With my stories from past skiing conquests, or events we have been to this season, or mountains I’m ripping for the first time- I try to capture the essence of the experience in each scenario. Every aspect of skiing has its own personality and writing it like you were there brings The Chronicles to life.
Telemark skiing is no different. The folks who free their heels are an all encompassing group who never let you forget and skiing is still fun. It has the color and attitude that scream character. It reminds us that skiing isn’t bland, doesn’t have any boundaries, and truly breaks the mold of boring.
This past weekend I was at Mad River Glen for their annual North American Telemark festival… and NEVER before had I had such a blast on the mountain. Imagine Woodstock meets the hill with a majestic display of lunging down the hill and the poetry in motion that only MRG can accommodate.
If you have never skied Mad River before just know it is the Mecca for the sticks. A skier only resort with all natural snow – it has the trees, powder, steeps, and single chair to the peak that you will find no where else. Untouched snow and powder stashes are the norm and the free heelers paradise hasn’t changed since its inception some 60 years ago. Not the mention that the lodge at MRG is the largest distributor of Magic Hat on tap in the United States; their motto – ‘Ski It If You Can’ gives it a legitimate testimonial on and off the slopes.
The tele fest last weekend is the largest of its kind. People come from all over to enjoy the wonderment of tele skiing. The WHIZ was there, the Ramapo Ski Club was in attendance, The Outdoor Gear Exchange from Burlington had a tent (thanks for picking up my line guys!), Jim from the San Fransisco Sock Company came all the way from Delaware, the crew from Hickory had quite a contingent, and Noah made his way from Wachusset to share in the glory.
The bottom line, this is what skiing was all about – people coming together from all over the place to shred it hard and party even harder. A true mantra of Ski Till I Die.
I can’t wait to get back there next season. Even in my fixed binding I didn’t feel out of place. Like I have said before – on the mountain we all zip up our jackets the same way. Only in this particular instance you are more likely to find Carhartt instead of Obermeyer and more Duct Tape than red tape… and that’s what makes it such a blast.
I just got back from a 5 day excursion in Montana to put my first ever tracks down a mountain West of the Mississippi. Everything I experienced on this trip is the culmination of what it means to Ski Till I Die.
After spending a week in Bozeman, skiing Bridger, I can understand why people head out there… and have no motivation to ever come back. It can quite simply be described as heaven.
From the snow, to the people, the the mountain, to the lifestyle – Bridger Bowl was an unworldly experience.
This post was going to start out as a Mountain Review, but after 5 or 6 rewrites I realized that it needs to be different than a review of the mountain… because Bridger and the lifestyle people live out there deserve something more – they are off the beaten path.
We had no car so we took the shuttle. The Bozeman Shuttle is not a bus, it’s not a van, it isn’t anything formal. You put your skis on your shoulder and start walking. I was in awe. About 25 minutes into our walk this guy slowed down next to us on the highway and asked if we were on our way to the mountain -lucky us. Apparently skis hanging off your back is the equivalent to having your thumb in the air. Hitchhiking is illegal, but the Bozeman Shuttle is a perfectly acceptable mode of transportation in these parts.
We got to the mountain and all you saw were smiles. The are no friends on a powder day, but something about 13″ of fresh powder will make even the most modest man blush. We were lucky to get a day of pow pow – it was the first big snow they had gotten in a while. A lot of hi’s, a lot of hello’s, and a lot of people with their powder skirts buttoned up ready for the tracks that lay ahead.
The snow was heaven. I had never skied anything like it, I had been living in purgatory prior to this. Heading down a 40 degree pitch was effortless, traversing the bowls was magical, and every turn I made felt like I was floating through the clouds.
Riding the lift with the locals was just as welcoming as the blanket of snow covering the mountain. I met a girl Michelle; a 10 year transplant from Memphis, TN. She told me about how when it snows all day they call it free refills, she told me about the ridge & where to find the powder stashes, she told me about who hucked what cliffs & when, and she told me about the game of gnar. Chairlift conversations seemed like second nature to the people who call Bridger home. Was it really luck that everything was falling into place like this?
