting first tracks with Gabe and his girlfriend Lindsey.

It was still snowing lightly that morning as I went out to find some rental skis. I found my way to Bob at the Boot Doctor, who seemed to know everything about skis and proposed several options. I wanted to try a hybrid rocker all mountain ski, and Bob set me up with K2 Aftershocks. I ended up liking them a lot. They turned easily and handled well in the heavy stuff.

Gabe and Lindsey made the considerable sacrifice of missing a couple of early runs while I completed my preparations, and were of good cheer when we met at the gondola in Mountain Village. I had not met Lindsey before, and had a little trouble spotting Gabe, because he and most everyone else had covered up their faces against the brutal cold. The reported high for the day was 9, but I’d wager it never reached 0 on the mountain. Lindsey, who’d experienced plenty of cold days skiing in her native New Hampshire, got the shivers after the first couple of runs. We took a hot chocolate break at Giuseppe’s, and she decided to head home.

Plenty of others made the same reasonable decision — which left the mountain largely unpopulated for us diehards. I reminded Gabe that it was my first day going from 300 feet above sea level to 12,000 or so, and my first day of the season on skis. He acknowledged these challenges and proceeded to take me down some of the toughest double-black terrain on the mountain. I suspect he wanted to show off his new skiing prowess, and I was impressed with his accomplishments, as a proud parent should be. I held my own for a few runs, but leg fatigue eventually caught up with me. We skied the last part of the day mostly on groomers.

That evening to celebrate New Year’s, I took Gabe, Lindsey, and Jocelyn to Excelsior’s, an Italian restaurant. It turned out that Lindsey had worked there as a server and knew everyone. We got the royal treatment.

The next morning I felt like I’d gone 16 rounds with the champ — sore from top to bottom. I took a megadose of Advil and headed to my ski lesson with some doubts as to my ability to make it through. Once again, the cold was harsh. But my soreness somehow abated once I got to the top of the mountain. My teacher, Jim Schwartz, was an affable guy of roughly my vintage with a lot of teaching experience. He had some interesting ideas that were new to me, such as focusing on the little toe. We spent the last part of the lesson working on mogul technique. I skied by myself in the afternoon with new confidence and joy.

During one lift ride, Jim opined that people skied for 3 main reasons. Some are excitement junkies that are only happy if they can scare themselves on steep rugged terrain. Others love the alpine beauty. Still others love the kinetic fun of dodging and swooping at speed in a kind of dance. I thought he was generally right. However, I’d add that it’s possible to cross categories. For me, the pleasure is some of all three — excitement, beauty, and grace.

We won the lottery, ate, and were transformed by the ballet

I was terribly embarrassed to forget about lunch on Wednesday with my good friend Jay B.  After dealing with a series of absorbing if not gut wrenching legal puzzles through that morning, I paused around 12:15 to check the headlines in the NYT.  At that moment Jay called to ask where I was. I remembered instantly that I was supposed to be with him at noon at the Remedy Diner.  I also remembered I had put the meeting on my electronic calendar when we scheduled it, but somehow it was not on the calendar now.  After fifteen minutes of rushing and apologizing profusely, I was in my seat at the Remedy and catching up with Jay.

It’s always fun to hear about Jay’s doings, but he had a particularly fascinating story this time:  he had arrived in Haiti on January 12 five hours before it was hit by the mother of all earthquakes.  He and daughter Kate were there to do some charitable work in a village some distance from Port au Prince, and got close up view of the incredible devastation heaped on a country already unimaginably poor and broken.  The contrast between the Haitian experience and ours is indescribable.  As I said to Jay, everyone in this country has won a huge lottery prize just by being born here.

But we can’t either celebrate or feel guilty all the time, and we get on with the challenges of our daily lives.  My work Friday was a series of intense meetings with lawyers from all over the country interested in doing business with Red Hat, punctuated by numerous phone calls, emails, and pop-in office questions.  It was almost nonstop activity, but I did manage to take a call from sweet Jocelyn.  She was thrilled with her first powder skiing experience at Telluride, and feeling excited about her increasing skill as a skier.  She also told me about hanging out in a Telluride bar with Ed Helms, a successful actor in The Office.  As I told her, I’d knew from the Oberlin magazine he went to Oberlin, and she confirmed that fact.  Indeed, she told him I went there, too!  It sounded like he was very friendly and quite taken with her but did not attempt anything ungentlemanly.

That night Sally and I ate at Bu.ku, a new restaurant that replaced Fins.  We had liked the food at Fins, but found the place a bit formal and cold.  Bu.ku is warm and interesting, based on the theme of street food from around the world.  The service was very good (thanks, Turner!), and so was the masaman curry.  We’ll go back.

We saw the Carolina Ballet do a Weiss’s Cinderella and several short Balanchine works.  I didn’t love everything equally, but forget the nits.  I still found the experience transporting.  After many hours of computer interactions, talking, and thinking about business and legal problems, the dancers and the dance opened doors to another world — a human world.  They use a vocabulary of movement refined for a couple of centuries to get at a particular kind of truth — emotional truth.  There’s a remarkable purity about it.  The form involves beautiful young dancers, but somehow it isn’t particularly sexy.  Cinderella, in particular, movingly expressed the old chivalric vision of romantic love, and it seemed completely real.  For me, the ultimate test is teary eyes and goosebumps, and it passed.