As the stranger on my right pulled the lift bar down in front of me, a feeling of panic started to rise in my stomach. In a few short minutes, I would be ejected from the lift and stranded hundreds of feet up Mount Stratton with nothing but skis, poles, and a helmet that had been rented to me less than an hour ago. It had been tough enough scooting myself over to the lift line and getting onto the lift without killing anyone, and now I was expected to plunge down the icy, perilous bunny slope ahead of me?
I should back up a little bit. Biogen Idec’s ski trip to Vermont was yesterday, and I was lucky enough to have a tickets with my name on them – gear rental, group lesson, and lift ticket. After gearing up at Sun Bowl (bottom left on this slightly frustrated interactive map, which I’ll be referencing often), I rode the shuttle over to the Main Lodge (bottom right). Upon trudging over to ski school, being careful to avoid the 4 year olds whizzing by me, I learned that group lessons were held at 9:30 AM and 1 PM. It was 10:30 AM, and I had to be back at Sun Bowl by 4 PM. To ski or not to ski? The choice was obvious.
After teaching myself the basics by observing people coming down the mountain for 5 minutes, I jumped in line for the American Express lift and was dumped about halfway up the mountain (see first paragraph). As my skis made contact with the landing ramp, I started sliding forward, barely managing to keep my balance by waving my poles around wildly. I was skiing! Then I promptly fell over. I leapt back to my feet (OK, so it took a few minutes) and eyed my first goal: The Overpass (Green = easy), a ~100 foot straight descent that opened into a wide, uphill area near the Mid Mountain Lodge. I bent my knees, leaned forward, and off I went, swooping back and forth at approximately the angle I wanted to, getting used to the feelings of sliding sideways and placing a lot of pressure on my lower foot. I slid to a controlled stop in front of the cafe and decided that if I could do that much, I could do anything. And off I went!
I did a few largely successful runs on the lower half of the mountain, exploring many of the lower Green trails on the map. At one point, I decided to literally take the road less traveled (everyone seemed to be doing Mark’s Run, so I hopped onto Craig’s Run) and was rewarded with this incredible little road through the woods. I was the only person on the trail, and it was so quiet and peaceful as I whipped along effortlessly. At another in the morning point, I took a nontrivial fall. It was my second run, and towards the bottom, I was making fewer swoops than I should have been. Speed picked up, I lost control, and decided to drop. I heard later that snow gets icy and hard when temperatures are low, but I figured that out firsthand as I tumbled to a stop. I have a slight bruise on my palm today, but no big deal.
After grabbing some lunch at the Mid Mountain Lodge (the best bowl of average chicken noodle soup and best chocolate milk I’ve ever had), I decided to head to the top. From the American Express lift, I scooted over to the Ursa lift, which heads from mid-mountain to the summit. I felt that “click-clacking to the top of a roller coaster” feeling as the Main Lodge became smaller and smaller behind me, but my concerns were eased when I found the Green summit runs. I did two combinations: Mikes Way – Easy Street – Upper West Meadow – Lower West Meadow – Drifter Link – Old Log Road and Mikes Way – Work Road – Lower West Meadow – Lower Wanderer. If the shorter runs were great, then the longer ones were phenomenal. These were my favorite rides of the day: 10+ minutes of scenery, troupes of little kids, families, wide-open mountainside, tight little trails through the woods, and all at a speed I felt comfortable with.
At about 2:45PM, I needed to start thinking about wrapping things up and heading back to Sun Bowl. I was ready to jump onto the shuttle, but when I looked at the map, I noticed trails leading from the summit to Sun Bowl directly. High on my whole-mountain successes, I decided to head back up to the summit for a third time and figure things out when I got there. After departing the lift, I realized that the easiest way to Sun Bowl was via Upper Kidderbrook – Lower Kidderbrook. If you’ve been following along with the interactive map and the Green trails are enabled, you won’t see Upper Kidderbrook. Turn on the Blue (intermediate) trails. Oops, still no Upper Kiddberbook. That’s because it’s a Black Diamond run. And off I went!
