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February 29, 2008

The Next Thing

We’ve got some of the best conditions of the season for the weekend. But if there’s one thing that can keep me in the city Saturday, it’s the inaugural Winter Sportec event hosted by UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.

In a town known for popularizing snowboarding, I can hardly wait to see what these inventive Vermonters have come up with to change the winter world again.

From co-sponsor The Vermont Ski Areas Association:

A team of UVM professors and engineers from the community will judge … new designs, inventions, products and equipment created to improve on a current winter sport or to create a totally new winter sport for snow or ice. 

My imagination is running wild. Just look at these registered team names: Icy Seduction, Bikes on Snow, Jack Jumpers, Ice King, Downhill Kayaking. Judges will name Most Technologically Innovative, Most Popular and Most Accessible (to people with disabilities), among other categories.

The Northeast Disabled Athletic Association is also a sponsor.

The devices will be on display starting at 9:30 a.m. at the University Mall in South Burlington.

February 29, 2008 at 08:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 27, 2008

Global Storming? Rate This Winter

The snowiest February ever? One of the top 10 snowiest winters of all time?

The current storm is expected to solidify the winter of 2007/2008 among the all-time greats in Green Mountain history. Why doesn’t it feel that way?

Since I’m the last person who should be comparing winters around here (being such a newcomer and all), I am asking for your help. How would you rate this winter on a scale of 1 to 10?

My uneducated guess is that it’s a solid 7.5, which is somewhat confounding when you consider this winter has a chance to be one of the snowiest ever.

The problem, of course, is that in addition to all the snow we’ve gotten, we’ve also received loads of rain and sleet. So some of the would-be powder days have been monkey-wrenched by a wet layer that has turned eventually to crust. And once the crust layer sets up, it takes more than a foot of new snow to bury it for good.

I think this pattern says something about winters in a globally warmed world.

Like most passionate snowriders, I have always approached global warming from a powderhound’s perspective. The fact it has become a political screwdriver is irrelevant when it comes to predicting warming’s affect on face shots.

I start with the premise that, in the words of Buffalo Springfield, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Whether it’s caused by humans or not, I think we’ve seen the world warm. And I think the recorded evidence and the Nobel Piece Prize-winning work of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change backs that up.

Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850).

As of last year, warming seemed to be a boon to snow lovers. The theory that warming would invigorate the water cycle, that more moisture would be available for storms because of increased polar melting and evaporation (“It is very likely that heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year), seemed spot on.

How many huge storms came through Vermont last winter? Combined with the record-warm December, I figured that would be the template for winter in a climate-changed future. They would be shorter, but they’d be more intense. We’d sacrifice the early season for huge mid-winter payoffs.

If you look at what’s happened out West this year, with three- and four-day storms depositing 4 and 5 feet at a time, there seems to be (literally) mounting evidence for the idea of heavier precipitation events.

But this winter has added a new wrinkle in Vermont. Yes, more precipitation seems to be falling, we’ve had a handful of monster storms, we’re setting snowfall records. But, even during the mid-winter weeks, the storms have been vulnerable to mixing. There has been lots of snow, and lots of everything else.

So that’s why I ask, how has this winter been for you? What would you rate it on a 1 to 10 scale? Have you been able to enjoy the near-record snows or has the mixed precipitation and flat-out winter rain gotten in the way?

If global warming is as real as it feels, this could be a glimpse of what’s to come.

Meanwhile, at the risk of negating everything I just said, we’ve got some of the best conditions of the season out there right now. Maybe you should wait until after you track out the mountains today to rate '07/'08 so far.

February 27, 2008 at 06:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 24, 2008

Straight Skis Reborn!

Chris Krug's favorite pair of kite skis were mounted as pieces of nostalgia on his garage wall up until last winter. They are straight-sidecut Solomons, downhill racing specialists that measure a lengthy 215 centimeters. As far as alpine skiing goes, they are considered unwieldy and obsolete - pushed out by the new generation of shaped skis that make turning as simple as rolling your ankles toward the snow.

On Sunday at Sand Bar State Park on Lake Champlain , Krug needed all 215 centimeters of edge to carry speeds up to 45 mph. The New Hampshire resident leaned hard against his kite, held his edge and flew across the frozen lake (see photos, first and last).

This much torque on a shaped ski would have turned Krug sharply upwind. Then he would have had to disengage the edge, re-align himself on a crosswind tack and lean against the kite again - which would have turned him upwind again ... and again and again.

Straight sidecut skis, the kind so many skiers have in their basements with no plans other than to turn them into a fence or lawn chair someday, are the perfect tool for kiteskiing it turns out.

At the fifth annual Kitestorm festival Sunday, the circa-1970s and '80s boards were out in force. The 200 centimeter-plus lengths handle the speeds kiteskiers carry much better than today's alpine skis (which range from 140 to 180 centimeters in most cases), and the straight edge keeps a kiteskier on an ideal crosswind tack.

