The End of an Era

So, I was on a mountain bike ride with my pal Steve Gurtner the other day and he said, ” did you hear they tore the cabin down on County Line Road?” I said- “Dixon’s ?” He said yes. “nothing but a big old hole in the ground now” I was a little shocked and took a drive over to see for myself. Sure enough. A big old hole in the ground where once stood the Rich’s cabin or as my dad used to call it…..” The Dixon Hilton.”

The cabin had come into some neglect and disrepair in the last number of years and my childhood friend Dixon Rich said that it was time for it to come down. Dixon bought the cabin from his folks a while back and as the years went on, it didn’t get much use and was becoming a liability. So Dixon sold the property to some friends who will build a new place. As I stared at the hole in the ground, lots of memories came rushing back to me from my childhood weekends in the cabin near Seven Springs Resort where we all skied as kids

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The old ski lodge and yours truly.

I grew up with Dixon Rich and we have been friends since the minor league in baseball. His dad bought the cabin a long time ago and every weekend, Bob Rose used to take all of us kids up in the station wagon to spend the weekends at the Rich cabin. Sleeping bags all over the floors were common and the bunk beds were filled as well. Usually it was either Sally and Bob Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich Sr., or Ted and Mary Struk who had the chaperone duties and cooking detail to keep all of the neighbor kids from the Berkley Hills area fed and in line. That was the standard weekend in the winter for all of us thanks to the generosity of Dixon Rich Sr. who got the place for all of us to enjoy. I couldn’t wait for the phone to ring on a Friday afternoon when Bob Rose Sr. would call and say- ” 15 minutes- be ready and have all your gear ready.” We would ski Friday nights until 11:00, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and all day Sunday until we would pack up and head back to the burg. That is where we all really learned to ski at Seven Springs, and spending our nights at the cabin on County Line Road. For years!!!!

Dixon and I still skiing together nearly 60 years later.

As the years went on, kids became teen agers and there were all kinds of cars in the driveway. The key to the cabin was always on the top of the entry door and the only rule was before you left, you better put the key back where it belonged. If those walls could talk, you would hear some tall tales from that cabin with all of those raging hormones and visitors coming from near and far to ski weekends with the Berkeley Hills crowd. The parents would still show up from time to time but their git up and go for us had gone up and left as they aged a bit. The Dixon Hilton was party central for many of us growing up on weekends in the Laurel Highlands. Dix and I got into mountain biking around the same time and we used the cabin as a meeting place for our growing number of riding friends. It was cool to have a place to stay and hang out after a big ride from the cabin, over to Hidden Valley and back again. Dixon and I would also take mega rides to Ohiopyle and often get lost on the way back. We relied on the sunset to give us direction and if it got too late, the kindly neighbors from Indian Head would give us a ride back up the hill to the cabin where we were completely exhausted. When they had the NORBA National Mountain Bike series at Seven Springs, Dixon and I raced in our category, and then watched the national class races. The whos who of mountain bike racing came to Seven Springs in those days and somehow they all heard of the parties at the cabin on County Line Road. It was not uncommon to see luminaries of the mountain bike world show up in Dixon’s yard. Maurice and Elaine Tierney of Dirt Rag Magazine, Sue Haywood, Kurt Vooreis, and even Gary Fisher graced the grounds of the Dixon Hilton. The cabin became the meeting place for rides and the after ride festivities for years and it became our little year round resort.

Tough Trail at the NORBAS

Time flew by and our little band of neighbor kids spread out all over the country. The cabin didn’t get much use in recent years and one time Dixon was staying there and he called me on the phone. ” Hey Patrick, you wouldn’t believe it. I was sleeping and at about 3:00 AM the deck fell off.” ” I didn’t know you had to shovel snow off the deck to relieve the weight.” ” All of a sudden it was gone” We both had a good laugh about that one along with some other good memories.

I talked to Dixon the other day and he told me about the sale. I asked him if he kept some memorabilia from the cabin and he said that he had, including the valued pair of Jet Stix. We both laughed and said most people would not even know what they were. For you younger folks- google Jet Stix. Also- he said he kept the flashing yellow light that they used to alert people coming up County Line that the cabin was open and people were there.

