A SNOW-DEPRIVED EASTERN SKIER HEADS TO THE PROMISED LAND
OF BOTTOMLESS POWDER BY BILL MCCOLLOM
Just one week to go. Yes, in just seven days, or 168 hours, or
slightly more than 10,000 minutes, I’ll be on the plane to Utah. I’ll
be feeling the euphoria of Joseph Smith when I’m headed over
the Wasatch Range into Salt Lake City, only my agenda will be
decidedly different. My mission will be finding snow — real snow,
powder snow, corduroy snow, soft snow, snow that doesn’t make
any noise when you ski on it, snow that won’t slice you to ribbons
if you should happen to fall on it, if you get my drift.
I’m not the only one here in the East in search of the Promised
Land of bottomless powder. Since the beginning of February,
plans for trips west have been a common subject of conversation.
We’ve been snow-deprived, and the day of consummation can’t
come soon enough.
I’m generally a Pollyanna, always brimming with optimism and
good cheer. I kept up my good humor all the way to the beginning
of March, when a nice little storm dropped eight inches of fluff on
the barren landscape. Actually, this was our first snowfall since the
beginning of December. Compared to the previous three months,
the skiing that day was spectacular. Powder all the way up to my
ankles! And even the next day, the conditions were like Colorado,
with groomed packed powder. After a record two days of great
skiing, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the tide had turned. But
no, the good snow didn’t make it to the third day. After a dose of
freezing rain, rain, and then plunging temperatures to near zero,
the world turned back into ice, and my glass suddenly went from
half-full to half-empty. Pollyanna had morphed into Dr. Doom.
Actually, given the absence of snow this “winter,” it’s a tribute to
modern snowmaking and grooming that there’s been any skiing
at all. But there’s only so much even the most sophisticated snow-
farming technology can do with frozen granular. It might seem
like real snow for a few hours and then it gets scraped off into
clumps, leaving vast sections of shiny, pond-hockey ice covering
the trails. It’s much like getting a serving of Spam day after day
from the best kitchens in the business. They might make it into a
reasonable meal, but it’s still Spam.
Before the summer-like temperatures arrived recently, we had
essentially been skiing on the same sheet of ice since the middle
of January. I remember pulling into the Middlebury College Snow
Bowl early on the morning of Jan. 15 with the temperature locked
in at minus 15 Fahrenheit. Later the following day it rained hard,
followed by another bout of sub-zero readings. That wild swing of
temperatures created our skiing surface for the season.
In groping for the positive, I could say the race conditions were
at least consistent, predictable, and fair for the entire field. And to
quote Professor Robert McGrath, “That which doesn’t kill us, makes
us stronger.” (Or was that Nietzsche?) To go one step further, the
“hard snow” could even be considered in the best interest of ski
racers since it made technical feedback instantaneous. You lean
in, you fall down; sit back, you fall down; reach up to adjust your
goggles, you fall down. This positive spin, however, can carry a
skiing enthusiast only so far. The reality is that after a season of
racing here in the East, I’m still vibrating well into the next week
after each race, and I swear I’m two inches shorter.
Utah, here I come.
Skiing in the West, particularly Utah, is a world apart from Vermont.
One friend who went to Park City to coach claimed that he never
wore any form of hat other than a baseball cap for the entire season.
Try that in Vermont — even for one day — and then check to
see if you still have ears. The Utah lodges, meanwhile, have vast
expanses for eating outdoors, which might be a stretch here in the
East for all but a couple of days in July or August. Sunglasses and
sunscreen, things that I’m not sure I even own, have permanent
places in the westerner’s ski bag. I don’t even have a clue how to
make skis go fast on western snow. The only reason to wax in the
East, as far as I know, is to protect the bases from corrosion. The
westerners, on the other hand, have no concept of the function of
the tools we know so well — files and edge bevel guides. I just
love hearing the complaints about how “icy” it is when a tiny patch
of crust appears on the side of a western trail.
Yes, I know, it does get cold in Utah, even this time of year; and
yes, it could rain; and yes, we could be socked in with a three-day
blizzard; but I’d rather not think about it. Negative thoughts are not
permitted in this particular bout of anticipation.
But I’m ready to leave the land of ice and no snow behind. I have
been deprived for too long. I want to buy sunglasses and then
squint into the sun. I look forward to leaving my hat in my ski bag.
I crave being able to ski without a down parka and four layers
stuffed underneath. I can’t even imagine skiing in just a T-shirt.
And if I’m feeling particularly daring, I might even try venturing out
with just a single layer of long underwear. Most importantly, I want
to effortlessly float on a surface of soft snow, even if it’s just for
ILLUSTRATION BY RAND PAUL