We stopped in at lunch to grab some free refills of our own: homemade chili in a bread bowl and a local Montana brew called Face Plant seemed appropriate. Our long standing bartender, Miss Katie, even put a Ski Till I Die sticker on the fridge behind the bar. Did they know this is my first time?
Back to the hill to play the game of GNAR (a creation of the late Shane McConkey) at Michelle’s suggestion. Shane McConkey is a living legend, but he might take the place of God in places like this. I knew all about the gnar gnar, but I didn’t know there was a game associated with it… here is the preview for your viewing pleasure – http://unofficialnetworks.com/2010/12/16/g-n-a-r-the-movie-trailer/ . If Ski Till I Die were a religion, the gnar would be its cathedral and what better place to worship it than at Bridger. It was the perfect cap to a day we were lucky to catch the pristine powder and terrain Montana is known for.
I consider it a privilege to have been able to ski a place like Bridger, with the locals from Bozeman. Everyone I met could rip with the best of them and were as humble as could be about it. We came back and forth from the mountain 4 times and didn’t take the same car twice. These folks not only embraced the Ski Till I Die mentality without any explanation from me, but they had been living it at Bridger long before I got there. Now they have a name to associate with it…
Before I left to head back home I told my buddy Eric thanks for everything and that I was lucky to have had such a legendary time out there. With a grin he responded simply with, “you call it luck, we call it living in Bozeman”. A fitting tribute to a gem off the beaten path. I can’t wait to go back, and I am sure that luck won’t be the only thing helping me find my way.
I can remember a lot of stories that in one way or another relate back to a skiing first or last. I remember the first & last time I strapped on boots, I remember the first and last time that I skied The Wall at Holiday Valley, and I remember the first and last time I had a beer post skiing. But I can’t tell you the last time I had to think twice about dropping a line.
Basically what I am saying is that I have skied everything up to my ability level that the East Coast has to offer… and maybe it is time I give something different a try. I like to try new things, who doesn’t?! Maybe I’ll give the Rockies a chance.
I don’t have a good reason for never skiing out West. My cousin lives in Salt Lake City, one of my best friends has a house at Park City, and you can get anywhere you want to in the world with a plane ticket. Maybe I was just resentful of the fact that it wasn’t back East or the fact that I regard the best skiers as coming from the East Coast. I don’t know, maybe I needed to stay true to my heritage. I really don’t have a good reason…
And every time I would get into a heated skiing discussion I would always have to say, “Yea, but I have never skied anything out West” and people would always have the same ‘are you kidding me’ look on their face.
Well, that all changes this week. Right now I am on a plane to Bozeman Montana to ski Bridger Bowl – a local gem that I have never even heard of. It’s above the tree line, looks like it has some nasty bowls, and has already gotten over 150 inches of snow this season.
I always get excited when I have an opportunity to go skiing. But I can’t tell you the last time that I have been this excited, and even a bit nervous, for the lines that I am about to drop tomorrow.
Even I don’t know what happens next. But the bottom line is that I can’t wait to shred this mountain and bring my East Coast swagger to this West Coast hill that is just a bit off the beaten path.
Sometimes, the best ski days you have are the ones where you end up on the hill by yourself. No one at the mountain so the chairlift is all yours, nobody bothering you in lift lines, no traffic on the trail… and all you hear is the sound of edges on the hard pack and the snow hitting the ground. Silence. Its peaceful, tranquil, and a place where anyone is able to think. That is a true skiers dream… to get lost in themselves.
Then there are the days where you actually DO get lost, and it sucks. I just happen to remember one such day!
It was a few seasons ago, skiing Killington once again, with myself, Sean, Joe T, and few other out-of-bounds hounds. Per usual the snow was great and we ducked off into the woods somewhere to go ‘find ourselves’. Yea… find ourselves lost in the middle of no where.
In another story I wrote, I spoke about how Sean was the greatest guide ever, blah, how he will have you back to happy hour 5 minutes early, blah blah… abyss, blah blah blah… well not this day.
