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December 30, 2007

A Free Ride

Fifth grade is like a yearlong graduation from childhood. It's senior year for elementary school students. It's also a great time to be a skier or snowboarder in Vermont.

The Vermont Ski Areas Association, along with nearly every alpine and Nordic ski area in the state, offers absolutely free skiing and riding to fifth-graders. Only a few blackout days apply. Applications are available at VSAA kids page or by calling (802) 223-2439.

More than 700 students have signed up so far. Up to 1,000 have participated in year's past. The "Fifth-Grade Passport" program, as it's called, has been ongoing for eight years.

As a bonus, participating fifth-graders get a voucher for one day on the lifts at ski areas in New York, Utah, Colorado, New Hampshire and other participating locations.

Just a few attached strings: A $10 application fee applies, there is a three-day limit for each of the participating ski areas and fifth-graders must be accompanied on the hill by a paying adult.

December 30, 2007 at 09:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 27, 2007

Just a Taste

The car is rented, as are a set of Atomic Snoop Daddy mid fats. There's snow in the forecast and snow in the recent past. The set up for this Christmas sojourn to the Rockies is ideal. So why am I beginning to question the wisdom of the whole thing?

In a way, I'm coming home, but to a home that was never really home, if that makes any sense. This is my first winter away from Colorado in 12 years (read the gory details in my season opening post). I've spent the last five weeks acclimatizing myself to Vermont skiing and riding, and, frankly, I'm proud of how well I've adapted.

The great December snow certainly eased the transition. After a few days scoping the lay of the land, getting experience on the groomers, bumps and in the trees, I had come to a good spot in terms of what to expect from the rolling, rocky Green Mountains and how to attack them.

Now I sit here at the base of 13,000-foot Peak 8 in Breckenridge, huge alpine bowls and wide-open steeps laying in wait, and I feel like I'm ready to relapse. It wasn't easy leaving the Colorado mountains. The snow, community and lifestyle combine in this rarified air to create a special way of life.

That said, I knew what I was giving up by leaving and, being a New Englander by birth, knew what I was getting into. I did it willingly and with great joy.

This Colorado trip was planned mostly as a holiday visit. Christmas with the inlaws, New Years with friends, that sort of thing. But with the mountains looming - you can see the peaks from nearly all vantage points in Denver - and the snow falling, I got a little crazy-eyed.

With (Eisenhower) tunnel vision, I rented a car and skis and secured a friend's couch in the high country. It will only be a day and a half on the slopes, I tell myself (not to mention my wife). Just a quick taste, then back to the flatland and eventually, back to Vermont.

If I were an alcoholic, this would be the time when I tried to convince myself I could just have a couple drinks, you know, socially, then go back to being sober. Not that skiing in Vermont is like being sober ... No, I didn't mean that at all ... Give me all the frozen granular and hardpack you can dish out ... bring on the January thaw.

Damn, I knew this was a bad idea.

December 27, 2007 at 07:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 24, 2007

Burton Surfboards!?

Imagine, Burlington, VT, becoming a rising star in the research and development of surfboards. Never mind that the closest ocean wave is some 150 miles away, a story in the January issue of Surfing Magazine (note: the full article is not available online) outlines a fledgling alliance between Channel Islands Surfboards and Burlington's Burton Snowboards and pinpoints Burton's Industrial Parkway headquarters as the epicenter of emerging surfboard designs.

Evan Slater writes incredulously:

The next quantum leap in surfboard technology will likely come from a brick building in the northwest corner of landlocked Vermont.

Jake Burton, who talks about an unfulfilled childhood itch to surf as a major impetus behind the creation of his company, is coming full circle - influencing the sport he set out to emulate.

He's coming to the table at an interesting time for surfboard manufacturing. In 2005, the company that held a de facto monopoly in surfboard foam (Clark Foam) unexpectedly called it quits. The dust is just starting to settle and surfboard shapers are starting to look at new materials. Many of the stories in the mag refer to it as the Post Clark age.

Since its deal with Channel Islands (Burton flat-out bought the California-based company last year), Burton has hired an engineering team that is apparently working with materials surfers have never experienced. Aerospace stuff, the article alludes to. But what's really going on behind closed doors in those engineering labs is a tightly guarded secret.

How cool, though, that it's going on here.

Everything Burton has touched has turned to gold. With a responsible business ethic, solid relationships with top riders, high-quality products and an unrivaled passion for the sport, it's built a snowboarding empire. Now it has a chance to become a leader in the surf industry.

