Hello skiers and riders of the southeast, and welcome back to the most wonderful time of the year!
Sure, we have the holiday season flowing through our veins already, but we also have put that painfully long hibernation we call the off-season in the rear-view mirror. Many of us, including yours truly, were getting sick of it.
For the next four months though, we get to cure all which ills us, metaphorically speaking. More specifically, we will provide stoke-filled nutrients to a starving appetite for exhilaration while also enriching our mindsets back to the correct setting. Just some of the many reasons to enjoy wintertime.
The weather in the region has been a hard pill to swallow lately. We almost had a no-turn November in which heat and drought infected the pattern. Add in last season’s snow totals that greatly underperformed, and we have been left in isolation. The dosage for our next snow prescription is still to be determined, but we can confidently believe that it will be more potent than the past.
A Little Bit of Powdered Sugar
So yeah, Sugar Mountain on Wednesday was thinly covered with that ball-bearing like layer of fluff thanks to a combination of natural snow, manmade, and temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. Most would call these conditions dust-on-crust, which was more so the case for the upper half of the mountain, but it was actually new snow on top of heavily saturated spring like mashed potatoes or corn. Conditions like this make it difficult to pick the appropriate ski wax temperature range, because you have a thin cold layer resting on top of a warmer and wetter underside.
A surprising bonus from all of that was that there were no icy patches and hardly any bare spots to contend with. Give thanks to their snow makers, because they had created a deep enough and wide enough base to rehabilitate our winter sports personas.
Their efforts also helped withstand the onslaught of the recent rainstorms, but all that moisture settled in and created some grabby spots in which your inertia could be stalled significantly in a split second. This phenomenon started to reveal itself around lift tower #8 on the Summit Express, but it was most common wherever snow guns were positioned along Lower Flying Mile.
The terrain on Northridge and Switchback trails were more immune to this sensation due in part to the higher elevation and because they generally are facing the northern and eastern flanks of the mountain. Another combination which provided for a more sugar-coated setting that was appropriately prescribed for all that partake.
Speaking of Snow Guns…
Sugar Mountain aggressively lays out the white ribbon as often as possible. This is a necessity that comes with the region, as having none of it would deem skiing here incurable. On days like this you will be faced with, pun intended, numerous moments where your visibility can be compromised until you swipe your goggles clean. While that adds to the challenges of a ski or board day, but there is no need to panic.
Most ski areas have a sizable percentage of their snowmaking fleet positioned in permanent placements. That certainly was the case here, which made it somewhat easier to avoid these wet blasts and be able to see better. Here is what I observed during these top-to-bottom treks:
· Northridge mostly had guns on the skiers’ left. It is best to hug the right side of the trail at this point.
· Switchback switched from left side to right. Adjust accordingly.
· Upper Flying Mile was mostly skiers’ right as well.
· Lower Flying Mile was a combination of left and right. They just wanted to cover up as much as possible, and goggles with built in windshield wipers might have to become a thing.
By the time you reached the bottom though, you were all but guaranteed to have a layer of ice on your downslope facing side plus the accompanying burning leg muscles. Surviving those grabby moments towards the end, while being blinded temporarily and playing dodge people, were signs that you could fight off these elements of aliment, and healthily head back up for more.
A Quick Gear Reminder For Snowmaking Days
Many are aware that this round-the-clock blasting concept can lead to misery in a hurry, especially if one is not prepared. Here are a few tidbits to consider before you are faced with similar exposure:
· If you carry electronic devices such as key fobs and cell phones, put them in a plastic zip lock bag first. These items tend to lose a lot of battery power when they are wet and cold.
· Same for wallets. The food servers and bar keepers prefer dry cards and paper money.
· If you come across a pair of ski gloves or mittens that have a built-in squeegee, generally on the left thumb, buy them. That little plastic edge is an antidote when you must quickly wipe your lens.
· Face masks or balaclavas will be your best friend. You are in a consistently wet environment, and every inch of skin that is not protected increases your chances of frostbite. If you unfortunately skip this step and end up troubled by it, do not rub those areas, ever. Doing so makes it much worse.
· Wear numerous layers to stay warm, and make sure the top layer is waterproofed to keep you dry. Also, it is better to have one too many layers versus not enough.
Expectations were met for early December turns. Going in knowing that you could essentially do one pinnacle to base run, or a beginner area lap, meant that things would be condensed some, Nonetheless, Sugar preserved their already opened base first, especially given the next round of warm and wet is coming this way, before focusing on other runs. I did see them start to cover the Big Birch next, but nothing was happening at Oma’s Meadow or Gunther’s Way.
Great conversations were part of the memory making. I spent a break chatting with a few gentlemen at the bar, and the stories being shared were entertaining and insightful. Big shout out to one of our loyal readers and Discord followers, Rob aka “senditjerry” that intends to hit the slopes as much as possible. May you achieve your goals this season.
Next, each trek down the trail provided more sensations to several muscles that had not been used like this for many months. A lot of folks were marking this occasion as their first day of the season, and in all likelihood, they will be feeling sore for the next few days. In due time though, and with enough days notched in, your ski legs will stabilize.
Perhaps the best formula though was the notion that skiing and riding is back. That medicine will always be a remedy regardless of the pain sustained.
Lastly, going midweek is more than a placebo effect. Less crowds with more elbow room tends to create more euphoria. Even amongst the cold and wet moments I could hear “Woo-hoo” and “Yee-haw” from others that were present.
So, if you are feeling acute, then tell your boss that you need some time off with a healthy dose of vitamin ski. Hopefully they are a skier or rider as well, because if so, they surely will understand and approve the request.
Until next time, think snow, and we will ski you later.