Guilty as charged

I feel guilty.

This weekend was busy – I wrote, read, spent time with relatives, ran around my beautiful city with my handsome friends.

Sunday, I alternated between reading, watching LOST, doing laundry, and just snoozing in the sunbeam thrown across my couch.

This was all very pleasant. But… no matter what I do, I just can’t shake the feeling… that I should have been skiing.

To make matters worse, I woke up Monday morning to every ski area in a two hour radius celebrating their new-fallen snow. 7″ at Stowe. 6″ – 10″ at Smuggler’s Notch.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad the snow’s back. We need it. But I wish I was in it, up to my boot tops in fluffy white…

How will I make it to Thursday night race league? By taking deep breaths. By wobbling my way through yoga poses in my bedroom. By walking to the shores of Lake Champlain at lunchtime.

In short, I can’t way to be in the mountains again.

Stowe's Forerunner Quad
One blissful day in November.

Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.

It’s an old Vermont adage, and let-me-tell-you-what it’s a true one. Especially now, in these days of global weirding, riding the weather is like getting on a roller coaster blindfolded: hold on. It’s going to be a wild ride.

56ºF one day, 32º and snowing the next with blowing winds whipping Lake Champlain to an ocean-like frenzy.

Snow in the pines
More of this, please.

While the second January Thaw has come and gone (hopefully for good), we’re still waiting for the snow to replenish itself. We skiers and riders are hungry, salivating for turns. Me, the slackcountryista, especially. I’ll ski anything, but what I really want is trees.

As we wait, I count my blessings – snowmaking, snowmakers, groomers, ski movies, snow flurries that lay a dusting of snow on welcome mats, and reinforcements that Vermont’s riders are of the most dedicated in the country.

With thirteen mostly-blissful days on skis already this season, I shouldn’t complain… But please, Ullr. Bring us snow!

I bless the snows down in Africa

This film more or less sums up why I’m so enamored of the idea of riding in Morocco. (Although it was the family copy of Warren Miller’s 1993 film Escape to Ski that first planted the idea in my mind.)

“The conditions were probably not at the best… but it’s the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, just between the desert Sahara and the ocean. That’s skiing in Africa.”

Film from Female Wolf Pack, an awesome place to discover female athletes doing what they do best – kicking ass.

Slackcountry Living

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am writing a ski blog. This happened entirely by accident. See, in the summer, I can be distracted by other things – running on pavement and diving into lakes, sitting in the shade of oaks and eating cherries. In the winter, I think of one thing and one thing only. Skiing.

In recognition of this, the blog needs a new title, and I’ve settled on Slackcountry Living.

The slackcountry (or sidecountry) is the sweet spot between the well-known Ski Area Boundary and the fabled Backcountry. Ride a lift, duck a rope, and you’re suddenly getting to know a mountain on its own terms, not yours. No snowmaking, no patrollers. Just you and the fall line. And maybe the guy behind you – slackcountry runs aren’t marked on the map, but locals know they’re there. At least it’s less crowded.

(Disclaimer: you can also get incredibly lost. Don’t do that.)

Hopefully by next winter I’ll have enough money to buy AT gear and disappear into the true backcountry on daylong tours. (If I do, you’ll hear about them.) But, even if I am so elevated to skiing and riding greatness, I intend to remain a slacker at heart.

Come ride with me as I explore the slackcountry. It’ll be fun.

Riding solo at Stowe
Early season ride at Stowe, VT

Confessions of a Wannabe Racer

Bolton Valley night skiing
It’s 7:00PM. Do you know where your daughter is? (She might be here.)

I joined the race league for all the right reasons, I swear. It’s an excuse to hit the slopes on a Thursday night, when otherwise I’d be home staring out the window feeling cooped up. It’s a way for me, usually so reserved, to meet like-minded people – each one a potential ski buddy. And, the league is definitely not serious, which is good because the last time I raced was in middle school. A little non-competitive exercise in the local beer league. Sounds perfect, right?

Beer league has created a monster.

My drive to the mountain is spent in eager anticipation, fingers drumming the steering wheel as I navigate the commuter traffic coming out of Burlington. I talk to my mother on speaker phone, catching her up on my day and my strategies for the night’s races. A few hours later, my drive home is spent reliving the gates, mentally scrutinizing each turn.

