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.
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,
I remember a lot of my firsts… first beer, first kiss, first job interview, first time my mom told my twice removed ex-girlfriend “you know, skiing is Ryan’s first love right??” (I couldnt believe she said that, but she was right), and as many other crude firsts as you can think of… I also remember the first time I realized that skiing was the greatest thing in the world.
The first few years I was skiing, I never left Ohio. We used to ski at this place called Clearfork – it took longer to take the chairlift up than it did to get down the hill. Nonetheless, it didnt deter me.
It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I actually did some real skiing. My buddy Graham and his family had been going to Holiday Valley for a few years at that point and had convinced my family and a few others to come along for Presidents Day weekend. Finally some real skiing…
As far as I was concerned, HV was as good as it gets. 50+ trails, natural snow, glades, night skiing, and The Wall (it was a few years before I had the balls to ski The Wall… now it doesn’t look that bad but when I was little it was a cliff).
The Apres ski scene in Ellicottville is pretty great. My brothers and friends were all too young to enjoy it though… so we were able to get in some night skiing while all our parents were making fools of themselves at the bar. Its funny, I dont think Ive been night skiing since I was legally allowed to drink.
Anyway, we were skiing this part of the mountain called Tannenbaum. It was all evergreen trees, the snow was falling, and it was so quiet you could actually year the snow falling on the branches. The lift takes you right through the forest; the trees tower over the lift and there was no one on the mountain on this particular evening. I mean, even the way the light glistened off the freshly fallen snow sticks with me to this day. You could hear the snow under foot with each turn you made… it was tranquil, peaceful, beautiful.
I hope everyone has had a moment like that. But it was then that I realized there was nothing so pure in the whole world. Skiing was it.
I also happened to meet my Sr. Prom date that weekend. Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow.
Mad River Glen is one of my favorite mountains of all time. All natural, no snowboarders, and the single chair to the peak. And at one point McBrine would have a race there every season (while they allowed us) and I looked forward to it all year. When I was a junior in college, however, there was an impending nor-easter for that particular weekend.
Marist thought it best not to let us go, I wasnt the captain at that point, so I couldnt say much about it. Now Vassar was in McBrine as well. Same division and also shared the same college town. Marist students and Vassar students never really engaged beyond the random engagement at a local bar. But remember how I said that skiing brings people together?? Well, this was no different, my best friend in the world skied for Vassar, his name was Chris Webber and the stories we have together are unforgettable.
So at this point I get a call from Mr. Webber, “hey Bonestick (what he used to call me) you guys headed to the mountain or what? No?! Thats ridiculous, why dont you drive up with me and represent”.
So thats what I did. Webber picked me up, and we headed to Mad River following another group of ski teamers, to tackle the blizzard that lay ahead.
Now, anyone that has skied Mad River Glen knows about ‘The Gap’. Its a mountain pass that takes you over the mountain to the resort instead of going around it. Its quicker, more efficient, and embodies the MRG mantra of Skit It If You Can. For about a 1/4 mile prior getting to The Gap there are numerous warning signs: check your brakes, no trucks, steep incline, and most importantly – do not use in inclement weather.
At this point there is probably a foot of snow on the ground and the road has since turned white again after the last plow came through. I was in Chris’s Honda Accord and the other guys were in an old Toyota Camry – not the type of vehicles you should use to climb a mountain in a snow storm. Nonetheless, we stopped at the bottom of The Gap, got out an looked at eachother, and all Chris said was, “Give it the old college try?”. That got a chuckle and a nod out of all of us and off we went.
This was scary. It was basically a white out, we’re scaling the freaking GAP, and were in an old Honda following an even older Toyota on an unplowed 2 lane mountain pass. By the grace of God we ended up making it… we parked at the top, jumped out of the cars, and started jumping up and down rejoicing. There are pictures floating around somewhere that had the group of us on the top of that highway. We might as well had just landed on the moon, because we felt triumphant!
Marist never made it up to the mountain that weekend and that was the last time I ever skied Mad River; I dont regret it for a second. Chris died a few years later, and to this day remains one of my closest friends. Ill remember that story forever and it will always make me smile. I guess sometimes you need to go with your gut and give it the old college try.