Saturday, February 14, 2009

An epic last day on the mountains

I didn’t get a chance to post this yesterday and it was an epic last day in Aspen.

To start with, the SES group had first tracks at Aspen Mountain again. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing first tracks even though they can be pretty hard. The run that is chosen for us at Aspen Mountain is called Copper and I love almost all of it. We go up in the gondola which is nice to sit for a bit in a sheltered spot. At the top, we go down in small groups with a few guides to keep us on the right run and to help us if we get into trouble or injured. I have no idea what angle the run is at but it sure feels steep! Maybe my photos will be able to convey it better. On a regular riding day I would warm up with a few easier runs to wake up my muscles gently but not so for first tracks. It’s like waking up and jumping into the deep end of a pool rather than wading into the shallow end gradually.

On this last day, the SES group was gathered at the bottom by the gondola, waiting for them to let us on it. There were a few other random small groups of skiers also waiting for first tracks and as one group started to load, who should be in it but Elle MacPherson. She’s a super model for those not in the know. Truthfully I didn’t even recognize her until Sean pointed her out although I’d read an article about her in an Aspen magazine just the other day which mentioned that she frequents Aspen for skiing in the winter. All I saw was a tall, thin, pretty woman posing for a photo with someone then going up the stairs to the gondolas. I saw her at the top too. Her hair was braided by then and she wears a helmet. Her group went down before ours so I don’t have an autograph. My camera wasn’t readily available at the base either so you’ll just have to take my word for the whole experience.

Once we got to the top, it was evident as we started down that there’d been about 4 inches of fresh snow falling overnight which only added to the awesomeness of the morning. The sun wasn’t quite up over the mountain we were descending down so everything looked that much more beautiful with the back lighting. Copper descends the mountain mostly through evergreen trees which were lightly dusted with fresh snow. The far side of the valley was showing some sun although our side was still in shadow so the lighting was really gorgeous. I liked the fresh powder because it slowed me down just a little but not enough to frustrate. I know you may not believe it but I’ve not really a need for excessive speed on my board. Luna likes going fast as do I but I don’t like to feel that I’m going so quickly that I haven’t got control. I can injure myself pretty well without adding too much speed to the equation. That’s when things get REALLY ugly.

Down Copper I went, stopping periodically to give my screaming leg muscles a break. I’d usually throw myself down at the side of the run when I came upon a group of carvers doing the same thing. Then I’d heave myself up again and continue riding. There’s one part of Copper, about 1/3 of the way down, which is like a chute angling steeply down between the trees. It’s not completely like peering over the edge of a cliff but it can feel like it. At the bottom of the chute, the run goes right and levels out for a long flat stretch. Flat stretches are a bit of a snowboarder nemesis. We need to have enough speed going into the flat section to sustain our momentum for the length of it. Otherwise you might see us frantically flapping our arms or wiggling our hips to try and generate more forward movement as we slowly grind to a halt. At this point, a snowboarder will usually have to take their back foot out of the binding and shuffle the board forward or take both feet out and walk to the end of the flat section where they will put the foot or feet back in the binding(s). Needless to say, it’s a waste of energy and time, not to mention an annoyance.

At the end of the straight flat section, there’s a left hand turn called Kleenex Corner. I’m assuming they named it that because by the time you get there, your legs are screaming in pain which makes me whimper or maybe it’s because if you miss the corner, you’re going over the edge and I have no idea where you’ll end up butI bet it would hurt. Go around Kleenex Corner and then you’re looking down into Copper Bowl. Don’t go over that edge right away because that section is the black diamond area. Continue along the flat part for just a bit longer and try not to think about your leg pain. Ignore the cramping in your left foot and calves. When you reach the blue area, throw yourself down and rest for a few minutes. Remember not to keep gasping as the pain diminishes. Sit there and admire the view of the town of Aspen below you. Now right yourself once more and go headlong down the last section into the bowl and out the bottom. Watch for the slight changes in terrain as you whiz along because if you wipe out, everyone on the gondolas above you will see it. Down one last hill and hit the brakes because you’ve made it back to the base and the snow ends here. Congratulations! You survived first tracks.

Seeing how perfect the conditions were and knowing what they’re like back home, I headed back up the gondola to do another run of Copper by myself. Most people might think I mean “myself” in a figurative way but I was literally alone for huge stretches of that run. At one point I was passed by four snowboards while I rested. This constituted rush hour. My first big wipe out came shortly after that break while I was descending the chute section. I was toe-edging (facing uphill while traversing across the run) when I somehow caught my back edge and found myself sliding downhill at an alarming rate. This happens to me often enough but I’m not usually doing it with my head downhill from my feet while on my back without an easy way to stop myself. Often when I fall, it’s more of a sit-down-and-slide-on-my-bum thing which enables me to dig my heels in and use Luna to stop myself. This time I had to quickly figure out a different approach, especially since I was kicking up a cloud of snow and couldn’t see anything but snow and sky. Somehow I finally stopped, righted myself and kept going. Out the chute, check uphill to my left for merging traffic, and crouch to keep speed through the flat section. So far so...WHAM!