(If I initiate my turns a fraction of a second too late, causing a slide and scramble, I have dump speed to make the next gate. The trick is to initiate early and stay hugged in tight to the gate. But, the killer is the last gate, where the course flattens even as it flows into the finish line. I lose acceleration every time, a symptom of being too small on skis that ride too soft. I’m losing power like water through a sieve and it’s driving me crazy.)

Lonely yellow ski boots
Faster, faster, faster still…

I log my times in my phone that night before I join my teammates in the bar. Friday morning, when the official email hits my inbox, I drop everything to calculate my rank against the field. After only two nights of racing, I can tell that it doesn’t matter what time I post. All I will want is to go faster, faster, and faster still.

Now, every Thursday my bright yellow boots will stand guard in the corner of my office, keeping me company. They are a constant, welcome reminder that there’s a pair of skis in a car in the parking lot waiting… just waiting… to slide up to the starting gate.

Sadly, it’s currently -8º in Bolton. They closed early last night, so there’s a good change they’ll close again tonight. I might have to wait another week to get my speed fix… How will I survive?

Ski like a Man? Nah – I’m good.

I spent Saturday morning at the mountain, carving some much needed turns and practicing skiing solo. I ended up finding a friend and skiing a few runs with him and his 13 year-old daughter.  Sharing the trail with a totally ripping girl, I couldn’t help but think of the blog post “How to Ski like a Man” by very talented writer and blogger Lisa Richardson.

Looking at my friend’s daughter, I realized what had bothered me so much about the post’s title when I first read it days earlier. The last thing this chick needs to do is ski like a man. She is kicking ass just fine as herself.

I know the phrase was used because it’s a common one. As the youngest of brothers, I’ve been told to “be a man” countless times. Even Disney’s all over it. But I think this a problem. The last thing a developing young woman needs to hear is “be a man” – because a female rider should be one thing and one thing only – the kind of rider she wants to be. You don’t need to amp up your aggression, unless that’s what you want. If you don’t like cliffs or speeding down the Hahnenkamm in a Spyder suit, that’s cool! Whatever it is about skiing that keeps you on the hill having fun, then that’s what you should be doing.

But – if you do want to frontflip off of the cliff on Jackson Hole like Jamie Pierre or lobby the FIS to race against the men on men’s skis like Lindsey Vonn, THEN GO FOR IT. Believe me – following someone else’s expectations of who you should ride like will at worst make you miserable and uncomfortable in a sport that is all about being awesome and trusting in your abilities. (At the very best, it will inspire you to write a feminist skiing blog years later.)

In short… ROCK IT, SISTER – and let me know how it goes in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think and how you ride!

Girl on Tuckerman Ravine
Tuckerman Ravine – prepping for ascent.

There are other blog posts that get into the physiological differences between male and female skiers. It’s all true, and we do have different stances and need different gear. (I sort of dig into the separate-but-not-quite-equal aesthetics here.) Lisa also has a lovely post on the Liftopia blog that talks about the psychological differences.

All I care about is spreading the love – All for One Mountain, One Mountain for All.

Because I Said So: A Jay Peak Ski Area Review

Retro Jay Peak ski pins
I’m really embarrassed by the Mickey Mouse pin. The button’s legit, though. It’s vintage.

This is the first of what will be a series of ski area reviews. Since I live and ride in Vermont, I’ll start close to home.

I really don’t understand why so few of my fellow Burlington residents head north to Jay Peak. Apparently “it’s too far away.”

Too far away? Seriously? An hour and a half is never too far for good schuss. Besides: 50% of Jay’s skiers and riders come from Canada. It takes two hours to drive from Montreal to Jay – so stop your complaining, eat your Big Mac, and get off the couch, America.

I will happily swear up and down this state that Jay Peak is the closest an east coaster will get to western skiing without buying a plane ticket. The vertical’s impressive (over 2,000 vertical feet), as is the natural playground that is the snowfield summit. But what will really give you western déjà vu is in the trees. Jay’s glades are wide open and ever green with plenty of room to roam. Hit it on a powder day and you’re cruising through face shots so easy you (might) feel guilty.