Personally, I have a thing for using my old skinny skis for downhill skiing sometimes. I like to make it hard on myself, but that's just me. Now it appears there is a new arena for these skis to shine once again.

So before you start piecing together that lawn chair or mounting anything chalet-style to a wall, you might want to learn to fly a kite. From the looks of it, the sport has a future. And for the first time in a decade, so might your straight skis.







1) Chris Krug of North Conway, N.H. won the Kitestorm speed contest on Sunday reaching 45 mph at Sand Bar State Park.

2) Snowboarding was not recommended by event organizers because of the glare ice underneath a fluffy few inches of new snow, but some riders couldn't resist. Kiteboarder Vince Stefanelli came up from New Jersey.

3) Kitestorm founder and the matriarch of snowkiting and kitesurfing in Burlington, Rachel Miller

4) Instructor Ernie Reuter helps a newbie get her kite in the air.

5) Krug again, flying.

February 24, 2008 at 08:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 22, 2008

Kiteskating anyone?

There are some unique snow events this weekend and not all of them involve going downhill.

Kitestorm 2008 will bring together the region’s most dedicated enthusiasts of the growing sport of snowkiting. The fifth annual event takes place Saturday and Sunday at Sand Bar State Park north of Colchester.

It's a chance to see what the buzz is about as skiers and snowboarders launch their kites and speed across frozen Lake Champlain.

But late word from event organizers is the kiting conditions are, well, less than ideal. They advise wearing tailbone protection. They also recommend really sharp edges.

See, there’s no snow on the lake. The thaw-freeze thing just glossed everything over – and it’s not like there is snowmaking or groomers to help the recovery. If no snow falls today, the event will take on a hardcore feel.

From the Stormboarding site:

Snowboarders, this will be tough for you, please wear full padding, sharpen your edges but really you should be on skis.

I’m not sure what the difference is between snowkiting on a board versus skis, but I plan to find out this weekend. Perhaps, though, ice skates should be the mode of choice. Kiteskating. Why not?

Whatever’s on your feet, the sun is forecast to be shining and temps should be moderate, so it will make for a stellar weekend on the lakeshore. And it just may spur some ideas for the kitesurfing season to come.

Sugarbush, which hosted the Today Show this week (I’d link to video of Matt Lauer and Al Roker testing ski patrol taboggans but I don’t want to subject you to the mandatory Honda ad) has its 11th annual Castlerock Extreme contest Saturday – a freeskiing competition down the rocky Castlerock liftline.

Register Saturday morning at the Castlerock Pub. The competition is capped at 50 participants. Snowboarders, skiers and free-heelers are welcome.

Sugarbush also has the Snowrider event Saturday and Sunday. It’s a benefit for the Surfrider Foundation and will bring a flavor of beach, ocean and water-related environmentalism to the hills.

February 22, 2008 at 05:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 21, 2008


The equipment disabled skiers use keeps getting better and so do the athletes. The suspension on the monoski in the clip below is unbelievable, as is the skier’s line through a lengthy Sugarbush mogul field. Imagine muscling your way through the bumps using mostly obliques and abdominals.

Killington-based Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports has a long list of programs and events for people with all types of abilities. Skiing is the non-profit’s bread and butter, but it also offers disabled athletes opportunities in kayaking, sailing, ice skating, water skiing, horseback riding and other sports.

Then there’s the famous Murderball documentary on disabled rugby. Something tells me this skier has the chutzpah to take on Mark Zupan.

(Click on the link below to watch) ...


February 21, 2008 at 09:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 17, 2008

Scared Sharp

It took three months for me to realize round edges don’t work in the Green Mountains.

In the midst of an up-and-down winter where conditions have ranged from crusted over to thigh deep, I have finally submitted to the reality that skis last tuned in 2006 just won’t cut it.

I did not intend to test this, I just got lazy. And I blame a decade of Rockies powder chasing for that. I went seasons without edge sharpening during my time there, only working on my bases if they sustained a gash that was impossible to ignore. It was a see-no-evil/feel-no-evil approach, and I found it a fine way to go about winters in a place where snow was either accumulating or melting at almost all times.

Past the halfway point of my first winter back in New England, I have become all too aware what a healthy winter sleetstorm and the arctic freeze that usually follows will do to snow surfaces. Laziness when it comes to my skis’ edges is no longer an option.

It was mid-January I believe, definitely after a precipitation buffet had come through the Northeast during one of these recurring winter thaws. The headwall of Stowe’s Liftline trail was frozen with skunked man-made snow that had taken on a jaundiced yellow look.

I didn’t plan to end up at the top of Liftline that day, with visibility at about one chairlift length, but that happens when you’re still figuring out the trail network of a new mountain.

It looked bad, but I was confident. After challenging myself with the steeps and rock-strewn chutes of the Rockies, how rough could the widest of Stowe’s Front Four get?

