Johnny O’s Excellent Adventure

Well, most of my ski group has been pounding the high speed chairlifts both at our local area and out west in search of the biggest vertical, and most runs that we can ski in a day. In our zeal to be the first on the lift, we look forward to reaping the most vertical before the crowd gets too cumbersome. So, it was a nice change when our nordic and mountain bike guru, John O’T contacted us and suggested we take a day locally and either use backcountry skis with skins or snowshoe to one of our favorite ski areas that has been closed for some time.photo As we assembled at an undisclosed location we donned our gear. The backcountry equipped guys began xc skiing the trail to the closed location and Hiller,Jeff B, and I used our snowshoes and carried our skis and pack with ski boots tucked inside.photo The weather was blustery and it was snowing heavily as we forded the miles and finally arrived at the closed lodge. Hiding ourselves from the wind, Hiller,Jeff B and I changed into our ski boots, put the hiking boots in the pack and joined John and the rest of the group as we en masse headed down the steepest and most challenging slope in Pennsylvania.IMG_1574 It had been a long time since I have skied there and although there have been several other scofflaws that have done the same thing, the turns made on that slope in the last 10 years have been few and far between. photo

I wondered what the slope conditions would be like. I knew that the snow would be good but what had grown on that slope in the last 10 years? As we made our way through the sparse puckerbrush on the upper part of the slope, we were greeted by only a few small trees that had grown up over the years. The powder snow was deep, the turns were fun, and no one seemed to heed the warnings of the state workers that we might be fined for making this excursion into a closed ski area. There were no signs, it is a state forest, and we pay taxes so …………we ski!!!

The first run was pristine. At the bottom, I dropped my pack and we all boot packed up the slope all the way to the lodge at the very top of the run. Once more we made turns in the uncut snow and as we made it to the bottom, we sat for a moment relishing what we had done in the softly falling snow. The skins went back on, snowshoes were donned, and the group began the slow slog up the side trail that would eventually lead to the outbound trail to the cars.photo We noticed the varying efficiency of the different equipment- backcountry skis with skins versus snowshoes. The snowshoes seemed to have an advantage on the steeper parts but once we made it to the flats up top, the xc motion of the skis was faster than walking in snowshoes. On our way out, we saw a guy with a snowboard on his back. I said to him,” What are You doing?” He looked at me and laughed and said, ” What were You doing? We both had a chuckle as we saw another guy with backcountry gear. He looked over and said, “You know, I just left Jackson Hole to come back to Pa for powder. Should have just stayed here.” We agreed but time in Jackson is well spent no matter what the conditions.

We all pulled out some micro brews back at the parking lot and I brought out a cheese platter with crackers for the group. As we discussed the days fun at our ad hoc picnic, seeking shelter from the storm under my tailgate, we all were appreciative of Johnny O’s excellent suggestion that led to the excellent adventure. We all are used to western adventure, but were sure happy that we got to have a true backcountry adventure right here in our home state of Pennsylvania. Sometimes you have to slow it down in order to really appreciate the beauty of the mountains.photo It isn’t always about the most vertical or how fast we can ski. We really appreciated the muffled silence of the woods in the falling snow.We took the time to look around and enjoy.photo As we parted and I made my way down the mountain, I had a big smile on my face knowing that we all had pulled off something special with the hopes that someday, this amazing local treat of an area would once again be open to the public. Our merry band of outlaws, Hiller, John O, McWilly, Jeff B and me will be back if in fact the area remains closed, and perhaps another day of skiing through great snow and puckerbrush will lie waiting for us as we trudge out way through the Laurel Highlands snowfields. Another example of how to enjoy the winter. It is hard, it is long, but if you take the time to be creative and enjoy, the winters are wonderful. My favorite time of the year. Enjoy. Thanks for reading.

