My friend Molly who is a beginning snowboard instructor at White Pass, WA and I went to White Pass (WP) to ski & board yesterday. My husband Michael and I usually go to Crystal (also in WA). Molly informed me on the drive up, that WP folks don’t really like Crystal. They say Crystal is snotty and stuck up. WP is more laid back & casual. A lift ticket at WP is also less expensive than Crystal. Steve, Molly’s supervisor asked me yesterday where I skied and I seriously hesitated on answering. I’m not ashamed of Crystal (which is the harder mountain in my opinion) and so I answered honestly. Four blue-coated male snowboard instructors heard the C word and the litany began. The kind hearted ridicule ended when Steve saw my Aspen-Snowmass neck gaiter and told me his friend just came from Aspen and said it sucked. NO it didn’t, I thought, I was just there! What BS, it’s Aspen it NEVER sucks!
Below are a few things I have learned on my own through experience.
Run Grade: Up until recently I thought there was a national standard for grading the difficulty (green, blue, ect.) of the runs. IE: a blue run is about the same from resort to resort. Not so, at least according to Wikipedia (and my growing experience). Each resort grades their own runs and the level is determined against the other trails at that resort. So a blue run at Crystal is not the same as a blue at White Pass. And it’s not. There is often a noticeable difference from resort to resort.
Powder: I have been under the misconception that because powder is so coveted by skiers and boarders alike, that it is a wonderfully blissful and soul freeing experience. IE: commonly easy. While this may be true for those that can do it, powder is way HARDER than a groomed run. And the deeper the powder the harder it is to manage through. Now, I’m obviously speaking from my experience as a skier, not a snowboarder. I think boarders have it easier in powder as they have a one wide board that kind of smears the powder like icing. Skiers have two much thinner planks to control and maneuver through the snow making turning the skis much harder. However, there are wider powder specific skis.
I worked on several powder runs yesterday. The snow was about the height of my boots, mid-shin level. Now that’s not insanely deep snow, but it was plenty deep for me and I found it very difficult to balance in the bumpy powdery terrain. One needs to be much more of a proactive skier in powder. You can get away with being kind of sloppy on a groomed run and do okay, but if you aren’t always balanced and don’t properly guide your skis in powder, it grips them and pulls them in different directions. It’s something I will be working on for some time. But the plus is that falling in powder hurts less and is relatively fun. A groomed run with two to three inches of fresh snow is ideal – in my opinion.
Side note: the snow in Colorado rivals the snow in Washington! It’s pillowy soft, light and very dry. The snow in WA can be moist, wet, heavy and often soggy.
Conditions: I’m just now learning this lesson as well, perhaps I’m a slow learner or maybe I only have 4 years experience, which is really not a lot. Conditions change everything! Whatever your level is, the conditions can greatly affect your ability on any given day on any given run. Things to consider: fresh snow and how much in the last 24 hours, no new snow, the pack of the snow, groomed, cloudy & overcast, flat light (making visibility hard) or sunny, wind, snowing, ice, fog, raining, etc. Pretty much anything Mother Nature can throw at you in terms of weather needs to be taken into consideration. All those weather and condition factors in a plethora of combinations can make a ski trip great or crap.
I admit honestly I’m a fair weather skier! I think most all of us are; no one likes to be out skiing in crap weather and even crappier conditions. But the diehards will do it in damn near any circumstance. I wanted to bail yesterday several times, because it was very windy; the flat light and freezing snow sticking to my goggles made the experience not that great at times. I got myself a little goggle scrape, which made my visibility much better and my friend nudged me rather playfully to continue on so we could experience the back part of the mountain. I’m glad I did! I feel more confident in those conditions because I now have experience, as I didn’t before.
Falling: I spent much of the last four years afraid of falling. Every time I fell, I saw it as a personal failure. The object was to ski down the mountain, not fall down the mountain, yes? I now accept falling as part of skiing, accepting what is. I also see falling as many different things now: doing my best to adapt to the conditions, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, trying something different with my technique, any number of things.
It all boils down to the amazing fact that you are skiing down the side of a mountain. Take a moment and ponder that. Working with Mother Nature, feeling the flow of the mountain, and the rush of a million different components coming together as you experience the grace of fluid motion of dancing on the summit.
As my ski pro in Aspen says, “Mileage is the best teacher!”