Started off normal. We were carving our way through powder stashes, popping off boulders, finding lines through the trees… just another great day to be on the mountain. Then it started to get a little late. We knew this was going to be our last run anyway but the mountain was getting close to shutting down and we needed to head back.
So of course we look to Sean, “hey buddy, which way?!”. And then his expression is one of just dumbfounded confusion… “uhhh, uhhhh, I dunno!”. F@$%!
So we start moving in the direction we think is the main lodge, or at least something that resembles a groomer of some kind, only to find ourselves on the other side of some ravine. Where did this thing come from?! It looked like we were about to cross the Mississippi. So after some careful consideration and a mini debate we opted not to Oregon Trail it and keep heading downhill.
So let me break down the situation for you… If you have ever seen the movie, Alive – this was like that 86 the plane crash. I had 1 granola bar and a beer tucked away in my jacket and I wasn’t going to share with ANYONE. Its getting dark, none of us had cell phone service because we were so far off the grid we have no idea where we were, and I was going to eat Joe if I had to and light Sean on fire to keep warm for the night. Oh, and not a soul had any idea where we were.
Unfortunately it never came to that. After a minute or 2 heading off into God knows where, we ended up finding what resembled a trail. There was green paint on the trees and we could see footprints heading down the mountain – how bad could that be, right?! Yeaaa!
So off we went. This little trail was so narrow you couldn’t even turn and we were picking up speed as it was perpetually getting steeper. Were we headed down Niagara Falls?? Then we turned a corner and out of NO WHERE was this woolly mammoth of a golden retriever and these 2 snowshoers. I put on the brakes as best I could and crashed into a bush, and everyone else behind me followed suit. The puppy loved it, I didn’t. I guess it made sense, the tracks not being from a Sasquach after all.
As it turns out we were headed down the Appalachian Trail. Had we not bumped into those 2 girls we would have stayed on the Appalachian Train and ended up 7 miles off the mountain on some access road, with all our gear, in the dark, somewhere in God’s country.
They pointed us back in the right direction (the opposite was of which we were heading of course) and just made it out of the woods as the last chair was closing. That was special… everyone sitting in the lodge waiting for us, each with their own set of questions and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. After feeling like the main character from Call Of The Wild, I wanted to go Jack London myself up to the bar alone and go get lost again. This time by myself, with a beer and my thoughts.
CONGRATULATIONS TO SARA PRESS!!!
Winner of the 2010 Spread The Mayo Contest, Sara was spreading the good word since our launch. By signing up to follow us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook, and subscribing the The Chronicles – Sara is the newest recipient of some fresh Ski Till I Die gear AND has the chance to follow the Ski Till I Die team up to Mad River Glen for the telemark festival we will be sponsoring March 12th & 13th.
A big Ski Till I Die thank you goes out to Sara and everyone else for being such great fans and we look forward to your continued support in 2011!
Cheers & keep shredding,
When there is snow on the ground, and IM talking about serious powder, you wont find us on the groomers, not the lodge (until 4:30 or so), not even the backside of the mountain where the double blacks are usually hiding.
No, you’ll find us in places we shouldn’t be; in the woods. Looking for the powder stash, picking lines through the trees and popping off boulders. Thats where the real fun always is. No one getting in your way… no kids on leashes… and no one bothering you when you take a 10 minute ‘I need some me time’ break.
Thats where we found Lift Line…
It was a couple seasons ago towards the end of the year so the snow had been piling up for a few months. It was some former ski teamers and myself; among them, the 2 best out-of-bounds guides you will ever find sans a compass – Sean and Shawn… I mean, you could follow these kids into the abyss and they would still have you back for happy hour, 5 minutes early.
We happened to be skiing Pico that weekend. Its not nearly as crowded as Killington, significantly less expensive, has WAY better back country stuff… and it is also Shawn’s home mountain.
