Early season at Stratton Mountain, I caught up with a Ski School instructor on the chair lift to the summit. We’ve already had one snow storm in November, which dumped 13 inches of snow on the mountains, so the slopes looked ready. Prior to that, the day time temperature was cold enough that they were running the snow guns all day and all night to prepare for the 2014/2015 season opening day.
Unfortunately for me, when nature decides to snow that much, there is too much to do around the inn that prohibits me from entertaining the idea of catching the fresh powder. I shovel snow around the front entrance, back door, the guest room entrance and deck. I take snow off the front entry roof so that icicles will not grow there. I try to rake some snow off the hedges so that they will not be crushed by the weight of frozen snow. If there are any icy spots on the parking lot, I will spread some ice melt. It is a full day of work to dig out of a big snow day.
|By the time I got to Stratton on Monday, a couple of 40s warm days have melted most of the snow. By Thursday, the temperature was down to the low 20s again; however, this deadly combination of temperature fluctuations made the trail surface extremely hard and icy. Not too many people come out in such conditions, so the top half of the mountain never got enough traffic to have the shave-offs that provided any hope of grip.|
|I went down carefully with ample amount of cushion left in my knees to react to suddenly slipping edges. Low temperature and icy surfaces meant that there was a very little friction between the board and hard snow. Controlling my speed and carefully measuring the amount of unexpected movements underneath my board, I tried to remain in control over such an unforgiving condition. It is no time to learn new skills as the consequence of anything other than perfect execution is a hard fall, usually accompanied by pain.|
So, when I find myself riding the chair lift with a Ski School instructor, I wanted to ask if there are any tips for skiing in conditions like this . After a casual exchange of “Hi”s and “How are you”s, I started talking about how bad the conditions are. He told me that he has been a ski instructor for thirty some years. He used to work at Jay Peak near the Canadian border, but moved to Stratton because he wanted to get a new certification. There is a panel of judges who decide you are worthy of a certain level of certification and there are seven such judges in the Stratton area, but there are none up there. So he moved down to Stratton so that he can find out what’s in the minds of these judges and become familiar with the way they think of skiing.
I never knew such a level of ski certification existed. Apparently, at that level of skiing mastery, it is not about technical skills and much more comes into play. It reminded me of the documentary movie about the Master Sommlier examination. There are now 135 professionals who have earned the title Master Sommelier in North America. There are 211 Master Sommeliers worldwide since the first successful Master Sommelier examination was held in the United Kingdom by the Court of Master Sommelier in 1969. This movie gives a glimpse of what it takes to pass the nearly impossible Master Sommelier examination. Check out the movie “Somm” at the NETFLIX documentary section.
Back to snowboarding… As I practice the familiar lines on the Black Diamond trails every week, I figured out that the difference between a good run and not so good run is purely your attitude. You have the skills and technique to negotiate the slope. The steepness of incline is such that the harder you try to control, the more chances you have of losing control. When the unexpected surprises you, your attitude changes. Fear takes over, doubt seeps in and confidence dwindles. Then, it’s over. Instead, you should trust your ability and let your body spontaneously react to whatever is happening underneath. Seek less control and minimize resistance. After all, it is a controlled fall. You are falling undeniably, while balancing to stay up. Respect what gravity is doing to you, and don’t just insist on what you are doing to it.
So when I met the ski instructor of 30 some years, who moved to Stratton to prepare for the next level of certification, who is skiing in these impossible conditions, I wanted to ask what revelation he had on skiing. He told me about his friend. They grew up together and they were in the same development program when they were teenagers. His friend went onto competitive skiing and achieved much success. He is in his mid 50s now and they still see each other once or twice a year. “You know what…”, he says. “Every time I see him, he starts out by saying, “I am working on a new move…”
Come to Ormsby Hill and peek into the minds of Masters…
In pursuit of the best snowboarding move…