Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sunday River Skiing

I had not done much skiing before this year (three afternoons' worth, three years ago). I was always a little worried that my knees would get injured. Seeing people in casts at work every skiing season did little to change my opinion.

This season, my friends (KD, SD and LR) convinced me to try skiing again with the eloquent argument 'What are you, chicken?'. Of course, now they claim that they didn't say anything of that sort. Apparently, all they did was to point out that skiing was a fun outdoor activity that a guy like me would enjoy and that my fears of knee injury were misplaced. I guess recollections of events vary.

Suffice it to say that peer pressure is not always a bad thing.

I skied for the first time in Wachusett Mountain in Boston, spending about three hours on the beginner slope there. I hasten to add that I use the word skiing in the loosest of ways. All I remembered was that I was supposed to make a wedge as I came down. Towards the end of the day, I thought I was doing ok.

The second time was with KD, SD and LR at Mountain Creek. One look at my 'skiing' and they basically said 'Stay here on the beginner slope, work your technique' and that's what I did all day. The slopes on mountain creek look like Ranganathan Street on a busy Saturday evening. Just way too many people. It's great for practicing control, though :-)

Of course, I enjoyed it all so much that I put in an order for skis, boots and poles. Sports Authority had a 40% off sale on all these, and I figured I would make the money back in a few trips. So, when we went to Sunday River in Maine the next weekend, I was all ready with my gear.

Sunday River is a cool ski resort with six mountains with multiple beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes. We rented a slope-side condo and the price included lift tickets and lessons for two days. In all, it worked out to a pretty reasonable price. We made it there late Thursday night. The plan was to get up early on Friday and start skiing at 9:00 am.

As it happened (and it happens often), we got up at 9:00, started skiing at 11:00. Once we got on the slopes wanderlust gripped SD. He just wanted to ski every slope that he could. Of course, this enthusiasm was infectious. The way the trails are set up, you can go from hill to hill on long traverses. These don't have much of a slope. So, we'd do a green trail a couple of times, then, the next time up, get on one of the traverses, go to the next mountain, do the green trails there and so on. We started with the left-most hill (which was easiest) and worked our way right. Towards the end, of course, the greens were more challenging. The last two we did (Dream Maker and Lollapalooza) were the toughest green trails on the hill.

Now, ideally, for a skier like me(i.e. novice with no clue), the best thing to do is to go across the slope, left to right, then, turn, come back right to left and so on. This traversing of the slope ensures that regardless of the slope, you never pick up too much speed. Of course, you start in a wedge, but the longer your traverses are, the wedge disappears and your skis start getting parallel. That's the first step to developing the proper skiing technique, apparently.

As I got more exhausted, all I was doing was pretty much going down straight, picking up lots of speed, and wedging like crazy in an attempt to slow down. Of course, I thought I was still traversing. Exhaustion can do that sort of thing to your mind. Ideally, I should have stayed on a simple beginner slope and worked my technique. But I was having so much fun hopping the hills with the rest of the gang that I just went with the flow.

Lollapalooza was a harsh mistress, to quote SD, with steep icy sections. And, coming down Lollapalooza, I had a mighty fall. I lost one ski, briefly attempted one-legged skiing and finished with a face plant on the snow. I had landed in one of the icier sections and I could barely get up because my ski boots kept slipping out from under me. Putting my skis back on was an adventure all unto itself. LR stayed with me the whole time, helping me get my things together, and making sure I got back on my skis. I owe her one.

At long last, we were done for the day and did a few long traverses (Kansas, Lower Lazy River, Road Runner) to get back to the condo. I was beat. I was tired, I was hungry. A brief digression on the hunger part...

KD, SD and LR believe in ascetic skiing. They neither eat nor drink when they ski. They look down upon anyone who is weak enough to succumb to the temptations of the flesh while on the slopes :-). No doubt this pleases the Skiing Gods who then bestow their blessings. I have no clue how they manage it. Me, I finished off my ration of four granola bars and an apple and an entire bottle of water in the course of the five hours of skiing.