The Standard Race

For all of us growing up at Seven Springs Mountain Resort here in Pa., Lars Skylling, the Director of Skiing, was like a god to us. Handsome, with the Swedish accent, and great skier to boot, with Stein Eriksen form. We all looked up to Lars and wanted to emulate him on the slopes. Lars is shown here in this picture below, receiving his award for induction into the Pennsylvania Snow Sports Hall of Fame. He has the Tyrolean jacket on with the green tie- third from left in the back. Great guy, we all love Lars. He is retired now but I had the opportunity to ski with him a couple of years ago in Vail and for a guy in his elder years, he still made elegant turns. IMG_4952
So, when we were kids, Lars was the ski school director and he started an open race every Sunday after the day session ended that was called the Standard Race. My buddy Porter said it was called the Head Standard Race but in any event, it was an open, four gate flyer from the top of the front side of the mountain down to the finish line in front of the old warming hut. If you came within a certain percentage of the time that Lars laid down, you received either a gold, silver, or bronze “7” pin that we all clamored for with every run that we made. As we all got older and into our early teens, we were able to finally get that gold “7” because we were catching up to the master. However, Lars threw a surprise for all of us when he added the upper trail on the Stowe slope and jumped the corner when he made a right hand turn down on the Cortina Trail. Whoa!!!!! We all were taken by surprise and the conversation on the hill that day and on the chairlift to the start was whether we had the guts to jump the corner like Lars did. If we didn’t, there was no way we would get the gold so we all had to see if we had the bravado to do it and if we survived, we got the coveted pin. photo
One year, I decided that if I leaned forward at the finish line and tried to break the beam with my hand, I might be a little faster. Unfortunately, I blew out of my bindings when I lurched forward and took out the whole timing device and the electric eye. John Fraser and his dad came running out of the hut to see if I was ok, but the real challenge was to get the timing device up and running again. As we all crossed the finish line, Bob Rose would herd us into the station wagon that he had strategically placed outside the warming hut and the North Hills clan would eventually make it back to Pittsburgh with a dinner for the crowd at my folk’s house. My parents didn’t ski but they sure could cook and entertain. That was their contribution. All the kids talked about the race and how we ended up. If you got the gold pin, you were a stud, and everyone knew that the next step was the day that you would finally be able to beat Lars straight up. That day eventually came for most of us as we got older and faster. But no matter the outcome, we all loved Lars and if we were able to finally best his pacesetter time, it was a milestone in our skiing career that we would never forget. photo

The years have gone by but a lot of the guys who I still ski with at Seven Springs still have their pins. Porter, Jamie Edson, and me. Porter and Jamie proudly wear theirs in remembrance of an era gone by. NASTAR had taken over the citizen race arena with a much more sophisticated national ranking system and national championship. But the old Standard Race was a free form flyer that we all loved, and no matter what improvement we made with equipment upgrades, the prestige of that pin was something that is still remembered to this day. The Standard Race is a memory for all of us growing up at the last resort. So, Greg, Brad, Melissa,Dave Helmick, Heidi, all the Dupre girls, Johnny Fraser, Johnny McCarthy, Andy, Richard Nicolette, the Rose clan,the Edsons, the Rich clan, the Siegle clan, ………….dig out those “7”s and wear them with pride. You cut the corner, you survived the races, and you got your pins. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

Ski the South- you may be surprised!

Back when I was a senior in college, I took the next step in ski instruction by taking a registration clinic in order to be affiliated with the Professional Ski instructors of America(PSIA). The closest one to me at the time was at Canaan Valley Ski Area in West Virginia. As I made my way south over the Mason Dixon line, I was thinking to myself that this was a strange place to go skiing. My experience up to that time, besides skiing in Pa, was either north to New England or west to Colorado. What was this going to be like? The back roads through the Monongahela National Forest were twisty and dark and I had visions of moonshiners, junk yard dogs, and other Appalachian thoughts where I would be lost in some “holler” and never to be heard of again. I was surprised at the beauty of West Virginia and when I got to the Canaan Valley, I was overwhelmed with the charm and the friendliness of the area and the people. “How y’all doin?” was not something I had ever heard from a liftie before and the clinic went well. The clinic leader was from Vermont and he stated to me that he loved coming south to ski because the resorts make a special effort to make sure that the snow conditions are as good as they can be given the challenging conditions of weather in that area. 7bf16d8ee7504bc98e7da791b93d6272

