I saw an interesting sticker on a guy’s helmet the other day that said,” Ski The East.” Being the inquisitive one that I am, I went on-line and found a really good website http://www.skitheeast.net The fellows that run this site are film makers who feature eastern skiing and have developed their site to include stickers, clothing, and other merchandise and generally provide a good vibe on all that is ……Eastern Skiing in the U.S. So what is so interesting about skiing in the East? Anyone who has skied out west knows the sunshine, the powder, the warm days, the expansive resorts, and if you ask anyone, they will tell you the west is the best…….or is it? Depending on your perspective, the East can offer what the young people call “stoke” and provide at least a memorable ski experience.
I was indoctrinated into eastern skiing right here in Pennsylvania as I have related in many past posts. In my early days, we had wooden skis and leather boots and the edges were suspect to say the least. We have this interesting weather cycle that brings us cold weather and snow off of Lake Erie and occasionally one of those clippers from Canada collides with a slow moving low pressure system that will dump some considerable snow on our area. But on the back side of those Canadian high pressure cells, warm air is pumped up from the south which allows for melting during the day and freezing at night which causes…….ICE!! Sometimes those Canadian highs are not powerful enough to overcome a slow meandering low pressure cell from the Gulf Coast that will shuffle northwards and bring rain that all but destroys the good snow from previous storms. We have to live with these cycles and in the old days, there was a lot of skidding, sliding and general, uptight, sphincter puckering runs down our icy,limited vertical, Pa. slopes. We learned how to deal with those adverse conditions and in the typical Northeast Puritan way of looking at things, it made us better skiers and also made us appreciate the good weather and the new phenomena called snow making.
Fast forward through the years of metal skis, leather buckle boots, and rocketing into the modern age, I found myself skiing in the college years in New England. Places like Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire often had similar weather cycles and the marble like surface on rather steep pitches made it challenging. I found myself teaching skiing after college at Sugarloaf, Maine as I have related in past posts. Even that far north, the weather can be fickle and you can experience the frozen clear surface on runs like the Narrow Gauge which quickly make you realize the value of a sharp edge on a ski. There are a lot of “how to” You Tube videos out there on ski tuning but my main instructor over the years has been my friend Eric who is a born and bred Vermonter. Those Killington guys sure know how to razor up a pair of skis and I still have the original vices that Eric gave me on my ski bench in my garage. A little weekly maintenance on skis can surely make a difference when the weather turns interesting. New Englanders are stoic in their description of ice. Woody Woodward, my old PSIA Examiner friend from Maine used to call it “scratchy.” ” Yea McCloskey, it is a bit scratchy out there today. Your bad habits will be exposed out there today don’t you know.” Like the New England weather, that crusty old Mainer was relentless but a good teacher and a good skier. Heck of a fireman too.
I took my PSIA Certification Exam at Killington years ago, but I will never forget the rains that fell in the first few days. Peter Duke,an examiner at the time, who went on to create SmartWool and Point 6 socks, introduced me to Bukflex which was the waterproof material that made up a sailing suit. It kept him dry and I went out and immediately bought one for that test. Wouldn’t you know the first day of the test, the weather turned really cold and the Bukflex was replaced by every bit of warm clothing I had. Cascade was a sheet of ice and the skiing part of the test was conducted on that slope with examiners licking their chops at the potential pitfalls ready to strike at each of the candidates. Fortunately I survived and my Maine training and even my lifelong familiarity with ice in Pa. helped me. One thing about rain, if you can keep yourself dry, the snow is usually soft and the skiing is rather enjoyable. Bukflex has now been replaced with Pro Gore Tex from Patagonia and last week the 59 year old kid skied in the rain and was bone dry. The same cannot be said for the poor saps who paid for the lift ticket and tried to stay dry in a garbage bag. If you related that story to a westerner, they would think you were nuts. They don’t ski on cloudy days and would never consider even thinking about rain. The skiers in the Cascades have to deal with it and are hearty enough to ski in the rain, but most westerners are spoiled with their perfect conditions. I chuckle when I hear them say it is “icy.” I tell them I am from back east where the black shimmering ice with last fall’s leaves staring up at you though the glass like surface is………….”ice.”
Grooming equipment has vastly improved over the years with tilling attachments and the glare ice of old can be groomed out making the skiing much more predictable. But nonetheless, the eastern skiing experience is for the determined, the hearty, the crusty, toughened, eastern souls who will ski no matter what because it is ingrained in their DNA. Easterners love to ski and no matter if it rains, snows, sleets or freezes to below zero temperatures, you will see these hearty souls out on the slopes battling the elements with a maniacal smile on their face. Even the ones that move out west can be spotted a mile away. They carve turns and utilize the edges when they don’t have to do it in that pronounced manner. Instructors and patrollers in the chair often remark,” There’s an Eastern guy, he skis like he does on the ice.” But some of the best ski racers and skiers the country has ever known are easterners. They had determination on their faces and their eastern hardpack skills launched legendary careers. The 59 year old kid is not legendary by any stretch of the imagination but my determination to ski anything in any condition is something that has been an aquired taste. I love to make turns and as long as the conditions don’t destroy my equipment, you will find me out there with the Gore Tex smiling like a butchers dog. I really smile when I get out west and enjoy what those folks get all the time. They won’t return the favor over here though. Can you blame them? Think snow and thanks for reading.