I don’t know how it happened (this is usually the case for me when I have a good wipe out) but I probably got too flat and caught an edge because the only thing I knew was that I was doing what felt like three cartwheels in a row and I didn’t know which end was up. It’s hard to recollect later because it all happens so fast so I can only surmise based on plenty of experience. As I was still tumbling, I was passed on both sides by three skiers doing what sounded like Mach 1. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! I think the second one on my right missed me by about 2 inches. Dust myself off, check for bleeding or broken parts, heave myself upright and try to get going again. Stop for a breather at the bowl, back edge down most of it due to fatigue, minor face plant under the gondola, and I’m back at the bottom where Sean filmed my arrival, sans face plant finale thankfully.

Sean has had a sore leg while riding for most of this trip and my body was not about to let me survive another run at Copper so we headed over to Buttermilk for a break. The SES demo tents were also going to be available at Buttermilk this day and I was looking forward to trying out a carving board for the very first time. After speaking with one of the organizers and explaining my lack of carving experience, she found me a pair of hard boots (similar to ski boots) and set me up on a Prior 4WD 164cm board. The boots themselves were a bit of an adjustment for me because they’re much stiffer than my snowboard boots and I ended up walking like a robot in them. I kept balancing on my heels for some reason and nearly tipped over numerous times. Contrary to what it might have looked like, I hadn’t been drinking. Michelle taught me how to clip both boots into the step in bindings (mine have two straps that ratchet over my boots) and I trudged over to the bunny hill lift. I was a little embarrassed to be on the beginner hill because there are a lot of gentle runs at Buttermilk but I wasn’t about to go to the top of the bloody mountain until I was sure I could get off the chair lift without killing myself, never mind actually figure out how to ride this new board with new boots, a different stance and a different style of riding.

Speaking of getting off the chair lift, Sean’s new name is He-Who-Stopped-The-Chairlift-Twice. Not once but two times, the straps on his hydration pack got caught on the chair we were sitting on and the guy at the top had to help untangle him. I guess that’s the price one pays for offering to help me learn how to carve. My first run down was the expected disaster. After I finally figured out how to get my back foot secured in the binding (which took a while), I started out only to fall numerous times. It was really difficult to get up at first so Sean hauled me to my feet until I could do it by myself. I’d start out, go a little ways, and fall. Sometimes I’d manage a turn or two before falling. The hard part was that the surface I was riding on was so gently sloped that it was difficult to get momentum which made it difficult to get going or turn. The only (?) drawback to Buttermilk is that there’s no other area that’s a bit more sloped without going all the way to the top which is more sloped than I was ready to handle. My subsequent runs were better in that I only fell once each time. The girl loading us at the bottom of the chairlift was very encouraging to me although it was a bit difficult to take her seriously as her name tag said “Momma Panda”. The Powder Pandas are the littlest kids learning to ski. As I was preparing to turn at one point, some pint sized skier nearly took me out coming from my uphill in a crouch. First of all, the downhill person has the right of way. Second of all, a beginner hill is not the place to be crouching to gain speed with which to impress your instructor or friends. This was the essence of the lecture he got from Sean when we caught up to him at the bottom.

Eventually I returned the board and boots and collected Luna. Heading back up to our favoured area on the west side of Buttermilk, I filmed Sean carving a few runs as well as another carver we’d met from Virginia. My turn to do a few runs then my legs insisted it was time to go back down to the bottom and pack it in for the day. A new route down and some hot chocolate for free completed a great day on the slopes, my goggle burn notwithstanding. Back at the hotel, I finally made use of the hot tub there. This entailed marching out the front door and down the sidewalk in my running shoes and bathing suit under a bathrobe, complete with scary après ski hair. Did I mention the hotel is right on the main street of town? I’m sure all the people passing by were admiring my sexy look.

Limp and weak, I dragged myself back to the room after a while to get changed for the SES banquet dinner. They had a cool slideshow going of various carvers in action from the week which was neat to watch. The dinner was pretty good but I was disappointed not to win anything in the raffle. Yawning back to the hotel, it was time to pack everything up in preparation for an early departure in the morning. This is my excuse for not posting this earlier.


John said...

I missed the part where you explained what SES is?

Are you part of some Super Elite Squad?
Secret Evangelical Singers??

Heather said...

Too bad I don't get to see your cartwheels on film.