Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Beast of the East

At the end on my last post, I mentioned that Winter Storm Euclid (the NWS has taken to naming storms in the Lower 48, I’d love to see them try that up here…) was dumping.

By the end of it, nearly a foot had fallen at the house, more up high..
While I laughed at the northeasterner’s concerns over the snowfall, alas Euclid got the last laugh. The snow totals quickly caused me to develop a case of FOMO, and a planned trip to visit my sister in Bar Harbor, Me was eclipsed first by unsafe driving, and secondly by powder fever.
Amy and I toured the Norske trail during the tail end of the storm, and the next day in clear skies, I skated in bliss on the pillowy trails at Rikerts for a little over 3 hours.
The blue sky was short lived though, as a second system moved in less than 24 hours after Euclid had moved out.
While this storm promised to bring less snow and remained unnamed in the eyes of the forecasters, a “sit-and-spin” pattern developed, leading to an additional snowfall of 6-8 fluffy inches on top of Euclid’s now firm deposit.
Ashar and I skied some not-so-secret glades on Saturday afternoon, and the fresh and still damp snow skied fast underfoot, letting us ride lower angle trees with speed and ease.
Waxing up. I pulled a Rosignol Proline circa 2002 out of retirement and strapped on snowshoes to get after the BC goods.
Coming down.

Not a lot to see, but plenty to ski.

Fueling up Downeast style.
Conditions only furthered my FOMO issues though. Some of the best east coast backcountry conditions I’ve ever seen had set up – conditions that are oft hoped for in March, let alone late December. In the upper elevations a 1.5-3 foot thick, firm base buried most debris, stumps, and rocks, while up to a foot of blower lay on top. Blue skies were forecasted to prevail as well.
Powder fever is hard to cure nor ignore, and a second planned trip looked threatened.
I had planned to spend Dec 30 in NYC absorbing urban culture and pizza made by pros, but the urban jungle had lost its appeal in the face of face shots and snow-covered hardwood forests.
I pushed my south-bound travel date back a day, and hastened my return trip north by a day as well.
The decision proved to be a good one. The skies parted on Sunday and I headed into a secret glade. 

"W" marks the spot.

Hardwood glades, hard to beat.

Secret views.

Dusky retreat.

Having not been to this locale since I left the East Coast, and being relegated to snow shoes with the board on my pack, progress and route finding were sub-optimal. Trail breaking was absolute hell. On my first ascent I did scope out several sweet lines, and the snow was worthy of as many laps as my little heart and tired legs could handle. Face shots were common, and I enjoyed riding atop several glacial erratics and hopping protruding ledges.
New Years Eve day I awoke early and drove to Albany where I boarded a train to Penn Station.

Southbound on the shores of the Hudson. I miss trains.
 There I was greeted by Seth, who escorted me to the Port Authority, with a stop for coffee and long-overdue catch-up. I then hopped a bus, and two hours later Bernie picked my up outside his home in Allentown.
After hanging out with Travis, who made the trip out to visit as well, we rung in the New Year with some of Bernie’s Pa crew, and the next morning wrung ourselves back out with a short but fun MTB ride on some local trails. An inch of slushy snow over a mostly frozen ground didn’t stop us, but it sure made us muddy.

Hosing down the rigs.
Just 26 hours after I arrived, I was back on the bus headed north. I hopped a train in NYC and brushed some snow off the car in Albany, but this time however, I drove only to Saratoga, where I stopped in at the home of my academic advisor and unpaid life advisor, Bob.
I was feeling a little sad I had cut my trip to see Bernie so short, but the next morning snow was falling in Saratoga.
Nostalgia and a tour of this sweet little city I so often miss was not to be had: Bob had breakfast waiting and a lunch packed, it was time to make turns and he was ready.
Bob lead the way north to Gore Mountain, about an hour north of Toga-town.
The cost of a $1.00 bottle of Coke displayed at the ticket window discounted my lift ticket by several bills.
I was unsure of what to expect, skiing with my former professor, and had brought both the skis (I suck) and the board (I suck less).
I opted to start on the board, and decided if the day looked to be one of groomers and waiting at the lift line, (i.e., Bob couldn’t hang), I would mention something about icy conditions and switch over to skis. I was fully expecting that the pupil would be the professor for the day.
We started with a warm up on a long, though somewhat typically slippery groomer.
Then Bob lead the charge on a traverse across the resort to a less visited area.
From there, we dropped into the first mogulled glade.
Bob disappeared and it was all I could do to try and remember how to board the bumps and trees at the same time.
On the ride up, my legs screamed, and I pleaded for an alternating warm down run.
We hit a groomer and I watched this middle-aged professor pop air over several rolls while hammering GS turns
East coast lift serve was demanding.
I struggled the rest of the morning as Bob lead me on a whirlwind tour of the mountain, hopping between groomers and glades.
After lunch, we headed to another area of the mountain, and after getting back-spun over a mogul the size of a polar bear, my muscle memory kicked back in.
Thanks for joining.
Something clicked and I suddenly started making sense of the bumps, scouring out the side-sloughed and wind-blown powder.
Then we found a run that, despite its location directly under a lift, had some of the best snow and terrain of the day. Maybe it was the 4-5 foot tall lateral bands of rock that ran across the trail that stopped others from heading down, but it was no deterrent for us and we lapped this glory shot of a run until the sun began to sink.
The day ended with a trip back down to the lodge and a descent that featured the southern Adirondacks bathed in the golden light of the setting winter sun.
A few hours later I was back in Middlebury where I met up with Narva, who was also touring the east on holiday.
The next morning we rolled south and met up with Meg and friend Chris at Stratton.

Lunch crowd.

Narva's better side.

The way every day should end.

I spent a lot of great weekends my freshmen year of college on this mountain, so it was great to see it again.
Narv, Meg and I quickly fell into our old routine, and Chris was game. Inappropriate jokes abounded and the cold wind and loud powder were no match for our good spirits.
Our best efforts to make fellow tram riders uncomfortable were for naught; most joined in. The mid-week crowds are typically the best of the bunch.
By the end of the day our sides all hurt as much as our legs, and poor Narva, whose voice was already beginning to give that morning due to a lingering cold, could be seen skiing downhill, bent over, mouth agape, trying to laugh but nothing would come out. It was the kind of day you start to miss and laugh about before it’s even over.
That night Leila joined Narva and I in Middlebury too, and the next morning the three of us headed about an hour south to Pico Mountain where we met up with Scott and Lauren.

Skiing: it's fun!

Narva getting first track and leaving contrails


Pico, though small, has great ambiance on and off the mountain.

Ya they are!
The girls talk skiing, the boys talk skiing.
I picked Pico as out destination in part because it was budget friendly and in part because it was close (just less than an hour from Middlebury)
Pico was the first “big hill” I ever skied at – big hill being anything other than the Middlebury College Snow Bowl – and was later where I took my first snowboard lesson.
The first time I saw this cone-shaped peak rising into the ski, my neck felt like it would break. I was 9 I think.
By the time I had acquired a license and a GPA high enough to earn a Sunday pass at Killington/Pico, my friends and I blew by this much smaller looking mountain for Killington.
As noted, except for my freshmen year, I skied almost exclusively at Killington through my collegiate career only going to Pico once to lead a group of beginner skiers and riders and another time when I sported a broken tail bone.
I wasn’t expecting much out of Pico except cheaper tickets and a shorter drive.
The steadily falling snow when we arrived promised more.
We hooked up with Scott and Lauren and in no time at all, were traversing across closed trails to make it over to the apparently closed “Outpost” area.
I wondered how long we would do this before ski patrol caught on, when maybe on the third lap in this area we passed a sign that noted that, while the Outpost lift was not running, it was open to those who sought to ski under their own power.
Since when did east coast ski hills start being cool?
We made a few more laps in the untracked area before heading to the A-Slope Lift.
This is the original Pico, the Pico my mom grew up skiing with her sisters, before snowmaking, chairlifts, and a high-speed quad that actually reached the summit of the resort’s namesake.
The several hundred vertical foot slope was loaded with drifted powder, gathered on the gladded runs.
The old poma tower bases made for fun hucks.
After lunch, we aimed for the summit.
Despite blasting wind at the top, and an icy off-ramp that made unloading look like a scene from “Saving Private Ryan,” we made an amazing discovery: Pico, has got the goods.
I don’t know what the deal is, but this mountain is chuck-full of skiable glades, and I’m not talking about the glades you’ll find on your friendly mountain trail guide.
Managers might be calling their lawyers as you read this to order a cease and desist; locals might be seething that their local 401 is out on the Internets, but the woods between the trails off the summit may appear impenetrable from outside, but from within, they are amazing.
We found easy turning in the knee deep, and often completely untracked snow.
Our entryways were usually a leap of faith through a cluster of head-bashing spruce boughs that yielded to open forest within.
If we were breaking any rules, ski patrol didn’t seem to mind.
For Leila and I, where to ski on Saturday was an easy decision.

The vintage Outpost lift at Pico features vintage ski terrain (Courtesy Epicski.com).

Gorgeous light in the glades off the summit.
Views to the White Mountains off the calm and sunny summit.
Snow creatures in an empty forest.

We returned the next day to find that more snow had fallen overnight and covered our tracks in the woods, while the mountain had opened the retro Outpost area. The rusting steel towers of this two-seater lift and big powdery bumps and hardwood glades were a perfect way to kick off a sunny morning. By the afternoon we again returned to the upper elevation and found the woods from the day before just as fun.
By the end of the day, after four consecutive days of relentless east coast lift serve, I was ready to be sedentary for 16 hours, but maybe unsure about where I was going.

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