The 40 Year Competition

This is my friend Mike Smith who I have profiled before in my posts. He owns a marina up on Lake George and every year, we ski together at Gore Mountain and Whiteface up in the Adirondacks. For a review, Mike has jumped over 2200 times out of an airplane, he pilots his own plane and has flown open cockpit planes in the past with the leather helmet and goggles doing aerial acrobatics over Lake George to the delight of his neighbors and kids from the Hole in the Wall camp. He is also a strong skier whose lifestyle is gas pedal to the floor.

I first met Mike years ago at Laurel Mountain in Pennsylvania where he worked as the mountain manager. He then went on to work for Herman Dupre at Seven Springs as the mountain manager there and then took a job with several grooming vehicle companies eventually settling down with the marina. During the time of his sales career with the companies who make the groomers for the ski resorts, Mike visited a lot of areas in New England as well as out west. He ended up skiing at many of them with the mountain managers and would always call me and say, ” Hey McCloskey- are you working today?” To which I would respond in the affirmative and he would laugh yelling through the phone what great conditions he was having and how he was racking up more ski areas than I had at the time. You see, we have this 40 year old competition to see how many different ski areas we have officially visited and skied. We wrote them down one night over beers at the Algonquin on Lake George and ever since then, we have had this competition to see who is ahead. For documentation purposes, the areas visited have been in New England, New York State, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia,New Jersey, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, California,Nevada,New Mexico,Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Canada, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Never made it to South America or Australia or New Zealand but they are on the bucket list.

There are rules though which govern this competition:
You must officially have a lift ticket and take at least one run.
The tally must be for different ski areas- no credit is given for multiple visits to any ski area.
The only exception was Tuckerman Ravine which has no lifts. We hiked and skied there many times.

I remember one year passing the Donner Ranch Ski Area in Tahoe and my friends all wanted me to stop and hike up to take one run to rack up another area on Smith. They know all about this competition. The area was closed for the day and I reminded them of the rules. Smith and I would go back and forth with phone calls when each of us visited another area that we could add to our list. I delighted in calling him and he the same. In fact, when we ski together, his comment is that he knew he was making me mad when he called me daily on a visit to a new ski area. I laughed about it but you know, he was right. He did irk me when he would call on a daily basis while I was strapped to my desk. Jagoff!

I was behind for many years but eventually caught up to him and now have surpassed him because he is out of the grooming business and he skis mostly areas that he has skied before. However, I make it my business to continue the competition and when I visit a ski area, I always look for another place to get my tally ahead. My last addition was Homewood in Lake Tahoe which has beautiful views of the lake and advanced me to 108 different ski areas visited and skied in my life. One of my observations about ski areas is that smaller, family owned areas seem to have more of an appeal than the large corporate giants. The spirit of skiing is alive in the hard work and effort it takes to keep a small area running. The ambiance of a little area in Vermont or New Hampshire with roaring wood fires in the lodges and rustic architecture, to me is more appealing than the concrete behemoths that are the norm for lodges in the corporately owned areas. High speed chairlifts are not always the panacea for the skier. Sometimes those slow lifts add to the atmosphere and allow for conversation between runs. I like that. Sure, I like to rack up vertical with high speed lifts, but there is nothing wrong with the smaller areas and their fixed grips and surface lifts. Kind of reminds you of how skiing was in the old days. Single chairs are a classic a la Mad River Glen.

So, 108 different ski areas skied and visited is a pretty good achievement but before I puff out my chest too big, one final note. I met Ogden Nutting a few years ago who is the patriarch of the Nutting Newspaper empire which currently owns the Pittsburgh Pirates and Seven Springs Ski Area, Hidden Valley Ski Area, and manages Laurel Mountain on State property. Mr. Nutting has the unofficial record of 475 different areas visited in his lifetime. This was written up in Ski Magazine. I sheepishly boasted about my 108 but enthusiastically voiced my admiration for his achievement. He said, “my boy( I was 59),you have a lot of years left.” So, lets hope I can continue to accumulate visits to different areas. I have trips planned for this year, but if I spot an opportunity to take at least one run at some place where I have never been, I will do it. I need to keep my foot on Smith’s neck like a true hard core competitor. LOL. Thanks for reading and think snow.

The Chairlift

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So, I was sitting on the chairlift last weekend at Laurel Mountain here in Western Pa. The rain was sheeting off my helmet and cascading down over my goggles and I noticed that I was the only one on the chairlift. Looking back to admire the view of our beautiful Laurel Highlands there was no one behind me or in front of me and I turned back around and sat in silence. Even though the weather was foul, I was protected in Pro Gore- Tex and thought about all the times in my life I have sat in silence on a chairlift while skiing. Truth be told, we spend way more time on the chair than we do skiing so what is it like?

Personally, I like skiing by myself sometimes. On foul weather days, I can ride the chair in silence and contemplate the scenery around me and most of all…..take the time to think about things. One of the nice things about enjoying your own company is that you can relax and not have to wait or meet up with anyone. Not that I don’t like to do that with friends, but silent times on the chairlift are therapeutic to me. Kind of like riding a mountain bike by myself. I talk to myself…..sometimes I get answers.

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I have skied in 108 different areas so I have ridden a lot of chairlifts in my time. Single chairs at Mad River and Stowe, fixed grip chairs with no safety bars at Aspen Highlands and Crystal Mountain, with short seats that scare me, and of course my main nemesis that I ride annually out at Mammoth- the infamous Chair 23. chair-23

I have posted about that before and when you have a four person chair, with no safety bar, suspending you hundreds of feet in the air over a wide expanse, people like me who are a bit acrophobic, tend to do the Archie Bell and the Drells and do the tighten up. But I get through because it is the only way up. So, what happens when other people are on the chair with me? Friends engage in conversation about the day and what is happening in their lives. It gives us all a chance to catch up and the social aspect of skiing is always enjoyed on the chairlift because …..well, as I stated, we spend the most time of the day there. The funny thing is when you sit with a stranger on the chair or a group of folks who you don’t know. Depending on my mood, I can sit there and say nothing, nestled behind my high collar and goggles. But in most cases, I usually chime in and say at least a cheery “Hello- great day huh?” That usually elicits some kind of civil discourse and oftentimes you meet interesting people and find out how their day is going, where they are from, what they like about skiing at an area, and then you hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

Then there are the ear bud types who play their music and just want to be left alone. Sometimes they look up and give you a loud, ” Hi. ” But most often they nestle behind the collar and the goggles and keep to themselves. That’s cool. You hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

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Late next week I hit the epic snows of the west. No more chairlift riding in the rain for me this season, but even though we have had a dismal winter here in the east, tenacity wins the day and one of the benefits has been time alone on the chairlift. I can look around, use the time to take in the beautiful mountain scenery of the Adirondacks, the Laurel Highlands, and on to the breathtaking vistas of the west. I will be hanging on for dear life on Chair 23, with my friends laughing at me all the way. But I won’t ride that chair by myself- that’s for damn sure. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

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.

The Return of a Classic Ski Area

I have skied a lot of areas in my time and most of them were in New England where there are the giant, corporately run areas and the smaller privately held areas. The smaller areas always held my interest because they had a sense of tradition and a feel of skiing in another time. Recently, in our neck of the woods, down here in the Banana Belt, Laurel Mountain came to life again this year. It went from being one of the lost ski areas to a vibrant, resurgence of a classic ski area reminiscent of those areas in New England. In fact, there is a tie to Mt. Cranmore in the Mt. Washington Valley of New Hampshire. Apparently, when the Mellon family first had the idea to develop a ski area in 1939 for the members of the prestigious Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, they hired Hannes Schneider to lay out the trails. Hannes Schneider was the ski school director at Mt. Cranmore who was brought to the US from Austria by the industrialist Harry Gibson, a friend of Richard King Mellon. Schneider is widely acclaimed as the father of ski instruction in this country. newaerial

When you first pull past the stone entrance hut on the mountain road, you feel as if you are driving back in time. The parking lot is never full and as you make your way to the top of the mountain lodge which has been recently refurbished, you can relax in an Adirondack chair by a roaring fire and put your boots on. img_1263 You can then take your brown bag lunch inside or take advantage of some good comfort food in the new bar area in the base of the lodge. The picture windows look out on the whole Ligonier Valley which is not only scenic during the day, but a sight at night if you choose to night ski. The refurbished snowmaking by HKD and the new Pistenbully groomer make the Wildcat slope a delight to ski and it is known to have the steepest vertical in the state. img_1266

I remember skiing Laurel when it was run by the state and had some amazing powder days there with Frank Pipak, a friend who took the PSIA exam the same year that I did. Although, I spent the winter prior to that exam in Sugarloaf, Maine, I often credit my runs down Lower Wildcat with preparing me for the steeper terrain that was utilized in the exam. My friend Hiller Hardie always says, ” if you want to get your legs ready for the western trips, lapping Wildcat at Laurel will put you in good form.” Your legs get a work out on lower Wildcat with the steep vertical pitch. img_1265

When Seven Springs Mountain Resort decided to bring Laurel back to life this season, along with the DCNR of the State of Pennsylvania, it was time to promote it. I have told a lot of friends about my good times at Laurel and how they must try it. Like my two snowboarding friends, Tina and Mark Sauers who were totally enthralled with the area and the family feel to the place. img_1262

We have some challenges down here in the banana belt with the weather being on the edge of rain and snow. But credit Laurel with good snowmaking and grooming to make it possible for enthusiasts like me to get the most days out of rather dismal early winter conditions. I have a lot of good memories of skiing at Laurel back in the day including fun times with my son Jack and our visits to Fort Ligonier and the Pie Shop in Laughlintown at the bottom of the mountain. IMG00117-20100116-1123

Two years ago, Hiller, John McWilliams, Jeff Balicki and John O’Toole and yours truly used our snowshoes to hike into the closed area and after unloading our packs, took two runs down Lower Wildcat. Four hours plus of hiking for two runs was “having to have it” and it showed our devotion to an area which we all loved. It is so nice now to have Carl Skylling’s new Sky Trac chairlift instead of bootpacking to claim our vertical. IMG_1574photophotophoto

So if you are a local, get over to Laurel. You won’t regret it and if you are visiting, check it out. Lower Wildcat will surprise you even if you are a veteran of steep skiing from points beyond. I am so happy it is back. Hannes is probably up there smiling at all of us. Thanks for reading.