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!

Lake Erie Fluff

This week, the west is being pounded with “Snowmageddon”. Amazing amounts of snow in the Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain region. I can’t wait to get out there in March, but for the time being we are treated here in the east to the maddening cycle of snow and cold, rain, warmer temperatures, back to cold, ice, wind, etc. etc. etc. It takes fortitude to be a skier in the East and even if there is no snow on the ground in the city and suburbs, don’t ever underestimate the power of grooming, and snowmaking at the local resorts. img_1265

Fortunately cycles change and we are blessed periodically with a phenomena that I call Lake Erie fluff. As with the storms that come from the Pacific that bang into the Cascades, we here in the banana belt see storms that come from Canada. They roll over the warmer waters of Lake Erie which produce locally heavy snows in the Western New York areas as well as colliding with the ridges of the Laurel Highlands and produce a light powdery snow that is the fluff. Lake Erie is our “snow machine” and for those who live in the northwest corner of Pa. and Western New York, it is a reality of winter even in the cyclical winters of late. I went to school in Meadville, Pa where I wore Bean boots from September through May. But to local skiers, we look forward to these storms which can salvage the cyclical damage of the winter rain, freezing rain and warmer events. IMG_0515

My wife Janet and I take advantage of these storms each winter snowshoeing and skiing locally but also traveling north to the Lodge at Glendorn http://www.glendorn.com to celebrate her birthday and to take advantage of mid winter storms in the “icebox” of Pennsylvania. Snowshoeing on the local trails there is a very pleasant experience especially when the Lake Erie fluff falls softly during our outings. The crackling fires of the lodge are welcoming and we have been very fortunate to time these visits with snow events rather than warmer, rain events. We usually combine these visits with trips to Ellicottville, NY to ski at Holimont http://www.holimont.com or Holiday Valley, each of which lie directly in the path of the storms rolling across Lake Erie. ellicottville-20130208-00088

It is not uncommon here in Pa. to see blizzard conditions in the northwest corner of the state with nothing on the ground as you drive farther to the south. Then the snowpack increases as you drive into the Laurel Highlands where you see the results of the storms colliding with those ridges and emptying larger amounts of the fluff on the local areas in the region. A strange weather pattern to be sure but it enables us to have some outdoor winter activities despite not being in the more traditional snowbound areas of New England or the west. newaerial

I often hear people say that they don’t ski in the east or they don’t ski locally, they only ski out west. That is fine if you are satisfied with only a week or two enjoying your favorite winter sport. In my mind, take advantage of the local opportunities so that when you do go on a trip, you can be ready to go. In my mind, making turns is making turns. The more you make of them, the better you are prepared and also the more you can enjoy the winter. This particular winter has been a strange one but skiing Wildcat at Laurel Mountain has been a fun experience seeing that it is the steepest slope in Pennsylvania and the area has been reopened after a 10 year hiatus. I know that lapping those runs will get me ready for my Adirondack and western trips but it also has been truly enjoyable in its own right. Janet and I will be venturing north shortly and hoping for a nice dump of that Lake Erie fluff again on our visit. Our friends, Mike and Judy Smith, drive all the way from Philly to join us.img_0541 They usually only ski the west but were pleasantly surprised with the Holimont experience in Western New York. Also the stay in Glendorn is memorable. Get there if you can.