Fast forward and our Seven Springs crew made our way to Snowshoe Resort for the annual Cupp Run Ski Race. Snowshoe is a huge ski area with an elevation of over 5,000 feet. It has the topography of a small New England area and the Intrawest property is very well run with a lots of snowmaking capacity and a village that is built like Whistler at the top of the mountain. Our crew at the time was there for this annual race and although my ski instructor form in the race course was pretty, it never was fast. But I always had a good time traveling with some of our guys who were actually pretty accomplished racers. John Steitz, who had a pedigree of prep school and college racing, as well as the experience of coaching at Whiteface, went with us one year and won the race. His victory was pretty strong seeing that his main competition at the time was Hans Truckenbrod who was a Vermont based pro racer who always came south to cherry pick this classic race. Boy was he surprised when the “ragpicker” Johhny beat him and took first prize. John was not a slave to fashion as he raced in a wool hat with a hole in it from his dog eating it for breakfast. He also wore green wool pants and a flannel shirt. When he stood on the podium to collect his prize next to Truckenbrod, with his race attire and the third placed guy also looking splendid with his ski parka with sponsor patches, the photographer for Snowshoe looked at me and said, ” Well there goes the publicity picture.” We all laughed as our buddy the “ragpicker” cleaned house and took away the grand prize. Snowshoe puts on a great race and is a wonderful place to ski with surprisingly a lot of natural snow because of its elevation and the frequent southern storms that come racing through West Virginia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euxtPs3TUJ4

Another great memory for me skiing in the south were my trips to see Frank and Jan Habay in Charlottesville, Virginia. They took us to Wintergreen which is a beautiful ski area in the ridges above Charlottesville. After eating my customary southern breakfast with grits, eggs, sausage and gravy, I was excited to try yet another southern ski area. I had a friend, Mark Singleton, who was the ski school director down there who welcomed us and informed us that the World Cup and Olympic champions, Steve and Phil Mahre, were skiing there that day as a publicity event for K2 skis. We caught up with the Mahres as they were skiing on the two expert slopes and we got a first hand look at not only how powerful they were as skiers, but a good look at their humor which is legendary. You see, at Wintergreen, you can’t ski the expert terrain unless you ski down to two ski patrol members and show them your turns. They punch your ticket which indicates that you are skilled enough to ski there. The ski patrol makes an effort to keep people off those slopes that are not skilled enough to ski there. The Mahre brothers approached them at high speed and stopped right in front of them burying them in snow. As they frantically dusted themselves off preparing to take the tickets from the guys, they showed their anger and started screaming at the top of their lungs at the World Cup champions. As they discovered who they were talking to, their demeanor suddenly became sheepish as we all got a good laugh at the prank that was played on the local constabulary by a couple of guys who have raced all over the world. night-skiing

Skiing in the south has a special charm. The Appalachian mountains are beautiful in their own right and the gentle elevation, accompanied by the legendary southern hospitality is a welcome addition to anyone’s ski portfolio. If you get the chance, ski the south. West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina may surprise you and the effort they make to stay open despite weather challenges shows their passion for the sport of skiing. You never know, you may see some Olympic champions in the lodge eating some red eye gravy and ham with some corn bread. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

The Rose of Tahoe

For many years, I drove up the Mt. Rose Highway out of Reno and passed the Mt. Rose Ski Area on my way to the Durfees in Incline Village, Nevada. I often wondered what the skiing was like at Mt. Rose seeing that it is the first area that I passed on that trip from the airport. A lot of people pass on their way to North Lake Tahoe resorts but the locals know better than the tourons. It seems like Mt. Rose has been a favorite of the Reno locals for years and when I finally skied it a couple of years ago for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised and it has been a regular stop on my ski trips to the Tahoe region in Nevada. I will be touching down in a few weeks again to ski Tahoe and Mammoth with my buddies and the convenient location of Mt. Rose allows me to have quick access to the slopes there. In fact, the drill goes as follows:50year_anniversay

