Monday, February 02, 2009

I am a Utah girl

After donning 2 pairs of wool socks, long johns, yoga pants, thick 'boarding pants, a silk thermal top, one of those really warm under armour "cold gear" shirts, a zip-up fleece jacket, a neck warmer, my ski coat, glove liners, large ski mittens, a borrowed fleece head sock thing (that covered my head and neck up to my mouth) and a helmet, I was still worried that I might get cold. So began my day of worries on Hunter Mountain on the last day of January. It was cold - I didn't dare check the temperature out of fear I would chicken out and not try the hill, but I believe it was in the lower 20s, not accounting for the wind which brutally whipped around the corner as we left the parking lot.

For years my former co-worker friend has told me that I cannot truly be a snob about East Coast skiing unless I tried it. I resisted and resisted, always relying on the excuse that my snowboarding gear lived in Utah where it belonged. But a year ago I decided to buy a travel bag for my board and brought it to NYC with me where it has cluttered up my front entry closet squeezed in behind my shoe rack and coats. When I made a quick Utah trip over MLK weekend I considered leaving it behind but my friend was serious this time and had thrown out dates for our eastern skiing excursion.

As a brief aside. Despite the fact that I only snowboard (and please do not be misled, I do not snowboard well, I just enjoy being adequate at it), I often fall into "ski" lingo because it is shorter and easier.

Last week was terrible. I worked every day until at least 1030 pm. Over email I agreed to a Saturday day trip to a ski resort as long as my friend made all arrangements. Which resulted in him picking me up at my apartment at the very reasonable hour of 9:30 am Saturday morning in a Zip Car (this Manhattan car sharing/rental car thing I kept hearing about and now I may have to explore more because it worked so well).

My expectations were low for the snow. But I was optimistic since we had had a couple of storms pass through during the week which I assumed left snow in the mountains. I forgot about the ice storm part of the storms.

The drive was somewhere in the 2 hour range and we enjoyed each other's company and admired the bright sunshine and the novelty of being in a car speeding north gazing on snow covered fields and ice encrusted cliff sides as opposed to building after building.

The lift line for the one high speed quad on the hill was long so we consulted the terrain map and decided to head toward the back. The runs were marked as black diamonds but nothing looked very steep from the lift and while I am not a good snowboarder, I can get down anything and mostly just hate flat stuff.

We were squeezed onto the lift with a couple of skiiers - my companion was also on skis which left me the lone boarder trying to wrestle my board into position as they pulled the bar with the foot rest down without warning. As we approached the top of the lift, I told my friend I would be going right. That, in fact, with my very limited de-lifting skills, I had no choice but to go right and hopefully in the process I would stay upright.

Oh, the terror of terrors that was the top of that ski lift. Imagine, if you will, sitting mostly sideways on the chair with only your left cheek fully on the seat, your right foot strapped onto the board, your left foot hoping to plant firmly enough on the back half of the board to prevent it from careening about as the chair shoves you out before making its turn back down the mountain to collect more people. This is my least favorite part of snowboarding but one that I generally manage to pull off as long as I concentrate, am sitting on the far right and have room to slide to the right and come to a stop on my heels.

Now, add to this process an ice hill. A very shiny and steep ice hill void of all traces of snow. Add it right at the point of disembarkation. As my board hit the ice and I started to put weight on my right foot, I panicked and everything in my head screamed "DON'T FALL, DON'T FALL, DON'T FALL!!!!" as I pushed my back foot onto the board and allowed the lift to shove me off and propel me down the ice hill of terror. Before me were snowboarders and skiiers alike still trying to right themselves after what I can only imagine were extremely hard falls. I slid to the right and managed to stay in control even as I cringed at the horrifying scraping noise the back edge of my board was making against the ice. When I came to a stop and sat down on the quartz-like surface, more passengers were sent sprawling in different directions down the hill and on this batch, none of them stayed upright. I did not want to try my luck at that thing again and was willing to try any other lift to steer clear. I slowly strapped myself onto my board and shook my head at my friend who was waiting for me a few feet off.

