Ski the South- you may be surprised!

Back when I was a senior in college, I took the next step in ski instruction by taking a registration clinic in order to be affiliated with the Professional Ski instructors of America(PSIA). The closest one to me at the time was at Canaan Valley Ski Area in West Virginia. As I made my way south over the Mason Dixon line, I was thinking to myself that this was a strange place to go skiing. My experience up to that time, besides skiing in Pa, was either north to New England or west to Colorado. What was this going to be like? The back roads through the Monongahela National Forest were twisty and dark and I had visions of moonshiners, junk yard dogs, and other Appalachian thoughts where I would be lost in some “holler” and never to be heard of again. I was surprised at the beauty of West Virginia and when I got to the Canaan Valley, I was overwhelmed with the charm and the friendliness of the area and the people. “How y’all doin?” was not something I had ever heard from a liftie before and the clinic went well. The clinic leader was from Vermont and he stated to me that he loved coming south to ski because the resorts make a special effort to make sure that the snow conditions are as good as they can be given the challenging conditions of weather in that area. 7bf16d8ee7504bc98e7da791b93d6272

Fast forward and our Seven Springs crew made our way to Snowshoe Resort for the annual Cupp Run Ski Race. Snowshoe is a huge ski area with an elevation of over 5,000 feet. It has the topography of a small New England area and the Intrawest property is very well run with a lots of snowmaking capacity and a village that is built like Whistler at the top of the mountain. Our crew at the time was there for this annual race and although my ski instructor form in the race course was pretty, it never was fast. But I always had a good time traveling with some of our guys who were actually pretty accomplished racers. John Steitz, who had a pedigree of prep school and college racing, as well as the experience of coaching at Whiteface, went with us one year and won the race. His victory was pretty strong seeing that his main competition at the time was Hans Truckenbrod who was a Vermont based pro racer who always came south to cherry pick this classic race. Boy was he surprised when the “ragpicker” Johhny beat him and took first prize. John was not a slave to fashion as he raced in a wool hat with a hole in it from his dog eating it for breakfast. He also wore green wool pants and a flannel shirt. When he stood on the podium to collect his prize next to Truckenbrod, with his race attire and the third placed guy also looking splendid with his ski parka with sponsor patches, the photographer for Snowshoe looked at me and said, ” Well there goes the publicity picture.” We all laughed as our buddy the “ragpicker” cleaned house and took away the grand prize. Snowshoe puts on a great race and is a wonderful place to ski with surprisingly a lot of natural snow because of its elevation and the frequent southern storms that come racing through West Virginia.

Another great memory for me skiing in the south were my trips to see Frank and Jan Habay in Charlottesville, Virginia. They took us to Wintergreen which is a beautiful ski area in the ridges above Charlottesville. After eating my customary southern breakfast with grits, eggs, sausage and gravy, I was excited to try yet another southern ski area. I had a friend, Mark Singleton, who was the ski school director down there who welcomed us and informed us that the World Cup and Olympic champions, Steve and Phil Mahre, were skiing there that day as a publicity event for K2 skis. We caught up with the Mahres as they were skiing on the two expert slopes and we got a first hand look at not only how powerful they were as skiers, but a good look at their humor which is legendary. You see, at Wintergreen, you can’t ski the expert terrain unless you ski down to two ski patrol members and show them your turns. They punch your ticket which indicates that you are skilled enough to ski there. The ski patrol makes an effort to keep people off those slopes that are not skilled enough to ski there. The Mahre brothers approached them at high speed and stopped right in front of them burying them in snow. As they frantically dusted themselves off preparing to take the tickets from the guys, they showed their anger and started screaming at the top of their lungs at the World Cup champions. As they discovered who they were talking to, their demeanor suddenly became sheepish as we all got a good laugh at the prank that was played on the local constabulary by a couple of guys who have raced all over the world. night-skiing

Skiing in the south has a special charm. The Appalachian mountains are beautiful in their own right and the gentle elevation, accompanied by the legendary southern hospitality is a welcome addition to anyone’s ski portfolio. If you get the chance, ski the south. West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina may surprise you and the effort they make to stay open despite weather challenges shows their passion for the sport of skiing. You never know, you may see some Olympic champions in the lodge eating some red eye gravy and ham with some corn bread. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