1.) Pick up skis and baggage at carousel- check
2.) Change clothes shamelessly right there at the carousel into my ski garb with onlookers curiously giggling. Who cares- I don’t know them. -check
3.) Put on ski boots and drag gear to curb- check
4.) Eric picks me up and knows the blue Lange boots waiting for him on the bench outside the airport. Dead giveaway from 100 yards out. -check
5.) Eric misses 2 runs as he picks up Hutch and me and we are back on the hill in 45 minutes. IMG00143-20100212-1420

Not only is the proximity to the Reno Airport good, but Mt. Rose is a very nice place to ski. Personally, I like areas where you can drive into the parking lot, put on your boots, walk a couple of hundred feet and get on the lift. You can do that at Rose. A nice family feel to it. Great groomers to warm up with and then you can make your way to a series of lift serviced chutes aptly named……The Chutes. The gates to this area describe a series of steep drops with some intimidating names. This skiing is not for the faint of heart and if you can’t make quick turns on some pretty steep vertical, you really should not pass through the gates. Every year I go there, it is the first wake up call for me that I am once again out west on non- groomed steep terrain where you better be paying attention. If we are fortunate enough to have powder conditions, The Chutes are wonderful. They are steep enough that you have to check the snow report and make sure that the avalanche conditions are in check. But the ski patrol won’t let you through the gates anyways if there is any possibility of a slide. But it is good to be aware nonetheless. Not often do you get steep terrain like this inside the boundaries of a ski area. IMG00331-20110323-1707
One day, a few years back, we saw a group of guys with baggy clothes and full face helmets blasting down the Chutes howling and laughing and having a great time. We saw them at lunch in the lodge and when they took off their helmets, there were gray beards and gray hairs everywhere. I introduced myself and remarked that we thought they were a bunch of kids with their garb and how well they skied. They appreciated the comments and said that they have been skiing together since they were 16 years old. These guys were all in their 60s. They motocross together all summer. Great bunch of guys who have called Rose their winter home for close to 50 years. It is guys like these and the other locals and families that make up the wonderful atmosphere that this ski area exudes. The owners are devoted to skiing only, as evidenced by a t-shirt that I bought that states ” Mt. Rose” simply on the front of the shirt and “Summer Sucks” on the back. These folks live for the winter and they run a nice area that is the highest elevation in the Lake Tahoe region. Consequently, they get snow when some of the other areas get rain. On the down side since it is so high and exposed, they do get high winds. On those days you can retreat to Diamond Peak just over the summit or go to Northstar and hide in the trees and escape the wind. MR Chutes

One last bit of trivia is that the Mt. Rose Ski Area is actually not Mt. Rose. That peak is actually across the Mt. Rose Highway. My family along with the Durfees hiked that a few years ago and the summit of Mt. Rose actually yields a nice view of Lake Tahoe, Reno, and the trails of the Mt. Rose Ski Area. If you go to Tahoe, don’t pass up on an opportunity to ski Rose. It has become one of my favorite areas not only in Tahoe, but overall. I am so happy we finally made it a permanent stop on my trips with the guys. Thanks for reading and keep enjoying winter- I do. IMG00243-20100809-1600

Musical Trails

” Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette. Puff, puff, puff them and if you puff yourself to death. Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate that you just have to make him wait, but you just got to have another…..cigarette”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyYLrVNKE68

