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Ski Stories: No Friends On Powder Days

This latest story comes courtesy from one of my loyal readers and long time ski buddies, Sean Shortell. As a contributing editor for the day Sean tells us about a time he ditched his friend who lost a ski on a powder day for the greater good of the sport. Oh, you’d do the same thing too… Enjoy!

There are certain phrases that have the ability to capture the ethos of an entire  culture and summarize the very best moments of a given sport; perfect game, hole in one, two minute drill, the list goes on. There is one phrase however that really gets to the heart of what really matter for skiers; no friends on powder days.

Skiing, by nature, is an individual pursuit.  Whether it’s man against the clock, man against the mountain and elements, man against his friends, the skier has sole control of his destiny.  When bestowed with the gift of a powder dump, skiers aggressively cut out distractions and get after it.

We’ve all been there, you pull into the  parking lot and the newbs you shared a ride/condo/dinner with last night are whining about the cold, stiff boots, or their hangovers.  All you can think about is how fast you can get on the lift – powder day or not, these aren’t your friends and it’s time to cut dead weight and ski.

Sometimes, however, you are skiing some great pow with good friends and something beyond anyone’s control happens and you need to decide to help a fallen comrade or keep going to get as many fresh tracks before the other skiers descend like locusts on your hidden stash. This happened to me about a year ago on the last day of an annual pilgrimage to Colorado.

We hit Vail’s famous Back Bowls (Shangri-La for the uninitiated) at about 10am, which was just in time for first chair on the Skyline Express at Blue Sky Basin which opens a bit later.  En route up the Skyline Express, we looked out over an ENTIRE mountain of untracked gnar. We were absolutely giddy going up the lift as thousands of acres of acres of virgin powder flew below our feet.  To our left was a steep, but very open bowl that dipped into a thicket of trees, promising only more pow with even greater solitude. This was Skree Field, which would be our playground for the day.

We bounded off the lift with excitement and rushed past others, poked through a short band of trees to reach the lip of the Skree Field Bowl.  Below us were only a handful of other skiers and untracked knee deep pow pow (I measured 15″ at one point). In the distance, we saw BSB high speed quad moving dozens of skiers every minute to the summit – they were all looking at us, and thinking the same thing… .get it and get it now. The game was on; ski as many damn runs as you can before this bowl is tracked out.  When it gets too choppy, go looking in less obvious places (read trees). We figured three, four runs tops. It was 10:15. I knew by 11am this bowl would not be the same place.

With an equal sense of urgency and excitement we pushed off.  One from my crew launched a short cliff and landed in a pillow of pow, others carved swooping arcs through an empty field of snow; I chose to let gravity do the work and made quick, short turns until my skis grew weightless and I floated down the hill in state of pure ecstasy.

When I reached the bottom, two of my friends were already there and in the midst of carrying out what can only be described at a touchdown dance – each of us knew that we had just had a run we would never forget.  As we waited for our stragglers, we looked up and marveled at the shear expanse of Skree Field and the many untracked lines that awaited us. We simply could not wait to get on the chair and get back to the lip and do it again.

Soon, we realized that our comrade Brendan was not moving too quickly, in fact, his skis were off and he was walking around. From a distance it wasn’t clear the cause of the delay,  but through the magic of cell phones (he was about 1/4 mile up the hill from us – beyond shouting distance due to the snow), we soon learned that Brendan had lost a ski. He told us to go on, he didn’t want to hold us up and he was certain he’d find it any minute now and knowing that we’d back on the same run in 10 minutes.

He was right about two things, we were coming back and weren’t about to let his missing ski hold us back – remember, the Skyline Express unloading dozens of skiers every minute to shred the lines we left behind.  We pushed off, leaving Brendan to look for the missing ski.

Lover’s Leap, Steep and Deep and Skree Field all funnel their skiers through a set of trees which we yielded us more fresh snow all the way to the Skyline Express.  As we loaded the lift, I ended up with a three grizzled veterans of Vail powder days.  They carried themselves with an attitude that that said “I skipped work to be here,” or “Hi, my name is Mike and I shred gnar for a living,” it was hard to tell which was the case – maybe it was both?

En route up the lift, I looked to the left over Skree Field and saw dozens of skiers dropping in and taking the lines that we had left.  They looked like ants in the distance – but one ant at the bottom wasn’t moving.  He stood in one spot and even at a distance of half a mile I knew his body language said defeat.  It was Brendan, and his ski was still missing.  I pointed this out to the gnar vets, “Hey, check out my friend looking for his ski!”  One of them turned to me and said,“Friend? There are no friends on powder days.” He turned and directed his gaze back up the hill, no doubt plotting his next run.  The ride continued in silence.

Brendan never found his ski that day.  We stopped and looked for about 15 minutes before I gave up and called Vail Patrol.  Within minutes they brought us a loaner, a 185cm K2 from the late 1990s with rusty edges.  Brendan skied the rest of the day with his brand new 170cm K2 Apache on his left foot and the loaner on his right.  He never found the missing ski, even after the snow melted it has yet to turn up in lost and found.

So if you’re ever skiing Blue Sky Basin, keep an eye out for the K2 Apache, and if you ever experience the same dilemma, don’t waste a run, call Vail Patrol at (970) 479-4610 – they have a guy who brings loaner skis around to hacks from the East Coast on powder days.  What a life.

7 responses

  1. Kurt

    Great stuff! Though I do seem to remember a certain day in Vermont when the author found himself in a similar predicament…one lonely stick missing in action under the powder. The only difference, the author had an entire team of skiers combing the slope in the attempt to rescue his powder day…but of course it was I who came through at the end and saved the day. Don’t you still owe me a 12 pack, Sean?

    February 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    • Haha YES! Right under the chairlift as I recall… pay up Mr. Shortell-

      February 24, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    • Eric

      I think I vaguely remember this as well. Lucky for him there’s no powder in the northeast or else he would’ve been on his own.

      February 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm

  2. Rad! Vail is magical, especially Blue Sky. Oh baby, it’s been two years now since I’ve been there but I remember it like it was yesterday. My story is short and sweet:

    We got hammered with snow overnight, while my buddy Blake and I threw back a few, watching Days of Thunder on VHS at his condo in Arrowhead.
    Next morning all roads in and out of Vail were closed due to over two feet of fresh on the highway. That means no one from Denver or anywhere else could get to Vail.

    We had all of Vail to ourselves.

    We skied run after run in the back bowls. Blake, chasing the ultimate thrill (and being used to the big pow, as he’s from Denver), wanted more. He wanted me to exercise my recently learned backflip. Of a cliff. In the middle of a 45-degree pitch in the bowl. In front of everyone.

    The deal was, if I landed it, he’d buy me lunch at the lodge (which is no meager expense at Vail). I got a free lunch that day, a roar of applause from skiers all around and had a face full of pow all day long.

    Vail, Colorado. If you can’t get out to ski the Cold Smoke in Montana, make sure you get to Vail.

    e

    February 24, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    • Hahaha the epic back flip!!! I love it!

      February 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm

  3. Jason

    Losing a 170cm K2 Apache is a probably a good thing unless your friend is 60 years old

    February 24, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    • HAHAHAHA – Game to you my fiend

      February 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm

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