Fourth of July Turns

Outside of setting my neighbor’s awning on fire with a bottle rocket launched by my grandfather, one of the most fun Fourth of July weekends was skiing at Tuckerman Ravine up in New Hampshire. That weekend was the second trip to the Ravine for the year with my pal Eric Durfee and we coupled great turns on corn snow with water skiing, golf, tennis, and jumping in his dad’s pond and swimming in Lake George. I came home exhausted but making ski turns in July was a real treat. I can recall the sunshine in the bowl, the beads of sweat forming on my forehead and climbing with my pack in a t-shirt and wind pants. July snow is dirty on the trail from all the freeze thaw events but the fragrance of pine trees, the rushing water in the streams, and the general communal feeling of extending the ski season was pretty cool.

A number of years later, I had a meeting in Fresno, California. I called my pal Jeff Rose from Philly who was also attending and I said, ” Hey man, how would you like to ski Mammoth Mountain on the weekend before and after the meeting? He was all in, being an avid skier, and as we came through our shirts in 108 degree temps in Fresno, the locals looked at us like we were nuts with all the ski equipment. Rose conked out on me as I drove through Yosemite in the pitch black night, but we made it to Mammoth at 3:00 AM. Bleary eyed, we awoke to blazing sunshine on July 19th. The latest I had ever skied in my life. Again- the feeling of getting over on something by extending yet another ski season was first and foremost on my mind. That year, Mammoth closed at noon but we were the first on the lift in the morning and made tons of turns on bullet proof ice which miraculously turned to amazing corn snow for just a short while until it turned to mush. Corn snow is fickle. It forms in the sunshine for a brief time and rewards the faithful with hero conditions. That brief moment when the corn snow is perfect has to be harvested as soon as possible. It was amazing to see how soon it turned to slop and we exited the mountain right at noon. The afternoons were spent sitting in the hot springs, drinking a beer and regaling the locals about our forward thinking to ski while on a business trip.

I have not had the opportunity to ski that late in a number of years. I know they are hiking up Mt. Rose now with good snow still in the Chutes. Nevada folks are dedicated and with the snow pack out there this year, they will most likely be skiing and hiking long into July. Mammoth will be open again and also Squaw Valley,California in Tahoe with a remarkable announcement, will have one chairlift open all summer into the next ski season. I will be there for a wedding in September and if they have that chair running as promised, I will definitely take a run or two to set a new personal record.

Why do I talk about skiing in the summer? My mountain bike friends set their watch to when I will start to talk about skiing on a ride. I look at my equipment in my garage and take the obligatory edge feel when I pass my shelf on the way to get my bike. I guess my enthusiasm for sliding on snow carries me through the year as it is the most fun outdoor activity in which I participate. Only 5 months to go. Plus, I love the winter. Not that I don’t like the change of seasons, but in those rare occurrences when I can ski outside the regular season, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My pal Bill Yalch out in Colorado will be camping in his van and getting the last turns of the season this year. He may have to do some climbing, but he will harvest that beautiful corn in that way too short window of time. Think snow? No- not yet? Thanks for reading.

Younger Next Year

I learn something new every ski season. I like to think other people do as well like my buddy Bill Yalch, seen here with his eyes closed. He and Brady Cunningham asked me how to smooth out their turns and I gave them a tip that always works that basically says…”don’t be in a hurry to finish the turn and engage the new downhill edge early and ride it out- flexing the ankles along the way”. Ankles are the key. I followed them down the trails at Arapaho Basin and called out when to engage the edge and when to flex the ankle. They did it and were very happy. John and Richard Nicolette are two childhood friends of mine who are great skiers. They ski in a very efficient, traditional way, but were interested in the new method of engaging edges and widening their stance. Bottom line- good skiers like Richard and John get it done for sure, but there is always something to be learned with new technique.

Fast forward a day and I made my way to Reno to meet up with our annual gathering of F.O.E.D.( Friends of Eric Durfee).

This group comes from all over the country to ski with Eric due to his generosity and we all represent different phases of his life. Mark Hutchinson and Proctor Reid are his childhood friends from Vermont. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and coached Erik Schlopy who was a U.S. Ski Team member. Proctor raced with them as juniors and eventually raced for Dartmouth. John Ingwersen and Bart Smith raced for Cornell with Eric, and I came on the scene after Eric was married to my friend Helen from Seven Springs. This group skis hard and for a bunch of 60+ guys, we go from the first chair to the last chair. This year we had a little addition to our usual hard core gathering. My friend Jeff Mihalsky, a snowboarder- splitboarder to be exact( he has great prowess in the back country), came up from Sacramento to ski with us at Mt. Rose. It was funny- he kept calling us “old dudes” but we all learned a bit about snowboarding and my friend Eric said no doubt that snowboarding saved the ski industry. It was a great vision to see a bunch of old hard core skiers having a blast with a young snowboarder. We all get down the hill hard and fast and it was a great day and a mutual learning experience.

So one day at Mammoth, Eric says to Hutch ( a seasoned PSIA Ski Instructor as well as race coach), ” Hutch- give us all a tip for us to work on this trip.” He thought about it for a while and after telling me to lower my center of gravity and look more ahead, telling Eric and Ing to follow the turns with their center of mass instead of being so countered in the typical race position, and telling Proctor practically nothing because he bends the skis so well and gets them out from under his body that there isn’t much improvement there. We all learned something from those suggestions and even though we all are seasoned skiers, we all can learn something every season. Thanks Hutch.