Looking at this hole in the ground, I will miss the old days. But I will always be grateful to the Rich’s, the Roses and the Struks ,and my parents, for their investment in the kids in the neighborhood. That cabin was our home in the winter and I could not think of a better way to grow up. I am still skiing sixty years later and my enthusiasm has not waned one bit. That love of the sport was ingrained in us as kids and I will always be thankful for the cabin on County Line Road. Thanks for reading.

Respect

Good kids doing good work

Things are changing rapidly in this world. Some for the good and some no so good. One of them is respect. Respect for people, respect for property and respect for the environment in which we live and play. Take our local ski area for instance. Most of us love to be in the mountains and love it when the slopes are blanketed in snow and the sun is shining brightly. We understand what it takes to maintain that opportunity both with the management of the ski area and what they do for us, and also with all of us who ski there. We all have a responsibility to respect the area and keep it clean so that we all can enjoy the pristine, cold crisp winter days of skiing.

That is why when I boarded the chair lift this weekend, I was disheartened and downright infuriated to see beer cans and beverage cans carelessly strewn below the lift and lying on the ground. I thought to myself, ” What kind of person drinks a beer in the chair lift and then just carelessly, and with no respect, tosses it to the ground?” People with no respect who are ignorant of all that we love about the outdoors. Enter Rocco Lorence, Ali Bruno, Elise Wadas, Juliana and Mariella Contini to the rescue- pictured in the photo above. These kids were raised right and appreciate the opportunities given to them every weekend at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

It touched a nerve with Juliana, Mariella and Ali when they saw the garbage lying under the North Face lift and they decided to do something about it. Along with the other kids in their WPRC posse, they got garbage bags from the Contini household and began to ski down under the lift and pick up all the eyesore beer cans and eventually place them in the resort garbage collection bins. Not only were they an example to all the other kids in the local ski programs, but people in the lifts saw them and marveled at the consideration of these young kids who no doubt were taught to respect all that has been given to them. The conversation spurred comments on social media and also started a movement among the ski school. Lou Marshall and Eric Tolbert and their ski instructor groups picked other lifts and began the same process of cleanup. The kids started a movement and the resort also noticed with a nice reward for the kids and the ski school members who participated.

I don’t know about you, but I thought it was pretty cool that these good kids started to make people think about litter. About how it scars the places that we love. Sure, the area will no doubt put up receptacles and maybe signs to try to encourage people to discard their garbage in the proper container. But the tougher job is to change the mindset of people who just don’t give a damn. Maybe if we see that behavior taking place, we all can join together to make a comment to that person or persons and ask why they don’t use the proper disposal containers? Trying to change behavior doesn’t need to be confrontational but maybe positioned as a question to make the person think about what they are doing. It might change the behavior- one person at a time. There will be some people who just don’t care, but like the movement that we saw this weekend, maybe some kids and their respect for the mountain will change behavior- one violator at a time.

If nothing else, I tip my helmet to Lou and Eric and their teams. And I also tip my helmet to Rocco, Ali, Elise, Juliana and Mariella and their parents who raised them right and gave us all something to think about. Thanks for reading and thank the kids if you see them.

Scenic photos courtesy of Rhonda West.

In Search of Gemutlichkeit

Kitzbuhel, Austria

I have always been an atmosphere guy. Nothing did my heart better this year than having a white Christmas here at home. It just added to the atmosphere or the Gemutlichkeit as the Europeans would say. Getmutlichkeit officially is described as a feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. But it is so much more with the creation of atmosphere in a particular setting.

I love to ski but there is so much more to skiing than just sliding down a hill. The first time I learned that was when I was a kid and walked around our local ski resort – Seven Springs, and took in the Bavarian atmosphere. The log, stone, and glass architecture of the old world was present in the original buildings built by Adolph Dupre back in the 30s. I related skiing to this wonderful world of European elegance which I could not wait to take in someday.

