Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Adversity Skiing at NATO

Karhu would be there rain or shine, I said, and well, rain it was. Perhaps using the “R-word” was tempting fate a little too much, but by the time the storm settled on its final track there was nothing to do but grin and bear it.

(VT rep Bill Bruzzese, grinning in the rain. Photos by Graham Gephart)

Saturday morning dawned with an ominous gray overhead, and it looked doubtful that the day would share any of the sheltered soft snow and afternoon corn that had graced Friday. As we set up for the demos, NATO founder Dickie Hall delivered the first conditions report, courtesy of his pre-opening course inspection for the scheduled Berserkebeiner competition.

“There’s a little bit of a zipper crust, but it’s going to ski really, really well once it gets cut up a little.”

Fair-weather skiers would do well to heed Dickie’s outlook, a take-every-opportunity-and-keep-on-smiling optimism that makes it impossible to regret a day of skiing. Heck, fair weather skiers would do well to heed the general population of Mad River Glen, which toed the same line. After all, here was MRG in early March, in the midst of one of the best seasons on the historical record with countless powder days, where patrol had several times opened lines like the cliffs under the Single Chair, and below the Birdcage. Yet while they could’ve easily written off the skiing in the face of a building wet storm and the likely closure, or at least unpleasantness, of even the mellow woods, the regulars were out like it was any other day.

(Peter Wadsworth leans into the wind at the top of the double. Nice vis, huh?)

But Telefest is anything but any other day. The threat of the skies opening up failed to keep car after car from pulling in with telemark gear on the roof, in the truckbed, even sticking out of the car window. The die-hards skied down from the Stark’s Nest on the summit, and soon a line built as people were chomping at the bit to take new demo skis for a run.

(Picking up speed in the demo tent.)

(A soggy Nils Larsen gives a sly smile.)

True to his word, Dickie’s conditions report held. Maybe the crust was a little thicker and tougher than he let on, but it only seemed to challenge us to make more laps – after all, the more we skied it, the better it would be next time. We sought out fun lines held captive by the crust, hoping to free our favorites for the next ride up. If we struggled down it, it was to be expected with the conditions, and when we did connect turns top to bottom, it made us feel like heroes.

(A good day to put gear to the test.)

As the day continued, the deluge picked up again and again. Even those that regularly enjoy a ski in the rain know that you ski until completely soaked through, and if you take a break for lunch or into someplace warm, well, that’s probably the end. But refusing to take orders from Mother Nature, we went back at it, even as the wind picked up and the rain began to freeze over. The crowd continued to ski, and probably would’ve gone into the night had the chairs not stopped. It was time for the beer and tunes to flow, and the party – hardly drier than earlier in the afternoon – went well into the night.

(Freeheel posse under the ice-bound Double.)

I held out hope that the dropping temperatures that night would salvage the storm with snow on its exit. Instead, the thermometer registered a windy, chilly 20 degrees in the morning, with hardly a dusting of new snow. The tree branches, burdened by inches of ice, cracked and rained down in the heavy winds. The snow, well, there wasn’t much to say. The patrol’s lift whiteboards warned of “Expert Only Skiing – We Mean It!” and much of the terrain was closed as it had frozen solid, a jarring, jagged washboard anywhere off the groomed.

(Freezing rain begins to do its damage.)

Yet even in the worst of conditions, there were telemark skiers everywhere you looked. Over 600 turned out in all, as well as the ever-present local population of freeheelers. Down the Practice Slope, groups of enthusiastic learners mastered the mechanics with bright smiles, all in conditions that would make any instructor cringe. Heels dangled free for long stretches up the chairs, and packs shredded up any line they could get to, refusing to concede a point to the mountain or the storm that had since moved on. Snow flurries began to fall in the afternoon, and talk turned to how things might look up over the next couple days.
(A line of freeheels, heading up the Single on Saturday.)

“Just goes to show you how hardcore telemark skiers really are,” said Dickie Hall. “The skiers who joined us at the festival this year lend a new meaning to the old saying ‘ski tough or stay home.’”

Amen, Dickie.
(Jessie-Willow Janowski, showing the spirit of NATO's Telemark Festival.)

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Dave Cramer said...

Beautiful post! I was there on Sunday, first on free heels and later experimenting with fixed. I had fun.

Anonymous said...

Delightful. Weather is weather, skiing is skiing and fun is there for the open-hearted. We skied both days...if the weather was at its worst then it is safe to say that camraderie was at it's best. The weather seemed to bring people together to swap stories and share lies.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I was a first-time instructor at this year's festival--got roped into by my instructor-veteran husband. When I realized the weather forecast, I dreaded the whole thing --lo and behold--the conditions were skiable, but what impressed me more than anything was the spirit and determination of the skiers--especially the folks in the beginner clinics. They were committed, hardworking, fun-loving and hard core for showing up, let alone, spending the day in pouring rain learning a new sport. I was wow-ed by the whole thing! Patty Dunn