The fact that Burton is entering the market during a time of reorganization caused by the Clark Foam closure makes this an auspicious new beginning. Its affiliation with Channel Islands, which has some of surfing's biggest names on its team roster, including Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Dane Reynolds, won't hurt either.

The point of the story is that Burton will bring its exacting standards and manufacturing prowess to what has been a very inexact science of surfboard shaping.

Matt Biolos of Lost Enterprises, a competing surf manufacturer, is quoted:

"They have access to resources and equipment that no one else has."

So Jake Burton, who started out searching for a way to surf in this snowy mountain environment here in the Greens, is coming back to the mother sport bringing with him all the energy of a gold-standard business he built from the ground up.

Now, if only we could get a swell in the waters of Champlain.

December 24, 2007 at 07:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 21, 2007

Merry Solstice

But wait, there's more.

Bolton Valley, Stowe and Jay Peak, 8 inches; Smuggler's Notch, 6 inches; Sugarbush, 4 inches; everywhere else, at least 2 inches (as of Friday morning).

Just in time for Santa to squeeze himself into ski boots and make his annual appearance on Vermont's ski slopes (he has at least one scheduled appearance at Okemo this weekend and odds are he'll pop up at other ski areas before the Big Day.) Speaking of a white Christmas, it's supposed to rain.


After a December to remember capped off nicely by the Thursday storm but more prodigiously by the Sunday/Monday nor'easter (check out smiles, powder and a little U2 from Mad River Glen on Sunday), it's going to get a little wet and warm hereabouts.

But it won't last, and by Christmas Day, there may even be a few flakes in the air, and all our mental images will be satisfied. It's a wonderful, wonderful life.

Seriously, what's happened here in Vermont this fall (Hey, Solstice is today... Happy winter!) has been epic — not just for powder seekers but also for the ski resort business. I was in Massachusetts yesterday and there's about as much snow there as here. All of New England is blanketed right now. That means people are thinking about skiing, which means many of them will be coming to Vermont, which means the ski areas' association, the tourism board, the hoteliers, the restaurateurs — even Gov. Jim Douglas himself — are all merry with economic cheer. And they deserve it after braving the heinous drought of last December.

So aside from Santa's visits, what can we expect from this weekend of Vermont skiing and riding? Plenty of soft snow, the opening of Mount Ellen at Sugarbush and a full moon snowshoe trip at Mad River Glen.

And just because I want to embed the very first You Tube video in Snowbloggan history, I present the following, proving that kites and skis make a potent mix.

December 21, 2007 at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 18, 2007

The Slasher Turn

As a day like Monday — with more than a foot of fresh snow — gets late, do you ever find yourself straightlining from the tracked-out middle of a trail directly into a big pillow near the trees, picking up enough speed to bust through the fluff, slash a powder turn and rack up another face shot?

I highly recommend it.
I first started doing this on my snowboard, following the lead of the most skilled riders on the mountain, who always seem to know where to find those waning pillows of powder. They line up their turn from 20 yards away, speed toward the side of the trail and carve a huge powder slash, briefly obscuring themselves as snow flies into the air - usually riding away grinning (perfect example seen here from Jay Peak on Monday.)

When I switch back to skis — I go back and forth frequently these days — that slasher mentality stays with me, and I find myself lining up those same types of powder-pillow-busting turns.

Snowboarding's influence on skiing has been enormous and well-documented. Shaped skis may not exist without the deep sidecut example of racing snowboards. As well, skiers would unlikely be doing misty flips and corked 720s if not for snowboarders leading them into halfpipes and terrain parks.

Now I think I've stumbled upon another influence — The Slasher Turn. Of course, this can all be traced back to surfing, as most snowboarding — except for the freestyle tricks derived from skateboarding — can be. Powder snowboarding especially takes its cue from surfing.

And surfers are kings of the slash. Next time you're watching a surf video on TV, the web or whereever, keep an eye on the way surfers set up their big turns. They'll pump up and down across the wave to generate speed, waiting for the perfect face of water to form. Then — BAM — they'll lean into a huge carve with all their might, throw up their hands along with a giant wall of water and shed all their speed. Then they'll reload and do it again.

The best snowboarders do the same thing, especially in Vermont. The trails here are narrow, they get tracked out in a hurry and the best snow is almost always found in or near the trees. So as a powder day stretches into afternoon, snowboarders rely on that big surfer-style turn to maximize their face shots.

Skiers, I think, are just picking up on the concept. It makes for an afternoon of great fun to poke around for those pillows and throw your skis sideways into them like a surfer. Maybe you need to lean back a little bit, but that's OK. Just don't forget to ski away grinning.