The Town of Kitzbuhel

Fast forward and I was in a little church in Engleberg, Switzerland for midnight mass at Christmas. As I listened to Silent Night sung in a German dialect, I was enthralled with the atmosphere of this little town in the Alps. Later in my young life I returned to Europe and was part of a PSIA Ski Instructors outing in Austria where we skied and visited many places in the Austrian Tyrol. I learned the significance of plum schnapps (tough on the stomach but you can never refuse it),and the fun tradition of the Rodelrennen which is a sled race down the mountain roads in which I took part. After the race, we all went to the awards in the town of Kuthai and I reveled in the Gemutlichkeit of the local party and the understanding that skiing is a lifestyle in Austria. The atmosphere that is created there with the food, the beer, and the traditions celebrates everything winter. I was hooked for sure.

Rodelrennen in Austria

My wife Janet and I spent our honeymoon hiking in the Swiss Alps and visiting Austria once again and together we experienced that Gemutlichkeit in places like Verbier and Zermatt , where a candlelight fondue set the atmosphere just right. We have not been back since, and it is on the bucket list to return someday to take all of that in.

Today- I still search for that wonderful way of life when we travel westward. Some of the ski areas of the west still create that Bavarian atmosphere and it makes the trip aside from great ski conditions . Perhaps the closest we get is when we visit our good friends the Birsics in Park City and take in lunch at the Stein Eriksen Lodge.

Although the atmosphere is Norwegian, it still celebrates the feeling of Gemutlichkeit in the mountains of Utah. Nothing like coming in from the slopes and walking in to the Stein and having lunch. Linen tablecloths, fantastic food and drink and looking at all of Stein’s awards and medals in the trophy case just make the ski day all that more special. Spoken by a man who currently eats a peanut butter sandwich and boots up in his Jeep due to Covid regulations at our local area.

We celebrate a little Gemutlichkeit in our home around the holidays. Janet makes it her business to create that Christmas atmosphere with the decorations and the food.

So, I don’t know, I am just an atmosphere guy. I love the winter and when I have an opportunity to create or take in that feeling of warmth, friendliness and good cheer, I do it. Covid has been tough and things are different this winter. But someday, it will be over and we can all search and take in some Gemutlichkeit whether it is in our home, a ski area, or even out in the woods on a pair of showshoes- with some cheese and wine in the back of the Jeep. Thanks for reading and have a great New Years.

Opening Day!

Signs of the Times.

We didn’t quite know what to expect. The forecast called for rain and highs in the upper 50s for opening day of the local ski season. But the folks who showed up were the regular enthusiasts who don’t allow weather to spoil their fun especially on the opening day here in the Mid-Atlantic. All of us were clad in Gore Tex in anticipation of the foul weather but to our surprise, the sun came out and the atmosphere in the parking lot was electric. I looked at the lady next to me and asked, ” Excited?” She smiled and said,” look at all these grins in this parking lot.”

Melissa Thompson had her mask- don’t worry.
Margaret and Barry Boucher- opening day stalwarts.

Most people were masked and compliant with the social distancing rules in the chairlift lines. Everyone was respectful but anxious to make those first turns including me. I was shortchanged my last trip out west in March when everything shut down. It was a little disappointing for me to end the ski season that way. But understood seeing the circumstances of Covid.

The Pandemic has added an additional bit of uncertainty to the opening of the new season, but outdoor exercise along with restrictions in food service and time in the lodges allow for safe skiing for all of us. Our local area- Seven Springs Mountain Resort, was well prepared with signs, restricted lodge time, take out food options, and other anomalies that were accepted by the skiers. Heck, we all wanted to ski so if we had to wear a mask, try to social distance, and eat and boot up outside, no big deal. This is the way it is all over the country this year and I am prepared when I try to ski west this year. For the moment, my Jeep is my lodge.

But back to our opening day. One of the things I try to do when I first start is to concentrate on making nice rounded turns with both feet spread out a little bit and on the ground throughout the turn. No lifting the inside ski as per my old school technique. I watched a lot of video this fall in anticipation of my first turns and noticed the World Cup racers stance and several You Tube videos on carving that gave me a mental image of where I wanted to be. The good thing is that the snow was good and our local area made a good effort to make snow, groom, and open what they could, despite the fickle weather conditions. Things are starting to look up this coming week with a snow storm that might be significant.