We set our course and took off. I was cautious but able to make some turns and initially I thought, this isn't too bad as long as I stay away from those shiny ice patches. Then, well, then, we turned the corner where I soon found myself on top of what I can only describe as pebble ice. You know that special ice Tiffany uses in her famous punch? My friend described it as skiing on gravel. When I found myself on a slope full of this horrifying stuff, what little snowboading technique I had got thrown out the window and I went into survival-don't-break-anything mode, ie, sit back on my heels and go face first down the mountain by gliding side to side. It is not pretty and people (especially skiiers) will hate you for it, but it prevents falling. And speed. As my bones were rattling over this terrible stuff, I spied a patch of snow that looked like powder off to the left of the run. So I glided my way over there and plopped down on my butt to further assess what I was doing on this terrible mountain. It was not powder, just a thin dusting of snow disguising another shiny slab of thick ice.

I pulled myself together and pressed on, hoping for something better. At the end of the run, just as I turned the corner to the next lift, the snow improved and I was able to make some turns. Except I was now to scared. Because even in this "better" snow, there were hidden patches of terrifyingly slick ice. So I made one or two turns but mostly reverted to my beginner, self-taught method of gliding back and forth. This next lift was an old, fast moving two-seater. The kind that kind of kicks you in the pants as you get on and then swings a bit as it takes off. I complained to my friend as we assessed our next run option on the way up but mostly I remained optimistic at that point. I was pleasantly surprised at the top of the lift by the easy dismount. While the lift did not slow down, it did push me off (quite forcefully) onto a flat, slightly less icy surface. I managed to once again stay standing and we shoved off for another route. . . . which was worse than the one before. It was rated a black diamond but from the chair lift it did not look very steep and it certainly wasn't very long. In Utah it would have been a blue run I am sure. Except that in Utah it would have been much easier because there would have been enough snow to get some traction! I don't believe I attempted a single turn on that hill. There were moguls to the left, shiny sheets of ice in the middle and a strip on the right where most people seemed to be. Except I was on the left somehow. And I was afraid to cross over the bald sheet of ice in the middle. So I shoved what little snow was on the mountain down in front of me as I squatted and leaned back on my heels. When we got back on the lift I pointed out to my friend the lack of snowboarders on this run and how the 2 or 3 that were there were either opting for my survival technique of heel sliding straight down or they were insane and falling constantly. Oh, and the only ones we saw, were over on that right side.

My hardcore skier friend was having fun. At the top of the lift he suggested we try the double black diamond off to the right with the sign that warned "Experts Only". I hesitated. I asked a couple of skiers heading that way what it was like. "Icy and crusted over" was their response. I warned my friend I might cry but I caved and went anyway. About half way down this next, very steep and narrow sheet of ice with a few moguls thrown in, I realized I hated what I was doing. Absolutely hated it. I felt like the past 9 years of snowboarding was thrown out the window and I was a terrified beginner. I did not need this. I could not even appreciate my surroundings because I was cold and afraid to fall. Plus, by the time we finished that run my quads were getting sore because I was essentially doing squats down every run with very little variance.

At the end of that run, after commenting that "every run is worse than the last!" my friend tried directing me to a lift that seemed directed at a run where I could see boulders sticking out in the middle. I said no. Or maybe I said "hell no! Not on your life am I getting on a run with a freaking BOULDER in the middle surrounded by ice! I WILL DIE!" Which was as polite as I could be at that point when my inner monologue had turned to @)(*%! and @*()#&. I was finally understanding all those girls I know who hate outdoor activities. I was not appreciating the beauty of anything I was seeing. Those white trees covered in ice that would be so eerily beautiful had I encountered them under any other scenario . . . a sign of doom. The bare, rolling hills surrounding us with the bright blue sky shining in contrast . . . ugly and depressing in their brownness. Even the tiny sliver of a moon that rose up in the sky late in the afternoon was not appreciated by me. I was too cold. Too frustrated. Too whiny. I told my friend to go on without me because there was no way I was getting on that lift. He hesitated but I urged him to do it. The crazy man was actually enjoying this place!

I boarded down to the next lift to wait for him. As I sat with my butt on the cold hard snow, I realized I was done for the day. I tried to take photos to appreciate my surroundings but only saw cold, barren, ugly. I looked back through my photos from just two weeks ago of snowboarding with my friend Angelina at Solitude in Utah. Oh, the contrast. I was overwhelmed with homesickness. Every skier and snowboarder who came in my direction toward the lift was out of control. How can you be in control on ice? I consulted my trail guide and discovered there was a lodge at the top of this lift. When my friend returned I convinced him to keep skiing while I went for a hot chocolate break in the lodge. I was freezing and while I was not entirely miserable, I was pretty close. And ironically, if this guy had been a closer friend, family member or even a boyfriend, I probably would have had a worse attitude. Why do we put on a better front for those with whom we are less close? Or is that just me?