After a series of shoulder surgeries, hip replacements, and other corrected maladies with this group, the skiing is still pretty high level and I asked Eric how long did he think we could pound it like this. He remarked that as long as nothing catastrophic happened, he didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have at least another ten years of high level skiing. That is the premise behind one of my favorite books,” Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley. Keep doing what you enjoy, stay in shape, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old. Chris is now in his eighties and skis and rides a bike everyday……everyday!!

I actually get a little depressed at the end of the ski season. I think about the year and how much fun it is to rip GS turns on a perfectly groomed slope. The thrill of skiing the steeps with the chalky smooth snow peeling from beneath my sharpened edges. The sun, the mountains, and the ability and the opportunity to enjoy them is something I treasure with my friends. As I nodded off on the plane after looking at the Rockies one last time this season, I daydreamed about the year and the laughs, the learnings, the fun, and the benefits of skiing. From the Laurel Highlands, to the Adirondacks, to the Rockies, to the Sierras, this season has been fun. Skiing is a lifetime sport and as we all move into another season, we have our motto…..” Younger Next Year”. Thanks Eric, Ing, Proctor, Bart, Richard, John, Bill, Brian U, McClean,Jeff L, Porter, John, Tim, Monty, Alan,Tom, Chris, Judy, Mike,Mike S, and my lovely wife and Holimont ski pal Janet, for a great 2016-2017 season. Thanks for reading and now it’s time to haul out the mountain bike.

The Rose of Tahoe

For many years, I drove up the Mt. Rose Highway out of Reno and passed the Mt. Rose Ski Area on my way to the Durfees in Incline Village, Nevada. I often wondered what the skiing was like at Mt. Rose seeing that it is the first area that I passed on that trip from the airport. A lot of people pass on their way to North Lake Tahoe resorts but the locals know better than the tourons. It seems like Mt. Rose has been a favorite of the Reno locals for years and when I finally skied it a couple of years ago for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised and it has been a regular stop on my ski trips to the Tahoe region in Nevada. I will be touching down in a few weeks again to ski Tahoe and Mammoth with my buddies and the convenient location of Mt. Rose allows me to have quick access to the slopes there. In fact, the drill goes as follows:50year_anniversay

1.) Pick up skis and baggage at carousel- check
2.) Change clothes shamelessly right there at the carousel into my ski garb with onlookers curiously giggling. Who cares- I don’t know them. -check
3.) Put on ski boots and drag gear to curb- check
4.) Eric picks me up and knows the blue Lange boots waiting for him on the bench outside the airport. Dead giveaway from 100 yards out. -check
5.) Eric misses 2 runs as he picks up Hutch and me and we are back on the hill in 45 minutes. IMG00143-20100212-1420

Not only is the proximity to the Reno Airport good, but Mt. Rose is a very nice place to ski. Personally, I like areas where you can drive into the parking lot, put on your boots, walk a couple of hundred feet and get on the lift. You can do that at Rose. A nice family feel to it. Great groomers to warm up with and then you can make your way to a series of lift serviced chutes aptly named……The Chutes. The gates to this area describe a series of steep drops with some intimidating names. This skiing is not for the faint of heart and if you can’t make quick turns on some pretty steep vertical, you really should not pass through the gates. Every year I go there, it is the first wake up call for me that I am once again out west on non- groomed steep terrain where you better be paying attention. If we are fortunate enough to have powder conditions, The Chutes are wonderful. They are steep enough that you have to check the snow report and make sure that the avalanche conditions are in check. But the ski patrol won’t let you through the gates anyways if there is any possibility of a slide. But it is good to be aware nonetheless. Not often do you get steep terrain like this inside the boundaries of a ski area. IMG00331-20110323-1707
One day, a few years back, we saw a group of guys with baggy clothes and full face helmets blasting down the Chutes howling and laughing and having a great time. We saw them at lunch in the lodge and when they took off their helmets, there were gray beards and gray hairs everywhere. I introduced myself and remarked that we thought they were a bunch of kids with their garb and how well they skied. They appreciated the comments and said that they have been skiing together since they were 16 years old. These guys were all in their 60s. They motocross together all summer. Great bunch of guys who have called Rose their winter home for close to 50 years. It is guys like these and the other locals and families that make up the wonderful atmosphere that this ski area exudes. The owners are devoted to skiing only, as evidenced by a t-shirt that I bought that states ” Mt. Rose” simply on the front of the shirt and “Summer Sucks” on the back. These folks live for the winter and they run a nice area that is the highest elevation in the Lake Tahoe region. Consequently, they get snow when some of the other areas get rain. On the down side since it is so high and exposed, they do get high winds. On those days you can retreat to Diamond Peak just over the summit or go to Northstar and hide in the trees and escape the wind. MR Chutes

One last bit of trivia is that the Mt. Rose Ski Area is actually not Mt. Rose. That peak is actually across the Mt. Rose Highway. My family along with the Durfees hiked that a few years ago and the summit of Mt. Rose actually yields a nice view of Lake Tahoe, Reno, and the trails of the Mt. Rose Ski Area. If you go to Tahoe, don’t pass up on an opportunity to ski Rose. It has become one of my favorite areas not only in Tahoe, but overall. I am so happy we finally made it a permanent stop on my trips with the guys. Thanks for reading and keep enjoying winter- I do. IMG00243-20100809-1600