My friend Scott Dismukes- a true hard core
My Jeep- My ski lodge

It is always good go make those first turns of the season. You build the confidence with each run and the effort to get to the parking lot early and on to the lifts, is well worth it. My smile was wider with each run and the excited conversations in the chairlift lines, although muffled by masks, made me thankful that the opportunity to ski had once again returned. This is my 59th season and I was as excited on opening day this year as I was as a kid all those many years ago. I couldn’t sleep well the night before thinking about it.

Yes – the terrain was limited but the conditions were great. I always say that you can’t be out west or in New England every week if you live here. So why not ski locally and then you are prepared when you do go. I have to tell you that if you like to ski like I do,, you will take every opportunity. The seasons are getting shorter so make the best of it. The folks at Seven Springs made it happen as they do every year for us. I am appreciative. Thanks for reading and think snow.

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.

“Welcome to the Mountains”

One of the nice things that I will always remember about Herman Dupre, was his genuine happiness to see you on his mountain. I would often be riding my mountain bike and see Herman driving in his Subaru and he would stop and always say, ” Welcome to the Mountains, Pat” ” How are you?” He was genuinely interested in seeing how you were. He always had a smile and twinkling in his eyes. We would chat and he would continue on his way surveying the property and seeing what improvements could be made. Here was a guy that was an icon in my mind and a guy that we always looked up to as kids growing up skiing at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Herman did so much to develop the resort that his mother and father started way back in the 30s. Much has been written about him being the pioneer in snowmaking around the world. I posted about all of this before. https://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2014/12/17/hkd-the-man-the-myth-the-snowmaker/

But the thing that I always remember was that for a guy of his stature, ability, and downright fame, he was always approachable and willing to talk to you about your interests and his projects on the mountain. I can remember seeing him in the coffee shop at Seven Springs one day when I was younger and asking him why he doesn’t get Laurel Mountain running again. Interestingly, Laurel is managed today by Seven Springs, but at the time, there were various encumbrances. Herman said to me, ” Pat- lets sit down and have a cup of coffee and I will give you 38 reasons why.” And he did, and I was amazed at his knowledge of water, the environment, and the various other factors that played into his decision not to get involved. Another time, I saw Herman and told him enthusiastically about these 55 gallon drums with large funnels attached that were placed under the chairlifts at an eastern resort that I had skied. They resolved the litter problem that is caused by people throwing beer cans and other trash off the chairlift and on to the slopes. He listened, as he always did, and said” Pat- I know all about them. In fact I have costed them out and figured that I pay my guys to be on the mountain anyhow and they can remove that trash quickly without having to deal with the cost of all those barrels. Why did I think for one moment that I had an idea that Herman had not already thought about?


Courtesy of Greg Bowlby and Bart Raitano Jr.

Herman was famous for his quotes of which one is displayed above in an old card from the Greg Bowlby collection that pretty much sums up Herman’s description of how he operated at Seven Springs. Pretty humorous but again showing the humility of a very capable guy. I have a deck of cards that Herman’s daughter Anni gave to me that has “Hermanisms” printed on the 52 card deck. Sayings like” always put a 20 dollar bill in your shoe.” Or, when he would see his guys in the parking lot after a big snow storm he would say, ” brush those cars off- I need the water.” So many great sayings that they are forever preserved in a deck of cards distributed by HKD Snowmakers- the wildly successful company that Herman started along with his daughter Anni and son-in -law Charlie.

Mike Smith, my pal from the Adirondacks, and the former mountain manager at Seven Springs, always said he learned more from Herman than from any other human being. He would call Herman every Christmas from his marina up on Lake George and wish him well. He would tell Herman that story and Herman would humbly say,” We had a lot of fun didn’t we Mikey?”