So off we went trekking through the woods per usual and Shawn pulls us into a little gully off the trail. So we follow him in and we keep going, and keep going, basically traversing through the woods. It really doesnt bother me, I know we will find something sooner or later and then Shawn says, “Found it! Follow me!”. And a minute later we follow him out of the woods into this clearing…
What I was witnessing was like seeing Playboy for the first time. The joy, the confusion, the feeling you get when you say to yourself – I hope nobody is home.
And that holds true in a secondary respect, because had we been caught that would have been the end of our day at Pico, with no on-mountain happy hour to follow I am sure of it.
What we were seeing before our very eyes was the legendary Poma Lift Line from the days of old at Pico. 50 degree pitch, un-skied snow, and the skeletons of the old poma lift frames that used to service this run dotting themselves down the hill. The story goes that it had been shut down in the 70’s but Im not really sure why. Too steep, not enough traffic… who knows, all that matters was we found it.
That was one of the steepest, most fun runs I have ever had. I have no idea why they shut it down, it would have been great to take the Old Poma back up and have another crack at it. Buttt just as we were thinking that, a ski patroler comes roaring up the hill in a snowmobile. S$&T… what did he think though? That we wouldn’t pop back into the woods and disappear?
So off we went again. I have not skied Lift Line since that 1st run, but I dream about it a lot. Not just the run, but the almost religious process you go through in order to enjoy it. So if you find yourself skiing off the beaten path of Pico, see if you can spot the old Lift Line, you wont regret looking for it.
I know Killington VT well. I should, I have been skiing there for the past 10 years. For the latter part of that tenure I have generally stayed (and make a point to make at least 1 pilgrimage there a season) at a place called the Clear River Inn and Tavern. Never stayed there?
You are probably saying to yourself, yea OK, another run of the mill lodge that lines the access road – costs $50 / night – has free coffee in the morning and gives you a questionable amount of hot water in the shower. And if that is what your thinking… you would be half right. I love the Clear quite honestly. The people who work it have become my surrogate VT family on weekends I find myself sharing the mountain with the local folks.
But something that really separates the Clear River from every other lodge up that way is the gentleman who sets up his speakers and plugs in his guitar every Saturday night while there is snow on the ground. His name is Duane Carleton.
Duane has been playing there for as long as I have been a patron. He has the same, long, curly black hair and the coke bottle glasses now that he did when I was too young to get served at the bar. His smile hasn’t, nor his demeanor, or his raspy undertone style of singing that will have you rocking for hours – changed a bit. I think the only thing that’s different is the list of songs he knows grows exponentially each year.
He really is an encyclopedia of musical knowledge. We would run up to him after every song, “do you know this, can you play this, what about this?”. And usually that would just annoy the guy with the mic. Not Duane, he would sit there unfazed, big grin, and he would always say, “suuuure”.
Now, if you were looking to hear the recorded version of your song, you came to the wrong place. Duane has a way of turning the song into his own, all the while keeping the core in tact that you love so much. He would spin it like a pizza, doing it his own way, and it would always taste better than the last guy who made it. When Duane plays you never want to leave the bar. Holding true to that Ski Till I Die mentality, you will probably keep the bartender busy until close. But thats why, at the end of the night, Duane would always have a once empty guitar case filled with dollars you were happy to give away.
Had I not stayed at the Clear River over the last decade I probably would have no idea who Duane Carleton is. But I can assure you, if you have found yourself at a bar for some apres ski engagement in Killington, youve heard him before. If you have turned around asking yourself – who is that guy, with the long, curly black hair and the coke bottle glasses, singing the most unbelievable version of your favorite classic rock jam – thats Duane Carleton.
So next time you find yourself up at Killington, ask the locals if they have ever heard of Duane. I promise you, whether it be bartender, liftie, or the cop that just pulled you over for speeding… they’ll smile and nod…and be able to tell you where he is playing that night. So make sure you find yourself there because that is a show you wont want to miss. And if you luck out and it happens to be Saturday night, look up the Clear River. Its off the beaten path, but you can be damn sure Duane will be there.