It's slasher heaven out there right now. Check out the snow totals from Monday morning. Keep in mind too that Stowe and Jay Peak did not open their upper lifts until Tuesday because of a blustery Monday so that snow remained untouched a little longer.

We should have a Photo of the Day roundup to end all Photo of the Day roundups later in the week from the storm.

December 18, 2007 at 03:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 17, 2007

Sledding Hills

Cathyresmer This is Cathy Resmer, Seven Days' Online Editor, chiming in. I thought this would be a goodSledding_graphic time to draw attention to the map of Vermont sledding hills that Creative Director Don Eggert and I made for our Winter Sports Preview issue back in October. Some of the hills are steeper than others. Most of them are free. And all of them are undoubtedly covered with snow right now.

If you have any suggestions for hills we should add, email us at [email protected].

December 17, 2007 at 04:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Piling Up

Not much can be said this morning, The numbers speak for themselves.

And here, in all their deep white glory, they are:

Stowe - 26

Jay Peak - 24

Killington - 24

Smugglers' Notch - 21

Mad River Glen - 21

Okemo - 16

Sugarbush - 16

These are two-day storm totals in inches. Now, let go of the mouse and go get you some!

December 17, 2007 at 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 15, 2007

Calm before the storm

All right folks, everything seems to be on track for nor'easter number two (of the season that is.) I hate writing about the weather, because, well, you know ... But I'm going out on a limb here and saying, prepare for thigh deepness!

Monday looks to be the day because the storm is not due to arrive until the wee hours on Sunday. Not that Sunday won't be good. Temps should be comfortable - not bone-chilling - and it should be coming down heavy enough to cover tracks throughout the day. But on Monday, the driving will improve and the full impact of the storm revealed.

Lot of subjunctive tenses here (should, would, could) but hey, that's meteorology. Let me know what you find.

December 15, 2007 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 13, 2007

The Powder Hour

When your first run of the day is at 3 p.m., you can't expect much in the way of first tracks. But on Wednesday at Smugglers' Notch, my expectations were pleasantly shattered after a quick-hitting storm left between 2 and 4 inches on the mountain.

It was a horrendously late start to a powder day, I admit. But some things are out of a snow lover's control. I took a seat on the Sterling Lift with 60 minutes until closing time and hoped for the best. If I was plucky, I figured, I'd be able to find some leftovers in the woods and along the sides of the trails.

As I ascended Sterling Mountain, I was blown away at what I saw. Directly under the lift, on a run called Exhibition — for obvious reasons — were long, wide swaths of powder between sparse ski and snowboard tracks. And there were very few people around at that late hour to take advantage.

If this is the case on Exhibition, the most visible and direct vein down Sterling Mountain, all the quick shots, alleys and glades that make Smuggs lovable must be prime right now, I thought.

Almost all of Smugglers' upper mountains are open right now, and with more on the way (there is some serious buzz building about the weekend), everything is skiing phenomenally.

A brief period of rain and sleet mixed in during Wednesday's storm, but, strangely, it seemed to improve things. Instead of 2 to 4 inches of blow-away fluff, the snow was grippier with that little mix of wetness, like there was more substance to it. You really had something to push against when you got on edge, which made for some high-speed controlled chaos.

There were wind-scoured sections atop Madonna Mountain for sure, and other variability on the groomed trails. But in just one hour of skiing, Smugglers fully satisfied.

Just minutes before 4 p.m. I managed to squeak onto last chair. It being mid-December, I quickly realized I'd be skiing into the night. It was an eerie scene atop Madonna when I unloaded at 15 past the hour. Light snow continued to fall and fog enveloped the peak as darkness settled in. Only me and the lift operator were left up there - and he was packing up for the trip down. We shared a glance and both headed for the safety of lower elevations.

By the time I returned to the parking lot changed and ready for the drive home, nightfall was upon us. Until the solstice, when winter officially begins and daylight begins to expand, any late-day riding will end this way.

The icing on the cake Wednesday was a hanging crescent moon that came into view as I headed west on Route 15 back toward Burlington. It rose over a hint of light from the already set sun - one of those moons that takes on a two-tone glow as the dark side is still visible next to the bright crescent.

With conditions already an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, I'm downright giddy at the possibilities for later in the week. Snow has picked up as I type this Thursday night, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you about the possibilities for the weekend nor'easter. No one is confident on a storm track yet but there's a ton of moisture associated with the storm.