With all of his success, Herman was extremely benevolent. He did a lot with his alma mater- St. Vincent’s College and the new engineering building is named after Herman and his wife Sis. He always supported our blind ski program as well as a host of other volunteer programs at the resort and took a keen interest in how we were teaching blind people to ski. One day in the Foggy Goggle, I had our skier, Fred Siget ,put on his headset and I guided him around the bar. When I saw Herman, I guided Fred over to him and told him to tell Herman what a nice red flannel shirt he had. Herman was astonished and after we let him in on the gag, he said, ” I have been giving that guy free passes to ski for years and he says to me what a nice red flannel shirt I have.” We all had a good laugh about that and Herman gave Fred a big hug.

Herman always had a flannel shirt, jeans, and work boots and always referred to himself as a farmer. Again, as a young guy, I was always impressed with his humility in the light of his amazing achievements. Recently at a birthday party for Bif Swager, I asked Herman how his projects were going. My pal Jaime Thompson, a retired structural engineer, and Herman always had something going, and Herman responded to me, ” Pat- I have to live to 124 because I just have too much to do.” Pretty amazing for a guy in his 80’s who should be slowing down a bit. His wife Sis, laughed and said with her dry Irish wit, ” I will give him till 100 and that’s all. I am done then.”

We lost Herman this weekend and his passing sent a shock wave through the ski industry as well as the mountain community in and around Seven Springs. He lived a full life and we will all miss him terribly. Herman was such an influence in my life. His hard work, humble spirit, and generosity told me that just because you are successful does not mean that you are not interested in anyone but yourself. He influenced me more that he would ever know.

I am sure that as he made his way to his heavenly home this weekend, he gathered a crowd around the Pearly Gates. I am sure he had one of his Impulse or Impulse R5 high efficiency snow guns in tow as he explained to the Lord and the angels all about snowmaking. I can hear him say,” There is no such thing as artificial snow…..just snow that is made artificially.” It probably gathered some smiles all around as he was welcomed home. The next time you ski on a perfectly groomed trail and see those large towers with the orange guns attached, think of Herman. They are everywhere- world wide. Condolences to Sis and all of her fabulous 9 daughters. Thanks for reading.

Remembering Fred

A day on the ski slopes never goes by when I ride the chair lift and don’t think about Fred Siget. Fred was our original blind skier around here that passed away two years ago in his early 90s. He skied well into his 80s and whenever I think about the times that I spent with him, I smile. Fred is seen on the left here in the picture at the National Blind Skiing Championships in Blackjack, Michigan. I was his guide. Fred was an interesting guy. He was a retired bus driver. He was also a volunteer fireman who lost his sight as a result of a high pressure water hose accident that detached both retinas instantly. All of a sudden he was in darkness. At the time, Fred was in his 50s and wondered what would happen now. After a stint at the Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind, Fred learned to function as a visually disabled person and became the first blind computer programmer for Koppers Corporation. An amazing feat as he was well respected for his work and positive attitude.

I first met Fred at a Pittsburgh Ski Club outing. Fred was taught to ski at Seven Springs Mountain Resort here in Western Pa. by Jim Connolly, a PSIA full certified instructor. Jim developed a system and we expanded on it in the following years as Fred became famous for his prowess on the slopes with a guide following him and calling out commands. I became involved in Western Pa BOLD( Blind Outdoor Leisure Development) and taught the guides at the time how to teach skiing. They in turn taught me how to work with the visually impaired and that began a 34 year relationship which included many hours on the slopes with Fred Siget. Fred had a transmitter device for me as I guided him and he had an ear piece which made it easier to call out commands without shouting. Funny story- we were in the Foggy Goggle at Seven Springs having a beer one night when Herman Dupre- the owner of the resort at the time, walked in. I said to Fred,” Go over to Herman and tell him how much you like his red flannel shirt”. As Fred made his way over to Herman with me guiding him past the people in the bar, he said what I asked and Herman had a quizzical look on his face. After we let him in on the joke, he said” Pat- I have been giving this SOB a free season ski  pass for years and he tells me how much he likes my red flannel shirt. I was ready to murder him.” We all had a good laugh about that one and I proceeded to take Fred out to the upper parking lot because he said he wanted to drive again. We did donuts in the snow covered lot in my International Scout. I guided him from the passenger seat. He had such a good time driving again.

