Friday, April 6, 2012

Summing up a ski season

Why We Ski


The ski season is winding to a whirlwind close in a whirlwind of snow, rain, sleet and sun, and with it this column. As this is my final attempt this year to shed light on what makes the local ski scene so unique, so appealing, I have to circle back to December and do some accounting.

To all of you who diligently kept up with my promise to try to ski 100 days this season, I thank you. It definitely kept me honest and on track when each and every day someone, be it at the supermarket, at school or at the post office, asked me the question I began to dread, "How many days?" I could tell by the look of alarm on many faces that I should be well ahead of where I was. Until recently, that is.

With the slightly crazy March weather, my responses of "65" or "79" suddenly met with approval and respect. Truth be told, it was not the most epic snow year in Baldy's history and the fact that I was hanging in, late in the season, stubbornly, blindly aiming at that 100 mark gave me some form of credibility. Not that I am certain what that form is.

So, with just over a week left to ski before closing day on the 15th, and assuming I will ski all those days, which I will, my grand total for the 2011-2012 Sun Valley ski season is ... 99 days. Yes, that nice round number 99. Don't worry. I am thrilled with 99. I might write a song about it to go with other popular tunes celebrating that magic number: "99 Red Balloons," "99 Problems," "99 Reasons" and even "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." It is a poetic number, much more so than 100.

99 is 20 days more than I have ever skied in any other season. It is about 50 days of bluebird skies, fresh snow or perfectly groomed runs, laughter, adventure and exploration. It is around 15 days of tough visibility and frozen corduroy. At least seven days were spent on the gondola, staring at the rain running down the windows, wondering when I became such a glutton for punishment. The remainder lie someplace in the middle: Somewhere in the "this sure beats paying the bills or running on a treadmill," category.

Eight of my 99 days were spent with the Divas learning lessons in humility, camaraderie and technique. Led by the intrepid team of Danielle Carruth and Nicky Elsbree, my Diva days were among the best of the year. Each coach was positive and incredibly helpful; each Friday blessed with either fresh now or bright sunshine. Someone up there likes the Divas.

A dozen Saturdays of the season were spent chatting with my son's Free Ride team coach, Kathy Miner. The conversations basically went like this: "Thank you so much for what you're doing. I can't believe how well he is skiing!" And he is. My single biggest joy in my 99 days was the day I took a run with him and found, to my amazement that child number three could suddenly keep up. A watershed day, indeed.

Dozens of other weekend days were spent waving at my daughters from the chair while they skied with the unbeatable coaches from Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation—Doran, Patrick, Kirk, Susanne, Lauren and Orlie. I hope I am not forgetting someone. From a parents' point of view, catching that fly-on-the-wall glimpse of your child laughing, hooting and skiing so damn well it makes you want to cry, is absolutely priceless.


Seven days of the 99 were spent on the periphery of the National Brotherhood of Skiers convention. This was my favorite week on the hill. The energy that group brought to the mountain, and to town, was palpable and invigorating. It revived my spirits and enthusiasm at the halfway mark of the season and reminded me that people travel far and wide for the opportunity to ski our beautiful slopes. I really, really hope they come back.

I probably skied Ridge, Mid-River Run and Flying Squirrel 200 times this season. I skied Plaza for the first time in years. I ran the Adventure Trails more times than is wise at my age. I didn't ski Fire Trail once. I skied Inhibition when it was soft and perfect and made me feel like one of those Crist brothers. 40 or so days were spent alone on the mountain, but on those days I met a lot of nice new people on the chair. Two days were spent on Dollar.

Part of every day of the 99 was taken up by plotting, pondering, turning over the day's concerns and challenges. The fresh, cold air jolted my brain awake and provided room and space to simply think. However, part of each day was also spent thinking about almost nothing, focused on the shape of my turn, the next bump, the beauty of the landscape around me. Equilibrium is good.

Packed into those 99 days were solitude, friends, friendly faces and many highlights. The biggest highlight was in my interaction with all the professionals who work on Baldy. I was impressed, across the board, with the courtesy and excellence exhibited by everyone from the "yellow jacket" guest services greeters, to all my buddies at the base of River Run, to the Warm Springs race desk, the snowmaking team and ski patrol, among many others. The level of professionalism this year on the hill was notable and noteworthy. Thank you to everyone for making my job easier and my days on the hill safe, productive and filled with joy.

A conversation with one family doing their best to enjoy a rainy spring break day on the hill last week summed it up best. "Even if the weather turned to thunder and lightning, Sun Valley has our loyalty," laughed the mother. "They have done everything right, despite the weather. We are going to make this an annual spring break trip." Those who work on our mountains as ski instructors, ski tuners, salespeople, chefs and lift ticket sales people are some of this town's greatest assets, our best ambassadors.

I cannot believe how fast this changeable, uneven, variable season went. In 99 days, there were a few perfect runs, a lot of funny runs and some just plain crummy runs. Kind of like life, don't you think?

Thank you for an outstanding season. See you on closing day!

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