The lodge was old and I really wish I had taken some photos because it was pretty fascinating and had a "Ski Museum" inside which consisted of a bunch of old skis hanging on the wall. I never fanagled a seat in front of the fire but I did get some hot chocolate and talk to my mom. When my friend returned he took the time to defrost a bit in the not quite warm lodge. It was after 330 by the time we left the lodge and decided to head down the front side of the mountain. And a crazy thing happened, I had a good run! There was just enough snow on top of the ice that I could tolerate the scraping noise and start carving. About half way down my friend tried to give me an encouraging "you can turn!" and I snarled at him that of course I can, that other side was just too terrifying. Then we caught up with the masses as each trail dumped into each other and I had to keep a narrow path weaving through mostly on my toe side edge, giving my thighs a break and working my calves. At the end my friend thought I would want to go again since we finally found a place where I felt comfortable with the snow. I declined and opted for the lodge as he took a couple of last runs before the lifts closed.

As terrible as I thought the snow was - and I hate even calling it snow -, it was a fun trip. We complained about the snow and stopped at a fun little pub for dinner before heading back to the City. I arrived home around 8 pm and enjoyed a movie and popcorn on my couch in my warm apartment. I can't say I will go again, but at least now I feel justified in being a Utah snob when it comes to snow because Utah really does have the greatest snow on earth!


Mary said...

That's why we put it on the license plate. Is it on any East Coast license plate? I don't think so.

Glad you didn't break anything on the gravel!

Tiffany said...

I'm so glad that you went and found out for me. I've been entertaining the idea of a weekend ski trip and now I know better.

Although, I could use some of that pebble ice next week for my punch!

michele said...

i'd always wondered if east coast skiing is as bad as i had heard. thanks for finding out for me! i love utah powder. at least you had a fun trip despite the icy conditions - i would have been at the lodge too.

Beck said...

Hee! I laughed at the "enjoying being adequate" at snowboarding part - my husband is so used to being awesome at everything that if he tries something and can't immidiately master it, he GIVES UP.

Beck said...

Hee! I laughed at the "enjoying being adequate" at snowboarding part - my husband is so used to being awesome at everything that if he tries something and can't immidiately master it, he GIVES UP.

Roger said...

Dear Alyssa -

I'm not really a downhill skier myself, but I certainly enjoyed your blog on Eastern snow. Maybe the crosscountry skiing is better back there.

I just wanted to update you on the Utes Marching Band.

They had a great time in Washington, D.C. thanks to you, your friends and thousands of other fans who donated to make the trip possible.
The community of Ashburn, VA stepped up and made a BIG contribution. They volunteered to host the band members during their stay, since no hotels were available in the area. Here's a link to the SL Tribune story:

The Band arrived in D.C. on Sunday morning and went to the National Mall for sightseeing. Monday they went to Pennsylvania to visit the Gettysburg National Battlefield.
Inauguration day, they went to the Pentagon for their security screening then to their parade staging area. Lots of waiting in the cold. They stayed warm on the buses and heard the swearing in and Obama's speech on the bus radio. They were the next to last group in the parade, but still played their hearts out. Here is the Deseret Morning News article about the parade:,5143,705279112,00.html

I love the picture of the Band marching past the reviewing stand. I was so pleased that the Obamas and Bidens stayed to the very end. You can see that the rest of the reviewing stand is empty. In the photo, my son Nick is in the third row from the back at the end closest to the reviewing stand. He called us after the parade to say "I was ten feet away from Barack Obama when we marched by! That was SOOO cool!"

Thank you again for everything you did to help make this dream a reality.

Utes Marching Band Dad

KamilahNYC said...

I am sooooo with you on this. I don't think I'll ever east coast snowboard again. I only went once, but that was enough. The ice was horrible. Who can snowboard like that?

Annie said...

glad to know if i ever have a first time it will be in utah!!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog from a comment over at Nothing but Bonfires. As I was clicking over, I hoped your review wouldn't be of Hunter Mountain. After learning to ski at nearby Windham in 2007, I've been up to Mount Snow in Vermont twice (last year and my first trip this year) to find it tremendously better.

I'm planning to check out Hunter with a snowboarding friend from California (who loved it) so I'll avoid the back of the mountain. Ice and I are not friends, at least not on the slopes.

If you're game to try another East coast run, I would suggest Mount Snow.

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