Marolt: Trying to decide if I need a shovel for side-country skiing
What’s all the talk about “the side country” lately? From what I can tell it is the groovy new way to say “lift-served ski terrain that is not groomed.” I think it was coined to describe it as something more than it is, but has actually sold that vast and varied kind of terrain short.
In the old days, which seem to have come to an end last season or maybe the season before, we skied on the front side of the mountain or we went backcountry. Now that we have added side-mountain skiing, and considering top to bottom runs, it seems like we are skiing in a box.
Now we have just three options for skiing to choose from — groomers, sidecountry and backcountry. Are you bored yet? I mean, I get it that with the new lexicon you can head home or back to the bar stool and tell skiing stories bigger and taller than the mountains you actually skied and sound more adventuresome by using the latest and greatest vernacular to offset any notion that you might have spent your entire vacation carving corduroy, but all that really does is buy time before your audience goes home and, within a half hour of Googling around, figures out that you all did was try a few mogul runs.
I get it, too, that skiing equipment manufacturers might be embracing the nuevo nomenclature to get us to buy the highest tech, latest and greatest, not cheap gear to handle the same old conditions that we’ve been been handling with our old fashioned “all-mountain” gear they marketed to us when racing gear went out of fashion sometime in the ’90s when the big news was that snowboarding was taking over and they tricked many of us into trying that, and some of us even attempted to grow pony tails to prove that we “got it.”
I have this feeling that this is just the beginning. Moguls are not the same thing as crud, which is not the same thing as windpack, which is different from corn that skis differently from ice, which shouldn’t be confused with bullet-proof that will never be mistaken for dust on crust and you get the idea — if you can design one “sidecountry” ski for all the varied conditions that you will encounter in the “side country,” I think you will have a ski that doesn’t handle any of them very well, and that’s probably the point.
When we get tricked into investing thousands of dollars into our new “sidecountry” gear, of course we are going to want to go out and experience the incredible “sidecountry” terrain that we have apparently overlooked for years. When we get out there and figure out that what we mastered yesterday has been morphed by the sun and the moon and the wind and, occasionally, even the rain, and what worked to get through then isn’t taking care of business today, we are going to be left with just two options.
The first option is that we are going to finally get serious about this sport. That means we are going to have to bite the bullet and make an investment. I’m not talking about purchasing a gym membership where we could go to sweat and pump and stretch our ways into begin strong enough to handle whatever conditions wintertime produces.
The better answer, of course, will be to buy an entire quiver of skis. In it we will have skis for ice. There will be a pair for crud. We will buy a pair for bumps (I’m not sure how long those will be or whether or not they will have sidecut since nobody yet has figured out what a good bump ski is.)
I am sure we will need different boots for all those conditions, too. Where the plastic buckle-on casts used to be just stiff, soft or medium, now we will have varying flex patterns numbered from about 60 to 155 to consider each day we wake to the customized weather forecast on our phones. Different glasses and goggles will be required for fog, glare, definition and depth perception as sidecountry conditions change. Pole length? Who knows what we’ll need?
This will be enough, of course, to make you eventually wonder what the second option is at approximately the time you max out the home equity line of credit to pay for it all. It will be to settle on one pair of skis, boots, poles, goggles and gloves and use them for everything. How limiting is that?
Roger Marolt has four pairs of the same ski that he rotates like his jeans. Email at email@example.com.
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There will be no yards-long buffet tables, no “Best Salad” competitions and certainly no large-scale gathering with hundreds of attendees at the Westin Snowmass Conference Center this year.