It's funny how things turn out. I wasn't particularly athletic and I only started bike riding in May of 1990. But as for skiing, it took a few triggers that started a whole new way of life. It began with a summer vacation in August of 1990 with a scheduled trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and other New England destinations before heading home.
Before reaching Acadia, we made a stop in Freeport, Maine, home of L.L. Bean. While there we bought well-needed winter jackets. We certainly were not skiers at the time but we ended up buying ski jackets. We continued along on our trip and when we reached the top of Mount Washington via the Auto Road and looked out across Pinkham Notch, we saw Wildcat, a ski mountain such as it was in the summertime with its still visible trails. With the purchased of ski jackets earlier in the week not lost on me, I was prompted to say that if I ever get a chance, I want to learn how to ski.
The Mount Washington Valley area had a certain allure, especially the town of North Conway with its rich ski history. Then fate stepped in. My son's youth group needed a chaperone for a scheduled ski trip in December of that year. We headed for Ski Sundown in Connecticut, where I rented skis, boots and poles and took my first lesson, along with the kids that need to learn.
I instantly fell in love with it and thought it was a great family thing to do during the winter months rather than staying indoors. I returned for a second lesson and brought along the rest of the family. After my second lesson I was able to hit the regular trails and quickly got to the black diamonds. Like many of the hills in Connecticut, they are basically challenging for novice skiers and a great place to learn but in the years that followed, the Mount Washington Valley became our primary ski destination during holidays and long weekends.
It was very apparent that skiing was in my future and here to stay. Renting ski equipment was very short lived, so off to the sporting goods store we went to see what was available. As a family, we settled on ski packages that offered skis, bindings and poles. The boots had to be purchased separately. My very first ski was a Rossignol 770, an intermediate ski at 185 cm that was soft, flexible and, like all skis in the 90s, very straight. It wasn't a particularly fast ski but I was still learning. And then there came that magic moment when you notice your knees coming together and your boards nice and parallel. It was time to move on.
I was becoming very brand loyal to Rossignol. After all, the company was around for a very long time with an excellent track record. I was getting more and more aggressive on the slopes so I opted for a GS race ski. My choice of ski was the Rossignol 7S, a pro ski at 191 cm. These skis were designed for speed and they were extremely stiff, narrow and straight. This was not the type of ski for the powder I skied on out west at Jackson Hole in Wyoming (1999). It was in Jackson where I meet Tommy Moe, gold medal winner of the 1994 Olympics and ambassador to Jackson Hole. I couldn't help noticing his Dynastar powder skis, which appeared 3–4 times wider than my skinny race skis. It was time for me to go wider.
Still staying with my brand of choice, I selected for the new, upcoming century the Rossignol Viper Z 9.1 at 184 cm. They were not that much wider than the 7Ss at the tips and tails but this was the beginning of the shape skis. The waist was very much narrower than the tips and tails and I found it much easier to bend the ski for quicker turns. Moguls were much easier to handle, as well as zipping through the glades. Still, the one disadvantage was their length. Up until then, the conventional system was that as you advanced so did the centimeters of the ski. However, with the Vipers, I decided to opt for control over speed and dropped a few centimeters. Still, these skis were pretty fast. But soon it was time to go shorter and wider.
It didn't take much convincing from my son Josh that Salomon was the way to go, moving away from Rossignol (sorry Abel). With that change came a much wider, shorter, shaped ski with the Salomon Scream Pilot 10 at 177 cm. What a whole different way of skiing. The new system of selecting length was not graduating to outrageous centimeters. Pro skiers were beginning to use shorter skis throwing away convention wisdom of longer being faster. Trust me, these skis were fast but the added bonus was they were quick in another way – turning. After 9 years on these, it was time to move on to an even shorter, wider ski.
