Friday, February 3, 2012

Our big white playground

Why We Ski


Baldy's newest runs, the Adventure Trails, opened Saturday with younger skiers in mind.

The five new trails are peppered over the mountain and cut into wooded areas adjacent to popular groomed runs. They are rated easy to expert, depending on length and grade. They are named after critters living in that particular stand of trees, like Huckleberry Bear (hopefully hibernating). Or they give a nod to our area's rich history. The Flume evokes our mining heritage, for instance.

"Our goal is to enhance the family experience on the mountain," said Tony Parkhill, director of guest services for Sun Valley Resort and one of the primary forces behind bringing such trails to Baldy. "With the addition of Adventure Trails, parents can ski in Seattle Ridge or Frenchman's while the kids pop into the trees and meet up with them just down the hill."

The runs are narrow traverses. Their contours follow existing terrain, banking, turning and swooshing through trees. Parkhill said the locations and types of runs preserve the feel of the mountain. To create them, the resort cleaned up dead underbrush but didn't fell any trees or superimpose extraneous bells and whistles.

"We are adding the Sun Valley brand and flavor to these trails," said Parkhill. That translates into terrain that is understated and natural, unlike some resorts that put cartoon characters into their adventure trails.

These basics of the new Adventure Trails don't describe the "Wahoo!," "Yeehaw!" and "Wheeeee!" factors that draw people to them. They give younger shredders more varied terrain choices. Last weekend, everyone, young and older, was talking about them.

I hit a few of the Adventure Trails—literally—to see first-hand what the buzz was about. Guided by my children, I was told simply to "get in and go for it." Easy for them to say. They are 7, 10 and 12 years old and were in, and out, of Red-Headed Woodpecker on Seattle Ridge before I even had the nerve to start. And though the trails are narrow and cut for kiddos, my girls are nearly adult-size and ski on long skis. I couldn't blame my equipment when I finally did get on the trail and snowplowed through. I blame age.

"Skiing" the black diamond Flume with my 7-year-old was an exercise in humiliation. He zipped into the trees and out of sight in seconds, banking and dipping with the flow of the trail. I will argue that his skis are tiny. Turning in any real sense of the word isn't an option for an adult in so confined a space. Throwing a huge wedge is. The screeching muscles on my outer thighs are testament to the fact that I didn't waver from a pizza formation through the entirety of my Adventure experience.

I want a bumper sticker: "I survived The Flume."

Parkhill reassured me the wedge is a fine way to get down the trails. I don't think he was just being kind. There are no bonus points for style. "These weren't made for adults, and not made as race tracks," he said with a laugh. "You can get going pretty fast. Adults need some skill to get through them."

Adults want in on the fun. At lunchtime Saturday, I overheard a member of the Ski Patrol reporting, via mountain radio, that large groups of 40- and 50-year-old women were packed into the new forest trails, "whooping it up and laughing so hard" you could hear them from the slopes beside the runs. You go, girls! Then again, there has been a lot of hooting and hollering on the hill since "Snowpocalypse" hit. Sonya Huntsman, one of Sun Valley Snowsports' coaches, summed it up by saying, "I think of Baldy as a massive playground. The more it snows, the more places you have to play."

And play we adults did! After the big powder dump, my friends and I couldn't stop grinning as we explored powder chutes, bumps and crud. We launched out of our bindings, hugged trees and fell, a lot. It's hard to ski when you're laughing so hard you can't breathe, but boy, is it good for the soul. Why should the kids have all the fun?

I've learned children are always willing to go for it. Skiing with my son has been an exercise in learning to adopt this "why not?" attitude. Why not perfect your flying wedge on the Adventure Trails? Why not get off the beaten path? Skiing with him, I picked and traversed my way down a lot of crud neither one of us had any right to be on. We laughed and fell and dug for our skis and did it again and again.

Skiing is all about joy, however you define it. A great day on the hill is not about carving a perfect turn or earning the most vertical feet. It is about taking a chance and smiling and trying something new.

Go try the Adventure Trails. Check out glades like Central Park and pick your own line through the trees. Try the terrain parks. Ski with your kids. Ski with your friends. Ski by yourself. Smile and laugh. Get out there. It's beautiful.

Is that the bell I hear? It's time for recess.

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