Nothing like a little Texas swing from Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen to start a trail run. 924186 Now, I have always been a bit of a late bloomer as they say. I got married at a later age,had a child at a later age, still have not matured in many ways, and still put stamps on envelopes and mail my bills. But I am embracing technology and now have a new partner on my winter trail runs- Pandora. You might say, ” Pat- what is so novel about running with ear buds? Everybody does it.” Well I tried the I-Pod a number of years ago and didn’t like it because when I am riding my mountain bike, I like the feedback of sound from the trails. Same with skiing. If I hit an ice patch, I want to be able to hear it so my reaction is appropriate and not be distracted by Mick yelling in my ear that he needs some satisfaction. But running the trails- that is a horse of a different color. Thanks to Janet, JR, Chris, and Daryl, I have finally found Pandora on the trail and have loaded up my shuffle opportunities with some of my favorite music. download (3)

With the Byrds, Commander Cody, The Dead, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and a host of other music from my college years, I can run over those logs and rocks and make time to the cadence of my favorite songs. I can get lost on those trails with daydream visions of my old dorm room with Bob Rose and his aviator sunglasses getting ready to put his KLH speakers out the window for spring term- blasting the Commander for everyone outside. I can see the cracked linoleum floors and see the packed refrigerator with Genesee Cream Ale provided by Jeff Ruggles. I can even see that curmudgeon of a lawyer Pat Clair, with his long black hair back in the day, tapping his toes to the rhythm of the Byrds. I can see the layout of that room with the early post office decor- because it genuinely was ripped off from the campus post office by a number of rowdies in our dorm. I laugh as I hear these old tunes and it helps me through the dark nights of the winter on the dark and desolate trails. I have run our trail system for 35 years. I have not become involved in the Fat Bike craze or the studded mountain bike tire craze yet because when it starts to get cold, sloppy, and icy, I park the mountain bike and pull out my trail running shoes. photo Something different and no hassle with extra clothes and a mud/ice caked bike. But again, I am a late bloomer and I may change. In my defense, my behaviors may be archaic, but I have always tried the latest sports equipment looking for an advantage. I did embrace the oversize tennis racquets, shaped skis, and 29er mountain bikes. But with regards to winter trail activities,I am still in the trail running,hiking,and snowshoe mode. But my new friend Pandora has made it all the more enjoyable. For 35 years I had to entertain myself with my own inane thoughts on those dark, lonely, winter trail runs. Now I have my old college musical friends running and hiking with me.

When the first real snow arrives, I pull out the snowshoes and am in a more contemplative mood. I like the beauty of the snow covered trees in the woods. My eclectic taste in music changes on these nights as I listen to Enya, Celtic Women, Sara McLaughlin,and Libera. The haunting Celtic melodies or the choir music of Libera almost elevate me as I hike the snow covered trails with my snowshoes. It is as if I am almost in another world of some kind with that peaceful, contemplative music in my ears coupled with the visual pastoral settings of a snow covered landscape.

It is interesting how music affects your mood and manages performance in activities like trail running. I like the shuffling of my selections but when that hard uphill comes into play right before the end at the parking lot, I like the ability to kick into my last effort with some inspirational music from ………..lets say……..The New Riders…….” Panama Red.” ” Just don’t know when Red’s in town, he keeps well hidden under ground…….” Ahhh, made it up the hill.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKgB-3aANe0 Amazing how that music got me going. Hey- I am a late bloomer. You guys have had the ear buds for years. I am just now discovering and enjoying it. Keep bringing me into the 21st century my friends. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

