As far as endurance challenges go, the one in Big Sky Resort is refreshingly mild and strangely informal: the most tram laps in a single day. The current record is unlikely to ever be eclipsed. Unless, of course, the resort management extends the Lone Peak tram hours. The terrain served by the Lone Peak tram is Experts only - double diamonds all around. The Liberty Bowl with its single diamond is a sole exception by virtue of being slightly easier than the adjacent Marx or Lenin runs. Even so, there is always a line at the bottom of the tram, unless fog takes the visibility away as it was on the day Rob Leipheimer set his record, which in my book, makes it all the more impressive accomplishment.
For a moment it seemed Mammoth would not close at all this year. But the global warming reasserted itself and, with the snow melting faster than expected, the closure date was set to August 6th marking it the second longest season in the entire history of the mountain. The 2016/2017 was a truly exceptional winter (and spring, and summer): the level of snowfall surpassed only once since 1970 and we skied and snowboarded not only on Memorial Day but also on the Fourth of July. With the bike park opening on June 23, Mammoth may be the only American resort where you can bike and ski at the same time on the same mountain.
It all started one windy and snowy morning. Nature was being its ambiguous self: snow was promising fresh powder tracks but wind was going to hold up access to the slopes. I was glued to my computer trying to decide if it’s OK to leave now, or if I should wait some more and let Alpine Meadows crew spin more lifts in addition to the always exciting Magic Carpet. The r key on my keyboard (as in Refresh) was getting a lot of action and I was spending my time watching my browser download completely unnecessary and uninteresting stuff instead of the updated lift status. I thought it should be simpler. And then it hit me: I am actually more or less qualified to make it simpler. And this is how liftie.info was born.
According to their website skiing and snowboarding at Heavenly presents you with a number of different choices. At the moment this number is limited to bare rocks and man made snow, falling a tad short of Experience of a Lifetime trademarked by Vail Resorts that owns Heavenly since 2002. No amount of grooming and reverse tiling can hide wind-polished sheets of ice covering ski runs. Americans are never beginners at anything. They put themselves in an intermediate group 5 seconds after stepping into their ski bindings for the first time. But even those who clearly would be lost should nature blessed us with white powder over carefully prepared corduroy are not above complaining about the quality and quantity of snow.
Someone please remind me never to marry a snowboarder. Oh, wait. Did that already. So someone please remind me never to marry a snowboarder AGAIN. To be perfectly honest I actually married a crypto snowboarder. Transition from skis and poles to the board technically happened way after the actual ceremony. I am not sure how one detects a crypto snowboarder before the fact, but I am sure I am against marriage equality when it comes to such mixed liaisons.
Try the groomers on North Peak the poster at the top of the Mozart trail cajoles challenging my grasp of the English language. Thankfully a photo of a skier turning on a perfectly crisp corduroy provides the necessary clue as to what a groomer is. A bit disappointing since I’ve already got my hopes up for a ride in one of those vehicles that groom trails. Try the groomers on North Peak if you want to compete for space with beginners who have fallen for this marketing ploy on one hand, and ambitious skiers who jump out of trees and take no prisoners on the other. Contrary to what the poster leads you to believe, North Peak is an advanced terrain chock-full of black trails with a few blues thrown in. There are no greens there, not even one. If groomers are your thing try Frenchman or Bachelor on the front side of the mountain where grooming is performed twice a day and there is ample opportunity to bail out if you find yourself on a run above your skill level.
This is not going to be about venture capitalists or media tycoons. My topic for the day are irritating obstacles created by skiers with explicit purpose of making snowboarders look ridiculous. Not that they have to try very hard. Avoiding bumpy slopes, while possible and in many cases even recommended, is not the way to enjoy snowboarding. Here in Keystone, giving up on bumps and trees means forgoing half of the terrain. The better half.
Snowstorm dumps a foot or two of white goodness. You are getting ready to snowboard the next morning when overnight warm wind turns powder to slush. Then the temperature drops converting the man-made snow to ice. As soon as you give up on riding in the near future, it starts snowing again. You cross your fingers and hope it’ll last this time. But you know it won’t. Vermont winter is a big tease. And it rarely grants the holy grail of snowstorm followed by a perfect sunny day coinciding with your ability to hit the slopes. Last season I was adamant not to miss it. I moved us to Killington and I was ready to ride everyday. And I had gotten lucky precisely once. The monster snowstorm came, brought so much snow that for a day I forgot what ice is and rode calmly in the eerie silence offered by powder. Sun was glorious and I was in bliss. And then it was over. Back to ice - hard-packed powder in marketing speak - for the rest of the winter.
It catapulted me off at the top. I knew it was going to be tricky. It’s hard to make your body unlearn the mechanics of lift loading and unloading. You start wondering: will the chair catch up with me before the loading platform ends? And while I can understand wanting to help newbies to get on the lift, I can’t believe it helps anyone disembark. Only the gentleness of the slope saved me from being turned into a projectile barreling down at full speed. For a brief moment I knew how groceries feel at the checkout register.
This is not the first snow of the season in Killington. But so far whatever is falling from the sky at night melts the following day. Even the mountaintops are not white. Except for the smidgens of man-made snow on Killington trails. People here often remark that, being from Poland, I must be used to cold and snow. It’s been some time since I gave up trying to dispel the notion. In Gdańsk, my hometown in northern Poland, temperature doesn’t drop as low in winter as it does in New England. And Gdańsk gets about a third of snow compared to Boston, Massachusetts. But facts do not matter much. We are all attached to our favorite stereotypes and Poland sounds like it’s at the pole. Protesting only makes people more suspicious so if you want to think I grew up playing with polar bear cubs on the way to school, be my guest.
Out of all the states we visited so far we liked Colorado best. May be because of the mountains: lots of very dramatic peaks in the western part. May be because the people are not so interested in our story: they seem to ignore our accents even more than folks in Massachusetts. Or may be because the food is OK here and they know how to make beer. Seems like each and every town sports its own microbrewery.