My friend J.R. Ellis always sets his watch when we mountain bike ride and sees how long it will take until I mention something to the group about skiing. We have some skiers in the group and some not, and J.R is one of the nots. But thats ok because it gives me the chance to talk about my favorite activity, and perhaps evangalize a little bit to try to get some folks to give it a try. But, we laugh about it and sometimes it is not very long at all until I talk about some ski area,some ski experience or my favorite equipment upgrades. The truth be told is that I started to run and ride a bike to stay in shape for skiing. It ended up being my other passion but nothing takes the place of sliding on snow and seeing the beautiful snow covered mountains.
Around this time of year, I get what I call…….”the itch.” The first ski magazines start coming in the mail. The leaves are changing and the days and nights are cooler. I look for that first frost and the first snowflake that usually falls as a birthday gift to me from the heavens. Ever since I have been a young lad and listened for the first ski report by Lars Skylling, it was always a long time between “the itch”and that first turn. People find it funny that even after all these years and the opportunities that I have to ski larger areas out west and in New England during the season, I still love to make those first turns down Wagner Bowl at Seven Springs- our local ski area. When the back side opens up, we are in high gear in Pa. and the winter is on full bore. But until then, the lagtime between the leaves falling, the weather cooling off and those first turns seems endless.
Back in the day, when I used to teach skiing for the Ski Academy at Laurel Mountain here in Pennsylvania as a young guy, we used to practice on a synthetic surface at the local county park. The county covered one of the slopes with a polyethylene rug and small poly beads. When it was wet, it was actually pretty close to real skiing but it was fun to be out there at this time of year with rock skis and your boots skiing on the rug. We were able to make some turns and then climb back up the hill. Most of the time we reviewed the PSIA teaching system which gave us a leg up on the season. As basic as this was, it was still something to look forward to in the fall when you are a fanatic like me. The picture above is of the Snowflex area at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. This surface is very similar to the rug we skied on but this place has a lift, rentals, and a ski school that operates all year. Pretty neat for the Liberty students, and a reminder to me when we visited down there this summer of all the fun that we had at Boyce Park many years ago. One of the things we learned at Boyce was to wear long pants and long sleeves no matter how hot it was. This is one of the rules of the Snowflex Center at Liberty. If you fell, the carpet burn can be pretty severe so you are better off being protected. Nonetheless, the risk of carpet rash was no match for the fun and good times of starting the season on the synthetic surface.
Another fun analgesic activity for the “itch” was grass skiing. If you look at the other picture above, you will see the tank tread like devices that are attached to the ski bindings and ski boots. As fun as the carpet was, this was actually a bigger thrill because you were making a series of teeny tiny turns by moving your feet and redirecting yourself towards the next turn down a grass slope that was a regular ski slope in the winter. Imagine using hundreds of tiny steps with both feet in order to redirect the tank treads in the direction that you want to go. You plant your pole like regular skiing and then you start making hundreds of small directional steps. Often you were successful as you became more skilled and many times you went ass over tincups when you hit a rock or a grass pile in the middle of the slope. I had two pair of these contraptions and always talked a friend into trying. At the end of the day, elbows and knees were skinned and bleeding but the fun outlasted any pain that we incurred. Many a summer picnic had grass ski runs and the ultimate experience was a race that was held at Ski Liberty near Gettysburg which I attended. They ran the chair lift down there in the summer and the fall, and grass skiing was a regular event at the area. However on race day, they had a regular Giant Slalom course set up on the slope and the start house had a large metal tray filled with soapy water to lubricate the tank treads. It only lasted one run but boy did it make a difference in speed. I had to get used to the speed but once I did, the little steps actually evolved into turns by redirecting the treads at a higher rate of speed. For a rookie, I did ok in the race and had a decent finish but there were a lot of crashes and burns on that fall day at Liberty. I would say that by finishing my runs in one piece, I was more successful than most of the crowd. Sometimes a smooth safe run works. And that was the case in this event at Liberty.
I still get that “itch” and read everything I can to get ready for the season. I try to stay in shape with cycling and trail running so that the first turns of the season feel pretty good and I am not too sore at the end of the day. But,unlike the west where they are skiing right now at Arapahoe and Loveland in Colorado, I have to wait a bit. The Boyce carpet is long gone and so are the grass skis. But as I try on my boots on that first snow flurry day, and take off the thick coat of wax that has protected my skis all summer, that doggone “itch” is starting to really get annoying. It is supposed to snow flurry here in Pa. this week which is a teaser because it is not even Halloween yet. But if I keep scratching that itch with the reading, looking at the pictures of my buddy Eric get those first turns at Mammoth, looking at the ski reports, talking about skiing on the mountain bike rides and setting records on J.R.’s watch, I can hopefully make it to December. Or maybe if I catch a weather break…….Thanksgiving. Think snow all you skiers and thanks for reading.