And the word is getting around. I have Boston-area friends who haven't skied in 10 years calling me about the conditions; people in Colorado are congratulating me for the timing of my move back East; even my father, who gave up skiing when I graduated from high school, is openly wondering what shaped skis could do for his technique.

I'm not sure when we can officially start applying the word Epic to this December of 2007. But I know this: If a gigantic nor'easter gives us a dumping measured in feet by Monday, we'll be getting darn close.

OK, a little weekend preview for a Friday. I know THE STORM kinda hangs over everything, but here's a brief list of goings on.

At Okemo, Sunday is demo day - Hopefully they'll have a lot of fat powder boards to try (hopefully you'll need them).

At Mount Snow, Sunday is "pay your age" days. Kids under 18 years old pay their age for a lift ticket. That's a steal.

A Smuggs, it's Cambridge Day on Saturday. Free tickets, rentals and group lessons for residents of Jeffersonville and Cambridge. A nice locals' appreciation kind of thing.

Enjoy and stay nimble with the forecast.

December 13, 2007 at 07:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 11, 2007

Storm of the Week

Monarch_pow_turn_2 I've been waiting for the right time to unleash the periodic feature "Storm of the Week," where I'll highlight the North American mountain that got hit the hardest during the previous few days and do my best to get a feel for how people there are handling/reveling in the snow.

And as many Vermonters who keep up on the conditions in the West to plan vacations, stay connected with friends or just salivate every once in a while know, the numbers that came out of the central Rockies over the weekend were absolutely off the charts.

In a sweet brush of serendipity, the big winner out of Colorado's ridiculous Dec. 6-9 blizzard that brought some areas from closed to nearly 100 percent open in one long weekend was Monarch Mountain.

Why is this serendipitous? Well, because I spent the past three winters tearing that little gem of a mountain to shreds (see photo above, taken after a slightly smaller storm). I know Monarch like I hope to soon know Jay Peak, and I have reliable contacts there who can relate the particulars of the four-day storm that was clipping at least an inch an hour (can we retire the word "puking" for snowstorms yet? Please?) for the entire weekend and two days. The result: 76 new inches atop Monarch Pass.

I let the snow settle before I called my former editor at The Mountain Mail, the newspaper that covers the town on the east side of Monarch Pass (Salida). You know how things go after a storm of that magnitude - people tend to lose their minds temporarily, kind of like a big group acid trip. Incidentally, my entire Colorado Experience included probably four comparable situations. The most memorable was the five-day, 8-foot blizzard at Wolf Creek in March of 2006. I know this: There is such a thing as too much snow.

Last weekend's 6-foot dump started like that. Allow editor Chris K. to explain.

It was just too heavy to ski yesterday (Saturday) ... You'd pick the steepest line possible, go straight and get stuck.

Is this what last year's now legendary St. Valentine's Day Massacre was like? Seriously, I wasn't here. Someone let me know.

Chris continued, talking about Sunday when the air cooled and the snow dried out and it turned into light fluff on top of a thick plastering of mashed potatoes. And that, brothers and sisters, is a climax experience.

The snow settled and it was nothing but powder, man. No stumps, no rocks. It was pretty damn incredible.

So that's "Storm of the Week." I'd add a picture from the storm but Monarch is behind the times when it comes to up-to-date visual documentation of conditions. They're still betting all their Internet marbles on  a web cam, which half the time is pitch black and the other half shows a group of skiers and snowboarders milling about the base area. This is another thing that needs to be retired. Web cams may be great for porn sites and doggie day cares, but for ski areas they don't work. Photos of the day are the way to go.

But before we get to the Photo of the Day Roundup from another sweet weekend of Vermont skiing and riding, I must dole out Storm of the Week honorable mention to The Big Island of Hawaii's own Mauna Kea - that 13,800-foot volcanic cone that sees snow every winter. Seven Days' Lisa Crean alerted us to the fact that a National Weather Service blizzard warning was in effect for the peak late last week. Have I mentioned it's in Hawaii?

Here's a photo from the top when the storm cleared on Sunday. Mauna_kea_2 Tough to tell what's new and what's old, but it's pretty cool to see some white up there. Off in the distance is Mauna Lao. Measured from the ocean floor, they are the tallest peaks in the world.

On to the promised Vermont Photo of the Day Roundup:

And the sun comes out at Jay!

The Mount Snow halfpipe in its embryonic state.

This is some tight skiing at Mad River, and I mean that in the way my college roommate used to say it: Tigheeeet!

More snow on the way. Probable small hits throughout the week; possible coastal reformation on the horizon. 

December 11, 2007 at 07:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)