After we got back, I spent some time in the jacuzzi, which really relaxed my aching muscles. We then went out and had a big, nice dinner. Oh yeah, by this time, it had started snowing too. We chilled out after the dinner, listening to some music, indulging in some pleasant conversation, mostly about how cool the day's skiing had been and how great the next day's skiing was going to be. There were brief digressions on 80s Hindi movies, Rock and Roll and other assorted trivia. It had been a great day and every one felt really good. Nothing like a hard physical workout, followed by a hot jacuzzi and lots of good food to put one in a mellow mood :-)

The next day, we woke up to find that there had been nearly a foot of snow overnight, and we just couldn't wait to start skiing. I was quite pleased with Friday's skiing, so I figured that I would just ski for four hours or so and just chill out at the restaurant the rest of the time.

When we hit the slopes, we were surprised by the quality of the snow. Fresh Powder! The feeling was just great. Of course, it was continuously snowing (sometimes at 2 inches an hour) for the whole day. The snow kept many people off the roads and hence the slopes presumably. So, the resort wasn't as crowded as it might have been on a Saturday.

The heavy snow also meant that the skiing conditions were way different than the first day. For one, the snow slowed me down to such an extent that I felt confident enough to try a fairly easy Intermediate slope. More on the snow a little later.

In the meanwhile, LR lost her way, and managed to run a black diamond. So, KD and SD decided to run that black diamond with her one more time. While these folks were playing with the Blacks and the Blues, I decided to go check out my favorite traverse, the Three Mile. It was a fairly long run, and I met the rest of the gang at South Base.

Here, I discovered that I had a free lesson as part of the package and decided to take it. I was dead-tired by this point and figured that a nice quiet lesson would be a good way of topping the trip off. Well, as it happened, the lesson involved us doing Dream Maker two more times and a fairly steep Intermediate slope called Escapade. While my plans of an easy, chilled out afternoon were shot to bits, the lesson really helped. Deadly Dave, our instructor, had us focusing on specific things. I picked up a couple of concepts (making sure that the head stayed level, dealing with bumps etc) that really helped me. After the lesson, I ran Dream Maker a couple more times, just to make sure I had absorbed the lesson well.

Well, remember how I had planned on a easy half-day of skiing? By the time all this was done, and I was making my way back to the condo (another run of long traverses across the mountains), it was 4:00 pm. I had skied the entire day. My muscles were burning . We packed up, and drove to Boston to some hot Thai food on Madurai Avenue. The drive in the snow (it snowed non-stop) was fairly uneventful but for a skid while merging into 95 near Boston. Heh, suffice it to say that what's fun on the slopes is not fun on the road.

Boston, well, was Boston. Friends, Food, the usual bit.

In all, this trip was fantastic. Just the first day was paisa vasool. I really enjoyed the quiet runs with very few people to share the hill with.

The second day just blew my mind. The heavy snow muffled every sound, and on the lesser used trails, all you could hear was the snow falling. I stopped at many places to just enjoy the quiet(like Robert Frost stopping by the woods on a snowy afternoon :-) ). Skiing in that deep fresh snow was such a great feeling, though. All you hear is the whisper of the skis on the snow. More a swish than the usual crunch. Oh, and the deep snow 'gives' so much, it is almost like you are weightless. Like you are swimming. Or flying even. Like water on glass. Man, it was such a great feeling, I still feel good thinking about it! Even the times I fell, it felt like falling on a giant white bed.

I think I am spoiled for life :-) I doubt if I will ever be lucky enough to get snow like that again..

Anyway, that's how it all came out. I know this is a pretty long winded post, but hey, I had to get it all in :-)

If you made it this far, people, take my word for it, if you get a chance, try skiing. It's great, cool and awesome. If you are worried about injuries, well, as long as your bindings are set right, you won't have problems. If you live in a place that gets snow, well, there's no better way to pass the otherwise dreary winter months. Heh, Good luck then, and more powder to you :-)

2 comments:

kd said...

A note about the "ascetic skiing"... the second day ie., saturday, ascetic skiing took a huge hit, with each of us eating two granola bars and a waffle at the Waffle Haus at the base of Lollapalooza.

Sudu said...

SD's wanderlust went for a big hit the second day, when the Lollapalooza which was a tough but wonderful mistress the first day became a harsh mistress.
And oh the Waffle @ the Wafflehaus...the sweet smell actually was what got me all hungry. Damn the smell distracting us "Ascetic Skiers"