Warriors on the Hill

On March 28, 2011, in Uncategorized, by admin

I spend a disproportionate amount of my time thinking about the mechanics of skiing (if you ask my friends, they would tell you I also spend a disproportionate amount of my mental energy thinking about the weather and memorizing arcane details of the trails I frequent, but that’s another story). One of the things about skiing that appeals to the latent nerd in me is how, once you reach a certain level in your skiing, very subtle tweaks to stance and pressure can make enormous differences in how your ski tracks on the snow.

Demo days are a real treat for me, because I get to feel the almost unbelievable differences between different brands and styles of skis on back-to-back runs — trying the same things and getting very different results. I love skis with a Germanic temperament: stolid, unflappable, fierce grip, but also head-strong and not always cooperative. My friend Mark prefers more Gaelic skis: light, quick, whippy, but sometimes easily thrown around. That we can detect the difference immediately transmitted through bindings and a rigid pair of ski boots, to our wool-encased toes and shins, and right on up the line, is pretty impressive.

All this was brought home to me on Saturday morning as I boarded the White Peak Quad following a sit-skier with the Wounded Warriors group. This young man managed, with no assistance, to push his way along through the line using his outriggers, shove forward in perfect time, and bump himself up and onto the chair which the operators barely slowed for his approach. I was feeling pretty good that morning, balancing (for the most part, anyway) way up high on my two legs, rolling from edge to edge on two skis, planting two poles in something like a rhythm. The Wounded Warrior was doing all this from a seated position, balancing on one fairly narrow slalom ski and moving just as well as your average “able-bodied” skier. A few minutes later, I saw him carving graceful arcs down Whitecaps, trailed by a coach but absolutely in the lead and in control.

Last weekend, the Wounded Warriors program brought 28 soldiers and their families to New Hampshire to enjoy outdoor recreation. The Warriors came from New Hampshire and Maine — but also from as far away as Kentucky, Nebraska, and Texas. They skied at Bretton Woods on Thursday, Loon on Friday, and at Waterville Valley on Saturday and Sunday. Fifteen of the soldiers and their loved ones elected to stay with us in Waterville, and all were hosted by community members. These young people brought the same enthusiasm and undaunted spirit to skiing that they brought to their jobs in the military and to their recovery after terrible injuries — amputations, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s hard to think about the terrible sacrifices they’ve made, but easy to be proud of how they’ve reengaged with life.

The Waterville Valley Foundation, through the generosity of its donors, was proud to help fund a special breakfast for these brave men and women at T-Bars on Sunday morning. We look forward to seeing many of the soldiers and their families back again next year, and really appreciate all the effort that Kathy Chandler, Patty Furgal, and the team of volunteers at Waterville Valley’s Ability Plus program put in making this event a big success.

 

Heroes

On March 13, 2011, in Uncategorized, by admin

By any reasonable measure, I am at best an average athlete. In high school, the dread 600-yard run for the President’s Physical Fitness Award ended in barfing episodes more than once. I didn’t have much patience for team sports, and I grew up in household where work was generally valued over play. However, when I was twelve, my parents signed me up for an after-school ski program at Pat’s Peak through the local YMCA. I hacked my way down the J-Bar slope on ancient wooden skis with screw-in metal edges and Cubco plate bindings that my Dad was resourceful enough to figure out how to attach to my auction-house leather-and-plastic boots. Adjust the bindings? I don’t think we knew you were supposed to do that. The next year found me back at Pat’s every weekend, mostly skiing alone, emulating better skiers and progressing slowly from a snowplow (that’s what we called it back them) to a stem christie (a lost art) to something like a wide-track parallel turn. But, as Warren Miller says, once you take that first chairlift ride, your life will be screwed up forever. So it went with me.

Nancy and I spent our early twenties day-skiing Killington, and our late 20s enjoying pre-Christmas ski weeks at Sugarloaf each year. It was at Sugarloaf that I finally took real lessons and learned some semblance of technique. It was also at the Loaf that I was first exposed to really great skiers — racers, instructors, and patrollers who could ski anything with a casual grace that simply blew me way. Several years in a row, I skied with Sugarloaf instructor Rocky Freeman. Rocky — a sometime bush-pilot and an excellent teacher — was a heroic figure to me, and I happily followed him down ridiculously steep terrain, emulating his every move. Against all odds, a couple of those moves even stuck.

Today, I found myself contemplating my humble beginnings and slow maturation as a skier. For past four or five seasons, I’ve managed to squeeze out forty-plus days of skiing each season. My skiing has gradually improved by dint of sheer repetition — but also because I once again find myself surrounded great skiers I can emulate. If you ski every weekend at Waterville Valley, you probably take it for granted that just about everyone is a pretty good skier. Having spent a week out west in February, I can, however, report that the art of skiing as it’s practiced here is highly refined. I’ve spent the past few years carefully studying the technique of the best skiers on the hill — BBTS coaches and racers, Snowsports instructors, and our excellent ski patrollers. I can’t say too much of it has rubbed off, but it’s good to have role models.

Even better — and I have no idea how this has happened — I’ve become friends with some of those amazing skiers I’ve admired from the chairlift. My second run this morning, I caught up with patroller Kevin. Kevin’s a powerful skier who carves quiet arcs down the hill, hardly seeming to exert himself no matter how steep the terrain. A few runs later, I hooked up with instructors Dick and Mike — PSIA Level Three coaches who ski with rhythmic grace and ease at eye-watering speeds — and we ripped down Tippe and World Cup for some of the best runs of the season. Somehow I managed to keep up, almost-but-not-quite matching them turn for turn. We won’t talk about my technique; skiing with your heroes is one thing, but it’s certainly better that I was following and not leading so they didn’t have to watch. It’s gratifying to get to ski with people who are so good at what they do, and who obviously enjoy it enormously.

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Speaking of heroes: I hope you’ll be able to attend the book-signing by the authors of A Hero Is More Than A Sandwich: Tales of a “Volunteered” Fireman. Penned by Waterville Valley Ski Resort President Bob Fries, with a special tribute to the firefighters of 9/11 by Tom Gross, the book humorously recalls their service as volunteer firefighters in Waterville Valley.

The book signing will be held at Diamond’s Edge North on Saturday, March 19th from 3pm till 5pm. Bob and Tom have kindly offered to donate a portion of each book sold that evening to the Waterville Valley Foundation.