I had many, many good times with Fred and all of our visually impaired skiers and I always say that over the 34 years that I had been involved, I got more out of it than any of them. They were hard core and skied in the rain, sleet and snow and loved every minute of it. Skiing was Fred’s life and he made the most of his impairment. In fact, he said to me that had it not been for his blindness, he never would have done half the things that he had done post accident. How is that for a positive attitude?

One of the main takeaways that I got out of my involvement with BOLD was an appreciation for all that I see when I ski. I don’t take vision for granted and appreciate what a blessing sight really is. I sit on the chairlift and look all around at the snow covered mountains and think that today, Fred sees it all. I believe his vision is restored and he is enjoying what he missed for over 40 years, in his heavenly home. When my ski buddies ask me what I am looking at in the chairlift, I smile and think about Fred. I just remark how beautiful the mountains are and how I like to get those visions etched in my memory.

Never take things for granted folks. Remembering Fred, I see a guy who made the best out of a bad thing and it changed his life. I can still see him skiing with a huge smile on his face and skiers stopping with amazement at the courage and determination that was on display. We all should have that kind of positive attitude. Thanks for reading.

” Oh Lord, Oh Lord- how majestic is your name in all of the earth” Psalm 8:9

Breaking the Seal

So finally after waiting 8 months to ski again,( mild depression sets in on the last day of skiing no matter how much I like mountain biking), we rode up the chairlift and effectively broke the seal on the new 2019-2020 ski season. I said to the group it is like breaking a seal on a bottle of Gatorade. You take that first thirst quenching taste and then replace the cap. You feel so much better and you have done what needed to be done and experienced opening day even though the terrain was limited. Seven Springs Mountain Resort( our home area here in Western Pa) did a great job of snow making and grooming to open some nice skiing for the crowd that had been waiting patiently amid all the postings from the Ski the East group on Facebook. We were finally in the mix and proudly posted that the Springs was open for business and all is well.

Now you might ask, ” Why go up for one slope and two trails?” But my avid skiing friends all remarked in unison, ” Why not?” After a nice breakfast hosted by Seven Springs for all the season pass holders, ( which was excellent by the way), the enthusiastic crowd converged on the two chair lifts and the lines were long. But the best part was that nobody seemed to care and everyone figured that they would eventually get on the chair to take their first run of the season. Waiting in line was fine with all the “hellos” and ” how was your summer” conversations and not one person had a frown on their face or a negative word to say. We are all skiers and we are breaking the seal on the new season.

 

My friends Jaime and Melissa Thompson had been texting and giving me email updates all week on the gigantic snow whales that were forming because of the round the clock snow making . Armed with an arsenal of new HKD snow making nozzles and towers and a new 20″ main water line, Seven Springs was locked and loaded. The groomers eventually flattened the whales and the smooth groomed surface was ready for the taking. For the uninitiated, whales are huge snow piles that form in strategic areas from extended snow making. The water drains through the pile and when it is “seasoned” the pile become rubble for the groomers who smooth it over a larger area.

No matter what, your first run of the season is always exciting. From day one for me, back in 1961,  to the present day, I always cherish that first chair lift ride and that first turn down the mountain. I will always remember those first of the season outings with Bob Rose picking us up in the station wagon for the weekends in the mountains. I couldn’t wait for the phone call. My mom had dinner waiting for me when I got that call to be ready in a half hour on a Friday night. What a great way to grow up as a kid.  That excitement still is with me all these 58 years later. And although that first turn is always a little ragged. I thought to myself, “is the tuning ok or is something amiss?” But then I realize that I am in the back seat and need to get forward. Once that comfort sets in, the turns became more smooth and I realize that once again, ” I have this” and a new season begins.

