Friday, December 23, 2011

Why We Ski

My Centennial Year


Most hold it a universal truth that if you state an intention aloud, action will follow.

So I am just going to say it: This is my year to ski 100 days on Baldy. There. I said it. I even wrote it.

When I first moved to Ketchum five ski seasons ago, the concept of keeping track of ski days was entirely foreign. Until then, skiing had come in bundles of five to 10 days once a year, sometimes twice if I was lucky. But I soon started to hear the buzz around town, around the mountain.

"I just hit 40," one confident local type said to a friend at Warm Springs Lodge. "I'm up to 43," the friend replied. "Forty-seven," uttered a passerby.

How did they know that? Did they make x's on their calendars? Inquiring minds wanted to know, so I asked and learned the magic of the ski pass scan. Who knew that every time they ran that little red laser over the plastic it added a day to your season? Imagine my delight, when at the end of that first year, the pass checker logged my 78th day. It was almost not to be believed—probably as many days as I had skied, cumulatively, to that date.

In subsequent years I have earned between 50 and 80 ski days by season's end. But that elusive, magical 100 days has always been out of reach. Not this year. This is my year.

Now, getting 100 days on the hill takes some careful planning and some real discipline. It also requires a mental readjustment. There can be no declining a chance to ski because it's a bit cloudy, a little cold. Perhaps it hasn't snowed in a few weeks. Too bad. One hundred days cannot be dictated by bluebird skies and powdery snow.

My calculations show that, assuming a normal Ketchum snow season and a closing day around this year's early Easter (April 8), I have 107 days left as of today (Dec. 20). Now this is a conservative estimate. Snow gods willing, the mountain could stay open well into April, but I am working under the guarantee of only 107 more days. Game on.

For myriad excuses that, from this day forth, are no longer valid, I have scanned only 13 days on my pass this season. 107 minus 13 equals no more messing around. Neither blizzard, nor flat light nor freezing cold can keep me from my appointed date with the gondola.


This commitment to ski nearly every day has made me reconsider what I am looking to get out of my time in my bindings. I have decided to approach this ski season in a way similar to that of a daily yoga practice. Each day is sure to be different. Some days I will be tired; some energized, some strong; others less so. Some ambitious, others lazy. Some days will be three top-to-bottom days. Hopefully many more will mean hours exploring the mountain. It will be interesting to take stock of my body and my brain with this almost quotidian ritual.

There should be important lessons learned from the not-so-perfect days. With my commitment to spend more than three months on skis, I hope to improve—a lot. And the way to get better isn't to ski groomers under a bright March sun. Though that is definitely an excellent way to spend a day.

Low visibility days, cruddy snow, frigid days that keep the snow packed beyond packed powder will be my challenge.

With the goal of 100 days on the hill comes the realization that many of my runs will be taken solo. Trying to coordinate times with a ski buddy can be hard and opting out if there is no one to go with cannot be an option.

The good news is I like to ski alone. With three active children and many commitments awaiting me down in a pretty valley that is visible, but joyfully distant, from the top of Baldy, it's a relief sometimes not to have to talk at all.

Another aspect of skiing 100 days, I believe, will be finding the rhythm and joy in each part of the season. My early-season days have been focused on making as many turns as possible. Getting my ski legs back is never easy and the gift of the early season is that you can do three or four top-to-bottom runs, with thighs screaming by the end, and know you've skied all that there is to ski.

Another pleasure of the early season is the anticipation of new terrain opening and the pleasant surprises each day brings. I don't read the snow report and am delighted when I get up top and see that a new run or two have opened. Just when I am tiring of Upper College, Upper Warm Springs opens. When I am beginning to wish for something fresh, Ridge and Blue Grouse open. It's fabulous! And with the addition of new adventure trails and a slow start to the snow year, there should be something new or different to look forward to throughout the entire season.

What a gift it is to live somewhere where it is possible to ski 100 days in a season while still raising a family, working and keeping up a hectic schedule. No matter the weather or the conditions, there is an abiding pleasure and peace in standing on the top of Bald Mountain and looking out over the Pioneers, my favorite view.

So during this season, whether I have time to ski for an hour, or six, I look forward to each and every day. All 100 of them.

See you on the hill. Let it snow!

Robin Sias is a Sun Valley-based freelance writer.

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