Jay’s terrain is challenging with steep pitches and a little high altitude rock-hopping coming off the tram. Timbuktu is one of the most satisfying marked glades in the east, with plenty of features to find if you’re looking to get air. (I distinctly remember my eldest brother teaching me huck there. And by teaching, I mean he pointed at a rock and said “ski off that as fast as you can.” Surprisingly, I survived.)

If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to experience the Jay Cloud first hand. There’s a peculiar microclimate that exists solely around the summit of the mountain. It could be sunny and warm everywhere else in a four hour radius, but dumping on Jay. Granted, this phenomenon isn’t unique to Jay. Mountains like to hold to passing precipitation. But it’s really fun to talk about.

On the downside, Jay Peak is cold. Like, really cold. As in – no matter what you’re wearing it’s not enough cold. But, to quote their wonderfully witty marketing campaign, nobody grew up soft on rugged terrain. Builds character.

Raise 'em Jay
Oh, you’re cold? That’s too bad.

Pretty perfect sounding, eh?

The funny thing about Jay is that as much as I love it, it’s really… just another mountain. The trails are great, the glades are great, the unmarked glades are great. (While I’ve been skiing this mountain my entire life, I don’t claim local knowledge. I’ve never had the “backstage tour” as it where, so I can’t speak to what I haven’t found entirely by accident.) But there’s something almost… boring about all this perfection.

Two years ago, I hit Jay during the late-season blizzard of my dreams. My ski buddy and I hit powder run after powder run, braving the cold and wind for some of the best turns we got all season. And yet… I was a little relieved to get back into the claustrophobically tight trees of Mt. Mansfield. The glades are so roomy compared to the Peak’s southern neighbors that you’re rarely stuck without anywhere to go but down a tiny, squirrelly chute. You don’t have to drop the feature in Kitz Woods. There are plenty of ways around.

I can count the times on one hand that I stood uphill from a Jay feature and gone “oh shit.” Where’s the challenge in that? It’s not really skiing if I haven’t said Oh Shit five times in as many runs.

To sum up: Jay Peak is a must-hit that is a little like that one guy (or girl) you dated who was so unbearably awesome you couldn’t believe they knew your name, let alone kissed you on a regular basis. You ended up breaking up with him (or her) for that other guy (or girl) with the weird twitch and questionable hygiene habits because, man, they really made you feel special, you know?

What do you think? Was this review helpful, or am I really lying through my teeth? Keep me honest and let me know in the comments.

There’s no W in Skiing

While my girliness has grown exponentially in the past few years, I still hate overtly girly design . Frills and ruffles and pastel anything are simply not my bag.

Which is why I like my new skis – Head Sweet Ones – so much. They’re orange. Not pink. Not baby blue. Orange.

I can pretend they’re not peppered with weird crayon-scribble daisies and irrationally swoopy grasses that look like they came from the default Photoshop brush library. Because they’re orange and they ride wonderfully.

But there’s one problem. This thing.

Why is there a shiny winged W on my skis?
Why is there a shiny winged W on my skis?

These are not bird or airplane themed skis. Nothing about the art or the name belies any relationship to wings or the letter W.

The only possible explanation for this Wonderful addition is that the W stands for Woman and the wings stand for WTF WERE YOU THINKING.

It looks ridiculous, but really wouldn’t be very noticeable if it weren’t so freaking shiny. It’s difficult to tell in the photo, but it’s shiny to the point of distracting. It’s a tiny vanity mirror. I could clean my teeth in it if the W wasn’t in the way.

Really, the wonderful wacky winged W isn’t a big deal. I’ll just cut some vinyl or buy a Ski The East sticker big enough to show Mrs Shiny who’s boss. But it’s the principle of the thing that bugs me the most. Random, tacky tack-ons are really common in women’s gear. (You don’t see great big ol’ winged Ms on men’s skis, do you?)

Everyone on the mountain knows I’m a chick – especially the bro I just smoked. I don’t need a shiny medallion to broadcast my femininity. Ugh.

So – if you happen to be a designer… stop putting ditzy kitsch on my gear. It’s a waste of your time and seriously pisses me off.