Hahnenkamm- The Super Bowl of Ski Racing

You know, anytime you get to witness a sporting event up close and personal, it is electrifying. I have had the opportunity to stand on the sidelines at a Penn State football game, see Tiger rip off a drive at the US Open, and see World Cup giant slalom and slalom events from the side of the trail. It is amazing to see the skill level of these athletes. We have a local sports writer who pooh poohs the Winter Olympics and calls them games at best. He is also the same guy who does not consider Tiger Woods an athlete because he wears dress slacks to play his sport. I have had a running dialog with this guy who most likely never toed the line in a race or ever really had much experience as an athlete. Because, if he did, he would respect the talent and dedication that is needed to perform at a national level or a world class level in any sport. But in all of my experiences as a spectator, none was more electrifying than witnessing the Hahnenkamm Downhill Ski Race in Kitzbuhel, Austria. This race will be run again this weekend – the 75th edition, and if you have Universal Sports as a cable channel option, you can witness it live. I will have the DVR on for sure because I am addicted to the Universal Sports Channel.Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA
A number of years ago, I had the good fortune of being selected to represent Western Pennsylvania along with Kenny Griffin and Mark Singleton on a PSIA trip to the Austrian Tyrol Region.photo The event was sponsored by the Austrian tourist board and the ski instructors group from the US had representatives from all of the national regions. We were each domiciled in a particular area for one week- teaching and sharing experiences with the local instructors. The other week was spent skiing different areas of the Austrian Tyrol , but the highlight of the trip for me was to see the Hahnenkamm up close and personal on the side of the famous “Streif” race course.AUT, FIS Weltcup Ski Alpin, Kitzbuehel Ski racing and bicycle racing in Europe is like the NFL here in the states. Eurovision broadcasts all of the World Cup ski races and cycling events and the European public is very knowledgeable about the details of each sport. They are rabid fans and show up in masses at events as shown on the famous climbs of the Tour De France. But there is no event that attracts more people in one venue than the famous downhill held each year in Kitzbuhel.Google Image Result for http--www.flags.net-images-largeflags-AUST0002.GIF (2)
To give you a little bit of the atmosphere, imagine if you will, 100,000 people lining the race course, schnapps and beer flowing, excitement mounting as the first racers descend the mountain at an average speed of 66 MPH. At the start at the Mausefalle, the skiers are airborne and reach a speed of 60+ MPH within seconds of starting the race. The Austrian army uses water hoses the night before in the course preparation to ensure that the track is rock hard and icy, which the downhillers prefer. As they make their way down the 2.06 miles of racecourse, they come up on an off camber left hand turn called the Steilhang. This is where Kenny and I stood and watched as the rabid fans with their cowbells screamed as the racers flew by. The technical ability of a ski racer to hold a turn, on rock hard ice,off camber, at speed is impressive and it is anything but a game as the local sports hack surmised. The year we attended was in the prime of the “Crazy Canucks” where Canada reigned supreme for four consecutive years. Todd Brooker, Steve Podborski, and Ken Read were the heroes of the day, spoiling the Austrian and Swiss dominance of the race. I had seen Brooker race before when I worked at Sugarloaf,Maine. As a young guy with wild, wavy red hair, and a devil may care attitude, he represented Canada at the Can Am Races at Sugarloaf on his way to advancing to the World Cup level. It was neat to see him ski again in Austria at this premier event. He has had a checkered past with this event, winning once and having the worst crash of his life in Kitzbuhel on the Streif.Hahnekammrennen2011
In the final straightway to the finish line, racers approach 90 MPH and as they cross the line, the noise is deafening. An electrifying sports experience to say the least. I have never seen a Grand Prix event or Indy, but I can’t see how those events could be any more exciting that seeing these world class athletes rocket down a steep alpine face at 90 MPH. These guys are all 220 pounds plus with massive thighs.  You have to be that strong to hold those turns in that course at speed.

These days , my viewing is limited to what I see on Universal Sports. I love to see how these racers make turns. Lots of ski technique taught today at an advanced level is influenced by the way a racer turns. World Cup ski racing is the benchmark for equipment manufacturers which trickles down to standards in manufacturing and standards in ski instruction. Witnessing world class ski racing is something that is always etched in my mind. I will never forget the atmosphere of Kitzbuhel, the great apple strudel, the beer, the food,  and having the opportunity to witness an event as powerful as the Hahnenkamm. If you get the chance, try to watch it on Universal or streaming on line. It is not the same as being there, but you will get the idea. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

Ski the Midwest- you may be surprised.

