On the Hill: An inauspicious start
December 6, 2008
ASPEN ” On a whim, I decided to make good on my resolve to earn more of my turns this winter by skinning up stuff. I’m secretly hoping skinning will make me skinny, but it about killed me on Saturday.
I was flirting with thoughts of untracked powder at Highlands when, from the highway, I spied a skier making graceful turns down the face of main Buttermilk. I pulled into the parking lot.
What are the odds? The best tele skier in the world was swooping down the slope just as I glanced up. Either that, or I’m the worst tele skier in the world. This is entirely possible.
I was winded by the time I hit the first true pitch. It was all uphill from there, including the descent.
I don’t know how, but I made it to the summit without adding my breakfast to the many hazards on the slopes at Buttermilk, which doesn’t open until next weekend and is, at present, a hodgepodge of snowguns, hoses, snowmobile tracks, dog poop and piles of hardened concrete, a.k.a. manmade snow.
As I crawled upward, I noticed plenty of those frozen chunks of snow affectionately known as death cookies. Except they were more like loaves of bread. Yes, the downhill would be a challenge.
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I’d like to say I found powder on the upper reaches of the mountain, but the snow conditions mirrored my brow ” heavy and wet.
With nerves of aluminum, I peeled off the climbing skins and pointed the tips of my tele skis downhill. Just a bit. I slid all of 30 feet or so before I fell.
It was a decidedly inauspicious start to the season.
I spend the next 40 minutes picking my way down Buttermilk, employing a gutsy combination of snowplowing, feeble parallel turns and prayer. I didn’t manage to pull off a telemark turn during the entire descent, but in a highlight-reel-worthy moment, I launched off a ridge of “snow” so hard it had an aqua-colored cast to it, landed with my tips crossed and still managed to remain upright.
At one point, I glance down at my increasingly heavy pole, which had taken on a pendulous feel that threatened to further cripple my technique. There was an impressive column of wet snow piled on the basket ” that, or I somehow took a core sample of the Earth’s crust.
With the bottom of the hill in sight, I quit flirting with death. I put the skis on my pack and crunched my way to the base, feeling seriously puny, but alive.
I think I’ve earned my turns all season with just that one outing. I’ll be seeking out lift-served skiing on groomed runs with impunity.