Bill Boucher said it best when he stated in the lift line that it is hard to explain this enthusiasm to most people especially folks who don’t ski. But he went on to say that,” Pat, this has been such a huge part of our life and it still is.” Skiing is a lifestyle. We are not people who ski once in a while, we are skiers! It defines us, as Bill so eloquently explained. I agreed wholeheartedly as we lapped runs on the famous Wagner Bowl and Cortina Trail. Obviously we are anxious for more and as we eagerly watch the Weather Channel for upcoming favorable temperatures and snowfall, we know that to ski in Western Pa, on November the 23rd before Thanksgiving is indeed a true bonus. Yes, Utah, Tahoe and Mammoth await me and I am anxious as anyone to get this party started.

But like I always say with my pals Jaime and Melissa, ” you can’t be out west every weekend so why not enjoy what we have locally at Seven Springs and soon Laurel Mountain.

Our Laurel Highlands are most enjoyable and no matter what, as everyone said this weekend,” Why not!!” Thanks for reading.

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Full Circle

So all of us were back from our western ski adventures, and once again at our home resort for what was probably the last weekend of the season. The sun was out and the snow was soft and the crowds were gone. Most people at this time of year around here are itching to get out on the golf course or ride their bikes, and skiing takes a back seat for the spring. But some of the nicest snow conditions are in the spring and if you don’t want to hit golf balls and have them plug on every shot or ride mountain bikes in amazingly wet and muddy conditions, you can enjoy the last turns of the season. I did and with this group of dedicated skiers, we bid farewell to the 2017-2018 season. I already purchased my Highlands Pass for local skiing next year and also my Epic Pass renewal for the trips westward. You see, I get a little depressed with the last turns of the season because it will be another 8 months until I am on snow again and I am not getting any younger. Although, I am inspired by Stan Friedberg’s Guiness Book of World Records achievement as the oldest heli-skier in the world. At 91, Stan can still turn em and it is an inspiration to all of us. Gives me a lot of hope for many more seasons.

Every year takes some effort to get the ski days in. We all start off with the first reports of the opening at Seven Springs, our local mainstay area, and we all clamor to make turns early on one slope and a couple of trails as snow making and cold weather allows. Then we look northward to the Lake Erie storms and make our way to Western New York to take in some of that early season fluff. Then for Janet and me, we made our way to Utah to ski with Mike and Judy Smith and their daughter Shayna and husband Nick for a couples trip that included a harrowing “thin cover” run that rattled Janet. She composed herself and skied well for the rest of the trip but was a little unhappy with me for taking her to “no man’s land” with thin cover in Utah.
Funny thing about skiing is that until you get to the mountain, it is a royal pain hauling all the gear like a sherpa, getting to and from the airport, and fighting the crowds on holiday weeks. Then you have weather. Like when I made my way to the Adirondacks to ski with my pal Mike Smith- the other Mike Smith. . Along with meeting my friend from Vermont, Mark Hutchinson, I braved probably two of the worst snowstorms I have ever driven in on the New York State Thruway. But the turns and days with those guys at Whiteface and Gore were worth every minute of white knuckled panic. I also ran a traffic light in Amsterdam, NY which got me pulled over by a State Police officer. However, after a nice chat between two guys alone in a snowstorm and my contrite explanation of why I ran the red light, he cut me a break and told me to get back on the Thruway and don’t try to take the short cut.

Moving forward, got up early most Saturday mornings to meet at Laurel Mountain with my group there and had some fantastic days until the 78 degree thaw and biblical rains forced an early shut down of Laurel.

Perseverance was the call after slicing my tendon in my knuckle and making my way to the annual guys trip – this time in Colorado. Dr. J and the physical therapy team were cautious about my trip so early after the injury but after returning with 320,000 vertical under our belts, he was relieved that I came back with no injury to the healing tendon. Got to ski with my buddy the singing ski instructor from Vail- Art Bonavoglia listening to his tunes on the chairlift. Always a pleasure to ski with my old pal Art who is really skiing well. Also, got pulled over again in Idaho Springs, Colorado by the local police officer who said I was speeding in the 25 MPH zone. Most people think this is hilarious because I am the most cautious driver they know. A speeding ticket? McCloskey? But again, the police officer was from Pennsylvania and we had a nice chat about the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. He asked me if I was a Steeler fan and I said, ” What is the right answer?” He said he was from Harrisburg and I congratulated him on the Eagle victory. He let me go like the officer in New York. 2/2 in potential citation stops. Someone is looking over me.

Finally full circle back at the Springs with the group that you see above. It takes some dedication to ski locally and to make the time and effort for ski ventures out of state but this group does it and looks forward to every season. So, as I made my last turns for the 2017-2018 circle of ski life, I was a bit forlorn. But looking back, it was a good season and now I switch gears to spring and summer activities, patiently waiting for the cool weather of the fall, the turning leaves, and the first flakes of 2018-2019. Thanks for reading.

Miss Molly Could Turn ’em

My sister Molly and I had a great childhood learning to ski thanks to the initial encouragement of our parents and subsequently with the opportunity to stay at the Rich cabin on County Line Road every winter weekend. Bob and Sally Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich, and our parents,Carol and Dick, made it a priority that all of us kids would ski and enjoy the winter with the opportunity to stay in the mountains together-with spread out sleeping bags all over the living room.

Fast forward, my sister attended Carnegie Mellon University,majoring in Music Theater, and I would take her on her spring breaks to ski areas in the east and the west. When we would drive to New England, I forced her to ski in the most challenging conditions( rain, sleet, snow, ice,) and we would drive forever trying to find the best snow. She skied the bullet proof conditions at Killington, Sugarloaf and Stowe, and when she returned to school, she was exhausted after a week with her Type Quad A brother.

We would also go west to Snowbird, and Alta with my friend Mike Smith from Lake George and oftentimes she would stare down the Cirque with some apprehension and I would encourage her to go for it because she had the technique to ski it. After a harrowing trip for her on the High Traverse to the top of High Rustler at Alta, Molly started down and initiated a small slide. Her eyes were as wide as a pie plate and I said it is all fine, just ski it – and she did.

Molly and I would ski locally at an area near her home,when she relocated to Westfield, N.J, named Vernon Valley which is now Mountain Creek. At the time, their best run had a great deli at the bottom and there was nothing like skiing a steep run, dodging the yahoos from New York City, and eating a great corned beef on rye for lunch and doing it all over until the lifts closed.

Fast forward again, Molly got a great gig as the host of a nationally syndicated TV show out of WOR TV Channel 9 in New York. Romper Room and Friends with Miss Molly was seen by children all over the country on the super station and when she would return to Pittsburgh to visit, she had “Doobie Stickers” in hand which would end up on the back of everyone’s season passes at Seven Springs – our local ski area.

Molly was not only a celebrity from the TV show, but a local celeb who skied very well. We would race together in the Poconos on Pro Am teams during our cousin’s tenure with Coca Cola and as a strong woman skier, the guys from the Pro Skiing Circuit were all too happy to have her on their teams. We got some nice hard wear from those Pro Am races,which were Coca Cola sponsored, and the Belden brothers(Kurt and Kent) from Pico, Vermont, always wanted us to be on their team. More money for them and bigger bowling alley trophies for us.

Life moved on for Molly and she had 4 kids and the skiing days started to become far and few between. I tried to encourage her to grind through and keep her ski days in the winter, but it just became too time consuming with her work of raising a family.

Recently, things came a little full circle when my nephew Charlie, his new bride Trina, and my niece Mary all visited Laurel Mountain for a ski day with Uncle Pat. . As I watched Charlie and Mary, I saw glimpses of their mother in their turns and it was a joy to me that somehow my sister’s genes rubbed off on the slopes. Trina was a natural even though she was never on a pair of skis before in her life. Charlie remarked that he and Trina will make this a priority in their lives together and that made me smile.

Molly has a new hip now and the excuses for a return to the slopes with her Quad A brother are quickly fading. Maybe we will see some more Doobie Stickers re-surfacing as she perhaps makes a comeback? I am hoping so. Life can get in the way of things that you really like to do. But if you make it a priority and grind through the BS, you can enjoy the mountains, the slopes, or whatever your pleasure is. Carpe Deium folks. Life is short. Enjoy it. Maybe you will be seen in the Magic Mirror again? Thanks for reading.