Monday, February 26, 2007


I went skiing out West for the first time over President's Day weekend, and despite delicious steak dinners, nightly hot tub dunks, perfect ski conditions, beautiful weather, and gorgeous scenery, I can say I absolutely loved it. I hope that sentence was as confusing for you as it was for me.

If you missed the title, I went to Vail. It's an amazing mountain (actually 1.5 entire mountains). I think it's only drawback is its relative difficulty to get to from the East Coast; between winter snow storms in the West, Midwest, and East, and the 2-hour drive through countless mountain passes to the resort, the stars pretty much have to align for you to make it there without any hiccups. For instance: my flight out of Dulles was cancelled. Also, beginner skiers might be better served to build up their confidence at other slopes; Vail is massive and quite technically challenging, and a wrong turn could leave you stuck on some frightening terrain as 65-year old men whisk by in tight flourescent suits.

One thing you always hear people talk about is the powder out West, and how skiing in powder is far superior to the groomed runs we're so used to. Well, for those who have only ever skied on groomed runs, I have some words to heed. Skiing in powder is fucking hard, it's also really fucking tiring. You see those videos of people that look like they're jumping out of the snow to make each turn, well, they are actually jumping out of the snow; you have to actually jump out of the snow to make turns. If you don't do it right, you lose your ski, maybe a pole, and fall into the snow. And getting your equipment back on after wrecking in powder can be a 20-minute ordeal. Not only are you 2 miles up with a bunch of awkward, rigid ski gear attached to you, but you're also struggling in waist-deep snow, which tends to suck you in the more you struggle, like quicksand kinda. The only benefit of powder is that when you do fall you don't have to worry much about hurting yourself, that is, unless you hit a tree, which of course are naturally drawn to areas with a lot of powder.

Vail offered the most tiring and challenging skiing I've ever faced. For starters, the altitude really effects your performance. The various peaks at Vail are all around 11,200 feet (Blue Sky Basin is ~11,500), and you can really feel it when your pushing yourself around and starting off a run. Your legs burn more, your heart races, and you just get out of breath fast. You need to drink a lot of water to keep from getting a headache from dehydration. Altitude also has some weird effects, like tripling the effect of alcohol, and giving you really strange dreams. One of my dreams the first night at altitude featured a naked woman with what looked like Mordor script being written across her chest. Further, the vertical drop between the peak and base is about 3,500 feet, which makes for some damn long runs, particularly the winding catwalks.
Aside from the physical challenges I endured, Vail has the most variety of runs I've ever seen. If you like easy cruising down groomed runs, hopping through powder in the trees, mogul-pocked fields, or picking your path anywhere along the face of a mountain, it's there waiting for you. And if you find a chance to stop, you can enjoy massive vistas of the Rockies fading into the horizon a 100 miles away.
All in all, it was an incredible trip.

No comments: