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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The last day of February was the first day of spring. A robin warbled that morning as I carefully set my skis in the car rack. These weren’t just any skis. They were my cherished Bonna 2400s – hickory skis with lignostone edges – skis made in Norway more than 30 years ago.

The Bonnas are handsome skis. They smell faintly of pine tar and kindle memories of early ski tours in Crested Butte in the mid-70s when the telemark was being reinvented on skis just like these. We didn’t have any skins then, so we climbed with wax, even over Pearl Pass to Aspen. We dressed in wool and celebrated the organic beauty of wood and wax on snow.

My friend Graeme has skis of a similar vintage – Åsnes – also from Norway. Beautiful, with a dark, polished finish, they were leaning against his door in Aspen like something from a ski museum. We had both waxed and corked our bases for a 16-mile “woodies” tour – great ambitions for a couple of old retros linking back to early skiing roots.

I hadn’t worn my leather boots for at least a decade, and rescued them from the dank, dark basement. They were shiny and well oiled as I clamped them securely into cable bindings. From Graeme’s house we set out over the Marolt ski tracks, kicking and gliding in the first rays of sun across the pedestrian bridge spanning Maroon Creek.

At the base of Tiehack, we stretched on climbing skins and went straight up the mountain, continuing up the ridge past West Buttermilk. At the Maroon Creek overlook we gazed into the plunging gorge of West Willow. The sun was warm. Buds were forming on aspen trees. Nuthatches flitted here and there. A raven cackled as it floated a thermal.

Tracking across the ridge, we soon stood atop of the plunging steeps of the Sugar Bowls. Now came the litmus test. We stripped off our skins and prepared to telemark the bowls. Tightening the laces of my boots, I felt the leather form around my feet like gloves.

Talk of humility! Turning those long wooden skis with no sidecut was like learning to ski again. The Bonnas cut through the snow, but there was no carving. Turning required finesse, and when finesse failed, muscling a turn had my boots twisting like a worn-out pair of Crocs.

Instead of perfect figure 8s, we left a series of wobbling exclamation points! At the bottom, we began breaking through fresh snow on the Government Trail. With the change of temperature in the shade of the trees, the Bonnas began clumping up, and soon I was dragging 4 inches of snow on each ski.

That was nothing compared to negotiating the lower steeps of Long Shot where the trail comes out at Snowmass. The run was scraped and glazed, and my lignostone edges found little purchase. It was a test of leg strength and boot support just to execute a wobbly wedge. I tried to muster the poise of Lindsey Vonn, but I looked more like Pee Wee Herman on Quaaludes.

By the time we made it down to Two Creeks for a beer, the sun was high and hot. Spring had fully sprung. Our final stage, the groomed track of the Owl Creek Trail, had become so soft that only a klister would hold. But we had no klister, so instead gooped on sticky purple wax the consistency of chewed bubblegum. Even then we couldn’t climb the long grade to Owl Creek Divide, so we had to skin up, then peel them off again at the top. Now everything was sticky with that god-awful purple.

From the divide we set off for Aspen, but by now the Bonnas had lost both their kick and their glide. Graeme’s Åsnes performed better, so for me it was a long, slow, contemplative plod through the sunny meadows of Owl Creek and across Buttermilk.

In optimal waxing conditions – i.e. the cold snow of midwinter – this would have been a fast and delightful ski on the woodies, but with warm, wet spring snow, it was a slog. My poling muscles were well worked by the time I arrived at Graeme’s house for a cold beer.

The Bonnas are now back in their basement nook, along with my trusty leather boots. Both are patiently awaiting a cold winter day when they can shine again with the beauty ingrained in them more than three decades ago.


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