I began sliding along Liftline’s upper face looking for a place to make a first turn. I tried to engage my dull edges with absolutely no luck. And I just kept sliding … and sliding. Worse, I couldn’t make out a hint of soft snow that would give me a chance to stop my increasingly real double-fall-line-induced slide into the woods.

It was about as helpless as I’d ever felt on skis.

Yes, I made it down alive, without hitting a stand of maples, mostly because of the blessedly reliable rule that — no mater how icy the middle of a Vermont ski run is — snow can usually be found at the sides of the trail. There wasn’t much of it, but I eventually slid into something relatively soft and was able to change direction. I picked my way down from there, and when the pitch mellowed, I started actually turning again, nonetheless jittery from the experience.

About two weeks later the snow had gone through more changes and eventually returned to a hard-packed state. It was early afternoon and I was riding Stowe’s FourRunner quad, which travels right up the same Liftline trail.

Screaming down the center making perfect giant-slalom arcs came an exemplary skier clad in red. His jacket I recognized as that of a Stowe ski instructor’s. The man had obviously reduced making high-performance turns on every snow condition the Green Mountains can dish out to a science.

They were the turns I was used to making on the buffed groomers and cut-up powder faces of the Rockies. But he was doing it on gnarly hard-pack – without a whiff of hesitation.

Sharp edges, I thought. That’s the difference.

I did not ski this weekend, but the simple act of handing my boards to a ski technician for a comprehensive tune-up made me an infinitely more confident, happier and better Vermont skier.

I've been scared sharp.

February 17, 2008 at 06:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 15, 2008

Huge Hugh

Give a guy a camera and you get a photographer. It’s been a blast coaxing subjects to rocket through powder and fling themselves off rocks and rollers during one of the best ski weeks of the season.

It might be hibernation time as the President’s Day week crowds descend on the hills. Many season passes are blacked out this weekend, and there’s a hint of rain in the forecast.

But we definitely got while the gettin’ was good. The legendary Hugh of Hugh’s Blog fame showed me some of the nooks and crannies of Smugglers' Notch on Thursday. The man knows the mountain and the mountain knows him. I don’t think he went 100 feet without someone giving him a shout out. Classic Vermont community ski nut.

That's Hugh taking flight. That's me leaning into an overly set-up powder shot. Those are some cotton candy clouds hanging over the peaks surrounding Smuggs.





February 15, 2008 at 04:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 13, 2008

A Thick and Creamy 3-5

It was a powder day of sorts Wednesday with 3 to 5 inches on the ground in the morning and snow on and off through the day. The sleet and rain that mixed in at lower elevations didn’t significantly affect the mountains. It was 99 percent snow (roughly) at the higher elevations.

What fell was a creamy layer thick enough to keep you floating. Not sure the pictures (taken in the Stowe woods, plus one from Tuesday at Mad River Glen) do it justice, but the word “sweeeeeeet” was tossed around liberally all morning.






February 13, 2008 at 05:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Sunny Pre-Storm Calm


Got this shot of frosty Camel’s Hump from the top of Mad River Glen on Tuesday right after I lost my single chair virginity. It was a quiet day before another winter storm was due to arrive. If all goes well, we’ll have a powder day post later this evening.


February 13, 2008 at 07:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 11, 2008

Ski Space Dot Com

Woe is me. I spent the weekend in the Sunny South instead of thigh deep in Vermont powder. When storm forecasts started to take shape the middle of last week, my travel plans were far too solidified for 11th-hour reconsiderations. Plus, as I’m realizing more and more as I age and in theory mature, my plans affect the plans of the people I love. I’m just not as nimble a storm-chaser as I once was. So I lived vicariously through the snow totals, photos and videos coming out of the Green Mountains these past several days. Great job all around.

I finally saw the landscape for myself on Sunday from about 10,000 feet up flying into Burlington around Sunset time. It was a sight to behold, especially in the pink glow of 4:30 p.m. And it looks like there’s more on the way.

The off-snow weekend gave me time to stumble on a MySpace takeoff for skiers and riders called SkiSpace.com. Bode Miller is one of the backers. I suppose with the runaway popularity of social networking sites, we can expect similar sites to pop up for increasingly niched communities.

The website’s pitch:

SkiSpace takes the party to the next dimension. While other sites give you the news and views, the products and some simple chat room or forum features, SkiSpace lets you live the lifestyle larger by creating a community of people you can hook up and share the experience with. The SkiSpace platform enables you to define your own experience and stay connected anywhere. You can keep up with what’s going on in the ski world around the globe or create a regional network to connect with people in your area. With SkiSpace, the possibilities are endless!

Skiing lends itself to this type of networking because of the constancy of storm chasing and the need for ski town contacts. It’s always good to have friends where it’s snowing — even virtual friends you’ve never met.

This week it’s snowing in Vermont. Come one, come all.

February 11, 2008 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)