Night Skiing

Keystone, Colorado

This time of year when I was a kid, I used to sit by our phone and wait for Bob Rose , our wonderful friend and neighbor, to call and tell me when he was picking us up for the weekly trip to the mountains. My mother would make an early dinner for my sister and me and we would pile into the Rose’s station wagon for the weekly ski season trip to the Rich’s house on County Line Road near Seven Springs The first outing of the weekend was night skiing and oftentimes it was brutally cold weather at night.

Dixon Rich and I still skiing together 59 years later
Seven Springs Mountain Resort at Night

In the early days, there was no snowmaking and the grooming was slim to none. We had to negotiate frozen slopes and trails with wooden skis, cable bindings, and leather boots. But all of us kids didn’t care because we were skiing and that is all that mattered. Seemed like more trips to the fireplace in the ski lodge than during the day, but as long as we could get a hot chocolate and thaw out in front of the roaring fireplace, we were fine and back out we went.

As we became teenagers with better equipment, the benefit of snowmaking and grooming became appreciated. But usually on Friday nights, the groomers were not out yet and night skiers had to deal with frozen moguls and deteriorating conditions until the groomers did their magic overnight for us to have perfect conditions the next morning. Didn’t think much about visibility in those days, just where we were going to build a jump so we could hit it all weekend long.

Fast forward and night skiing took on a new meaning as we included it in the itinerary for trips to Holiday Valley in Western New York with wicked snowstorms blowing in off Lake Erie. Night skiing there was at a whole different level. It was at that time that visibility became a little more important to me as we charged down the slopes making sure to stay near the edge to have the best lighting. Skiing at night is fun but you have to be able to see fairly well because the lights are limited in their range and you can ski in and out of dark spots. And again, it is really cold at night in a ski area. One of the more interesting signs that I have seen was on a chair lift stanchion at Killington and also at Whiteface that said” These slopes are as cold and lonely at night as they were during the 1700s. Don’t ski alone” Wise advice especially if you night ski.

Now in my 59th year of skiing and having skied in 111 different ski areas, night skiing is not a priority with me. Now don’t get me wrong. I still will include a night skiing session when my buddies and I venture northward to Western New York in the early season. We will take anything early on and if it includes a session at night, we do it. I have also night skied in Keystone, Colorado with my friend Norm which was an adventure. Keystone makes it their business to light some black diamond slopes which can be a challenge if the visibility at night is compromised by weather. But the same rules apply to when I was younger. Stay near the edge and take advantage of the best light coming off the stanchions. Norm and I got some extra skiing by venturing out at night. We loved to pack it in and that extra cold session in Colorado always will be remembered.

The bottom line to all of this is that at 66 years old, I still get as excited for skiing as I did as a kid. My first outings are local and then on to the scheduled trips out west and to the Adirondacks. But if someone said to me, ” Pat- lets go night skiing” – I would not hesitate, if it meant more time on the hill. I love to ski and will kick, claw, drive through brutal conditions, ski in the rain, sleet, blinding snow, and work real hard to get my time in. How about you? I close my eyes and think back to this time of the year when after all day Saturday and Saturday night skiing, Bob Rose would find me passed out in front of the fireplace in the ski lodge. ” Get up dummy. Time to go.” I laughed and poured myself into the station wagon. What I would give to do it all over again. You don’t quit skiing because you get old. You get old, because you quit skiing. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter. It is upon us.

The EVL Fix

No, not Evil. EVL- as in Ellicottville, N.Y. This time of year, the guys I ski with, here in Western Pa., are itching to get started on the season. We want to break that seal for the new ski year. I always say, locally, anything before Christmas is a bonus as far as the ski season goes. So, when we are trying to kick and claw out a start with sporadic cold snaps augmented by snow making technology, the pickins get kind of slim. This group of guys are fanatics like I am and we talk about skiing all year round. We plan our western or New England trips and can’t wait to ski the big mountains. But living where we do, we can’t be there all the time and we have to make the best of what we have locally- which is pretty good if you look at it in a positive manner. Enter Western N.Y. and the Lake Erie snow machine.

The guys here start to get jazzed when they see the cold fronts from Canada marching across the big warm Lake Erie producing colossal amounts of snow. We know that Western New York is going to get it and even though the vertical drop is not up to western standards, it still allows for lots of turns and smiles with lots of snow. You can say what you want about modern snow making technology and we would be nowhere without it, but there is no snow machine like the Lake Erie snow machine. My drives on I-86 will testify to the whiteouts that occur when this phenomena occurs. So the trek north begins and we all assemble in EVL and go …………..night skiing. I don’t particularly see well at night but our enthusiasm takes hold and we make turns in the shadows and hidden terrain changes. The cheeseburger and beer at John Harvard’s Brew House follows along with a host of stories and one ups from this group of expert skiers. The next day was sunny and the visibility was perfect, so it was a little better experience. But I would not have missed the night skiing for anything. Just fun to get out there and ski. If you added up the years of this group skiing, you would have well over 250 years of turns. We have skied together a long time here in the Laurel Highlands, and have shared laughs and ski days for many seasons. We appreciate the history of the sport too and the beer fueled conversations often lead to the equipment that we started with, people that we knew, and places where we have skied. When we stroll the hallways of Holiday Valley and Holimont up in Western N.Y., we see pictures like this showing the history of the sport and the traditions that are sacred to Western New York. You see, there are enthusiasts like us everywhere in the ski world and part of the mystique of skiing is respecting that tradition and keeping it alive no matter what tries to get in the way in our busy hectic lives. As I gazed closer at these relics in the case, I see the same Lange ski boots that I used as a kid. I see wooden skis and cable bindings and lace leather boots that I also used as a young guy just starting to ski.

It is fun to get together with my group every week during the winter, because we all share that passion. When the first snowflakes arrive, we can’t help talking to each other about the coming season. People who do not ski cannot relate and sometimes are mystified by our willingness to drive through raging snowstorms to get to our slopes. But when you are willing to drive in harrowing conditions, ski in the rain, battle the ice, basically ski the east, you are not just a person who goes skiing. There is a difference. You are a skier! I hear people all the time say, ” Oh, I only ski out west.” I say, ” Oh that’s cool- you only ski one week a year?” Ski locally, then when you do go out west you are ready and not needing a couple of days to warm up. Don’t be a ski snob. Real skiers use every opportunity, no matter where they live, to enjoy what they have and look forward to great ski days out west too. You can’t be there every weekend so why not enjoy what your local mountains or hills offer?

So my continuing theme in the chronicles is no matter what fuels your passion, get out there and do it and keep doing it. I love the winter. I make no bones about it. I love the snow and although I like the change of the seasons, I get amped with the first snowflakes and make every effort, like my group here, to get out and ski, snowshoe, hike, whatever. I even throw in some yodels just for good measure. Thanks for reading and think snow!