The Mainstreaming of Snowboarding

photo The Burton U.S. Open Qualifier for the best snowboarders in the country is at my home area of Seven Springs this weekend. Coupled by the excitement of the half-pipe,boardercross, and the slopestyle events in the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Snowboarding is definitely on the international radar screen of winter sports in this country and around the world. I was riding up the chair the other day with a guy in his 20s who said that he had been riding a snowboard for 18 years. I remarked to him how mainstream snowboarding had become. I have been a life long skier but have seen the development of snowsports in this country include snowboards, twin tipped skis, half pipes, snowboard parks, and even the ski schools have been renamed Snowsports Schools. Hey- we all are playing in the same sandbox now and no matter how you choose to slide down a hill, the joy of winter sports can be enjoyed in many different ways and expressions.

It has been a tough slide uphill for the boarders up until now. A lot of skiers had questions and animosities towards these new guys who had the baggy clothes, boards and a bit of an attitude in the early days because they were trying to break into the old boys club on the slopes. I was not the only one to witness boarders getting into it with old guys as they entered the lifts and exited the lifts. Lots of bad feelings because of the mis-understandings between boarders and skiers. There are a few areas who still ban snowboards from the slopes but that is being challenged on a daily basis. The pure unvarnished truth is that snowboarding saved the ski industry. Skier visits have remained flat in recent years and if the winters were soft in a particular area of the country, clothing and equipment sales were down. Snowboarding revitalized the industry with sales of new boards and the funky clothing that is indiginous to the young crowd who tend to participate. Lots of those younger generation boarders are now sporting the gray hairs but still ride enthusiastically along with the next generation. I have not seen as many of the confrontations as in the old days, but some of that outlaw mentality does still exist.

I am obviously fine with the boarders and all the clothing, equipment, swagger, etc, that showcases the younger generation. What I would like to point out is that we all have a responsibility to each other when we go sliding down a mountain as fellow showsports enthusiasts. I grew up with the Skier’s Responsibility Code which outlined among many things, that the downhill skier has the right of way and that a skier must be under control at all times. We have all seen out of control skiers over the years and the hope has always been that the ski patrol or rangers deal with that dangerous situation. I also remember my wife being frightened when a straightlining snowboarder came up behind her and screamed “Get out of the way” even though she was clearly the downhill skier. I still see boarders and skiers come into a lift line “hot” and lose their edge or edges and take out a person standing in line at the knees. My friend in Colorado is still recovering from an out of control boarder who hit him in the lift line and blew out his ACL. All he was doing was standing in line and “BAM” cleaned out at the knees. Hey- it happens with boarders and skiers and it is time that the areas and the skiers and boarders who are experienced, take up the cause of educating their fellow enthusiasts and enlightening them on the Responsibility Code. It really should be called the Snowsports Responsibility Code. If we all are playing in the same sandbox then we all must abide by the same rules. If an experienced boarder sees bad form on the slopes by a fellow boarder, take the time to get him or her aside and tell them in a nice way that they have to be responsible out there. Same with skiers. I have had many conversations with skiers and boarders alike who have cleaned out one of my visually impaired skiers and just ridden or skied away. I often say, I could put a neon billboard on our blind skiers and some of these yahoos still would not see them, much less care about hitting them. Not good form at all. So take the time to make sure that it is safe out there and be responsible. Skiers are learning how boarders make turns and can steer out of their paths if needed. Boarders also must be cogniscent of where the skier is below them and respect their space and not mark a path and ride it come hell or highwater. And we all must be in control when we get close to a lift line. We don’t want to come in too “hot” and take out an unsuspecting skier or boarder in line or worse yet a little child.

So, the point of all of this is, we all are together now. Boarders, skiers, twin tippers, blade skiers, whatever gets you down the mountain. It’s all cool and we all must have fun but we all must be responsible. We have to care about the guy or gal downhill and in the line. And no cause to get ugly in the lift line either. We all are adults and can have a conversation without confrontation. Enjoy the boarding and skiing events on the Olympics in the coming weeks. I can’t wait. Thanks for reading and think snow. Thanks to the two guys in the parking lot who graciously posed for the post picture. They were cool and wanted to know more about the Chronicles. I hope they are followers now. Nice Guys!! One last thing, if you can’t get my pictures on your pad, I-phone, etc, just click on the title and the whole article and pictures show up. USA, USA, USA, ………