Not too long after I worked for the winter up at Sugarloaf, Maine and after I passed my PSIA Certification Exam for ski instruction, I was motoring west through Ohio to a PSIA clinic sponsored by Boyne Mountain, Mi. 161 I was feeling rather smug with my recent accomplishment and time on the big mountain, Sugarloaf, and wondering what I could learn in Michigan?  Was there really any decent skiing there?  Do they have any vertical or elevation to speak of and why did I agree to come to this event?  Chip Kamin, who was an examiner for PSIA Central, and Larry Cohen had asked me to accompany them to this workshop clinic and I agreed because these were the two guys who got me into ski instruction in the first place and I respected them both.  So here we were, making our way through Toledo into Michigan which was no where near any reputable skiing in my mind.  I was more concerned with visiting the Christmas super store- Bronner’s, in the Bavarian themed town of Frankenmuth, Mi. logo01 I figured if I was going to drive all this way to ski on something in Michigan, I would at least salvage the trip with a visit to this famous little town with the famous Christmas store.  Boy- was I surprised when I got to Boyne and had the experience of a Central Division workshop clinic.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in my mind were famous for Nordic skiing.  The Upper Peninsula in Michigan has the famous ski jumps at Iron Mountain and cross country skiing up  in those three states is king.136  But we will get back to that in a minute.  Boyne, as it turns out today, is the second largest operator and owner of ski and golf resorts in the country.  Among its current properties are Big Sky, Crystal Mt., Sugarloaf and Sunday River.  Boyne knows how to operate a ski area and although the vertical at its home base in Michigan is a little smaller than my home area here in Pennsylvania, it is very well run and the snowmaking, grooming and natural snowfall make for some pretty nice conditions.  Chip introduced me to Peter Batiste who was a fellow examiner in the Central Division and he did the split of all of the attendees at the clinic.  I was fortunate enough to make the first split and ended up in Peter’s group.  My smugness started to melt as I watched our course conductor ski.  His handling of the clinic and his skiing ability made me real glad that I had decided to attend this event.  Like I have said in many of my earlier posts, smaller mountains have produced some pretty impressive skiers.  Boyne was no exception and the enthusiasm for skiing at the smaller mountains is infectious.  No wonder Glen Plake, the famous extreme skier, spends time in the smaller areas.  Not only are they a feeder to the big resorts out west, but they have their own character and enthusiasm even with a limited vertical drop.  I learned a lot in that clinic and on our way back, the conversation was lively with Chip and Larry about Peter and the professional quality of the PSIA clinic in the Central Division.

Fast forward to another time and I had the opportunity to once again ski the midwest only this time in the frozen tundra which is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.383816_10150517402916753_1548434111_n  Here is where winter is locked in for many months of the year and if you read my post about the National Blind Skiing Championship, you will get a feel for the challenging weather and conditions that skiers in that region face. http://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/02/17/the-national-blind-skiing-championship/   You really have to love the winter to live there and especially ski there. 308261_10151571337441753_2003138656_n 40 below zero straight temperatures are not uncommon in these parts and when you are skiing a small area with limited vertical terrain, you wonder sometimes why you do it?  But again, the midwestern ethic of fun, excitement, and passion runs deep in this neck of the woods.  I was again surprised at the excellent conditions and  the professional way in which the area, Blackjack, ran its “mountain.”  People are tough up there and in many ways, they reminded me of the tough as nails people from Maine that I had known in my stint at Sugarloaf.  If you didn’t have a dipstick in your engine block heating the oil, there was no way you were starting your car in either area of the country.  I had 40 below in Maine as well, but the UP is in a class of its own with the winds off of Lake Superior and the copious amounts of snowfall due to lake effect.  Blackjack might be a smaller area but they get boatloads of snow.  599556_10151571337436753_1357161776_n

Bottom line, never judge anything before you have the experience.  I had preconceived notions about Alpine skiing in the midwest, but I was pleasantly surprised.  What they lack in vertical, they more than make up for in professionally run areas and expertise in their ski instruction.  Sadly, Larry and Chip are no longer with us, but the memories of those clinics( I went back several times), are etched in my mind.  I have always been grateful to Larry, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin for getting me involved in ski instruction.  I miss all of them.  Thanks for reading and You Betcha…………ski the midwest.