Sticking with Salomon, I decided to go even shorter with the Salomon Enduro LX 800 at 168 cm. They are wider than the Screams and a bit shorter and skiing the glades is much more fun and less nerve-racking. Skiing in the trees with the longer Viper Zs would always find me whacking the tails when making turns after passing through two narrowly placed trees. 19 cm can make a big difference, not only in clearing closely placed trees but twisting and turning through moguls and other obstacles – like people. These are my current skis.
While New Hampshire became our basic ski destination, especially over long holidays, visiting mountains in Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut for day trips are not uncommon. On rare occasions, skiing out west for special vacations were very memorable trips. Mountains visited in Vermont have been Okemo, Stratton and Mount Snow. Up in Maine, Sunday River was the mountain of choice with its seven peaks but I've skied Shawnee Peak in Maine as well. In Massachusetts I've skied Butternut, Jiminy Peak, Catamount, Brody and Berkshire East. In New York I've been up to Hunter. I've skied with the grandkids at Mountain Creek in New Jersey and Shawnee Mountain in Pennsylvania.
Among the more challenging mountains, skiing the Tetons at Jackson Hole was right up there. The beauty is beyond description and if you think you're too busy skiing to notice its scenery and wildlife, you'd be kidding yourself. From the summit or any other part of the mountain for that matter, you cannot look out onto the massive elk preserve without being in awe. It's also not unusually to see wildlife walking along a trail. Being from the East made power skiing a major challenge at first but by the end of the week you get so use to it that if you should find a groomed trail, you would slip and slide because the powder is not there.
Steamboat in Colorado is not without its beauty. This mountain is family friendly and where you will find an equal amount of challenging double blacks and relaxing cruisers and everything in between. There is tons of tree skiing between the Aspens and Evergreens that can easily be found, as well as pretty hairy chutes not for the faint of heart. Both towns of Jackson, Wyoming and Steamboat Springs, Colorado give you the taste of the Old West without overdoing it.
I was a geek, a nerd of sorts growing up. And while sports at a young age was suppose to teach you about teamwork and character building, for me it didn't quite feel that way. I was the one that always got picked last or not picked at all. There were valuable lessons learned from that experience. It almost felt like I needed to prove something.
Skiing for me has become a metaphor for life's lessons and a way to overcome any lingering doubt that you can achieve anything you want in life. You just have to work hard for it. The Hobacks of Jackson Hole proved to be such a challenge. The 45% grade was basically in an open bowl, ski wherever you need to and I did it in a blinding snow in chest-high powder.
This is a sport that requires skill and attention to detail. Your life depends on it. I like that I'm in control. I determine how fast I go. And when flying off a 3-meter drop, it's tantamount to a giant leap of faith – those incredibly challenging moments we take in life. Chute 1 (DeSo's Decent) on Steamboat was one of the biggest and steepest leaps of faith I've even taken. To determine just how steep it was I stopped part way down and snap a shot across the narrow chute to see the pitch for myself. It was easily 45%–50% but fortunately for me it wasn't a long run before dumping out onto a beautiful open meadow dotted with trees.
Moguls exemplify the bumps in the road we all have to deal with and the glades are the obstacles thrown in our path, as we navigate through a tight stand of trees. You're forced to make quick decisions and rapid adjustments and accuracy is an imperative. Such was the case with Roz's, a nicely hidden double black on Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. This was a never-ending trail loaded with moguls and as narrow as can be. Starting with glades at the top it transformed itself into a quarter pipe trail ripe with bumps until you reached its end.
Yes, Christmas Tree Bowl is indeed a bowl but not your typical open area. It was stocked with tightly grown trees and deep powder. Challenging, yes but it was a hoot. Part way down I smelled a familiar order that brought me back to my younger days. I soon came upon a group of riders doing a joint. They were happy. I was happy. Life is good. Skiing has been like my life – a thrill, a challenge, a competition, whether I'm proving something to others or just proving something to myself. As I see it, in life you're either in or out. And like I say, "Go fast or go home."