Upper Kidderbrook (UK) started out nicely enough, but it got really steep, really fast. I was zigzagging like crazy, stopping every few minutes to catch my breath and mentally prepare for the next set of plummets. Thankfully, there weren’t many people skiing UK, so I wasn’t endangering anyone except myself by doing this. I made it down about 70% of UK without much incident, almost wiping out once but catching myself. Unfortunately, with the end of UK and the beginning of Easy Lower Kidderbrook (LK) in sight, I had a nasty wipeout. It was mostly my other wrist this time, but the impact took a little bit out of me. I unclipped my skis and scooted over to the edge of the trail.
Literally everyone who passed me stopped to make sure I was OK, which was really nice of them. I was OK, but the trail was too steep to even get back into my skis, much less navigate successfully. With the clock ticking, I did the only thing I really could: butt-slide down the side of the trial with skis in hand and pole straps around my wrists. Thankfully, I was able to control my slide the entire way, though I had images of that guy in the fuzzy slippers who slid off the edge of Mount Everest in Everest in my mind. When it flattened out a bit, I clipped back in and cruised down LK without a hitch, back on top of my game and ready to end things on a positive note. After returning my skis and drinking some hot chocolate while watching the sun set behind the mountain, I collapsed onto the bus and headed back to Cambridge. What a day!
Mount Stratton Skiing
January 30, 2010 ski trip to Mount Stratton, Vermont with Biogen Idec. My first time skiing!
The skis they foolishly trusted me with [img src=http://hhackerman.com/wp-content/flagallery/mount-stratton-skiing/thumbs/thumbs_2-face.jpg]00Terror or Delight?
You can't tell looking at this picture, but I was having the time of my life [img src=http://hhackerman.com/wp-content/flagallery/mount-stratton-skiing/thumbs/thumbs_3-sign-halfway.jpg]10Mid-Mountain Sign
Choices from the middle of the mountain [img src=http://hhackerman.com/wp-content/flagallery/mount-stratton-skiing/thumbs/thumbs_4-lift-halfway.jpg]00The Lift
My arch nemesis, the lift [img src=http://hhackerman.com/wp-content/flagallery/mount-stratton-skiing/thumbs/thumbs_5-me-at-summit.jpg]00The Summit
Before my second top-to-bottom run, I asked a Stratton employee to take my picture. We had the following conversation: Hoxie: "Yeah, this is my first time skiing, so I thought a picture would be nice." Him: "Uh... did you take a lesson or anything?" Hoxie: "Nope." Him: "Oh. Wow, OK. Have fun!" [img src=http://hhackerman.com/wp-content/flagallery/mount-stratton-skiing/thumbs/thumbs_6-before-uk.jpg]00Before the Black Diamond
The line for the lift on what would be my last run of the day [img src=http://hhackerman.com/wp-content/flagallery/mount-stratton-skiing/thumbs/thumbs_7-uk.jpg]00Black Diamond Trail
The picture doesn't really do the steepness of these drops justice. It also doesn't even begin to capture the sheer terror pulsing through my body [img src=http://hhackerman.com/wp-content/flagallery/mount-stratton-skiing/thumbs/thumbs_8-sun-setting.jpg]00Sunset
Made it to the bottom! What a blast
- Skiing is incredibly fun. After years of hearing about Pine Crest kids going on ski trips, I understand what all of the fuss was about. The scenery is gorgeous, the feeling is sheer exhilaration, and hot chocolate has never tasted so good.
- People who ski are friendly, happy, and nice. Literally everyone I dealt with all day was cheery – people on the lifts, ski instructors recommending trails, the dude burning his fingers while making minimum wage at the Waffle Cabin at Sun Bowl… it was a very positive crowd.
- The bottom of skis are made of some secret chemical formula that causes them to shoot forward when they come in contact with frozen water. There were times when I was on a 1% grade but zipping along at 15+ miles per hour. And when things got steeper? “Skiing” essentially became “gracefully falling down a mountain at terminal velocity while maintaining my balance.”
- If you want to do a Black Diamond run on your first day, be in your early twenties, lucky, and in great shape. I suppose it’s uncommon to ski a black trail on your first day, but consider my experience: ~5 years of serious rollerblading when I was younger, 9 months of daily biking (balance and leg strength), intense circuit training 2-3 times per week (endurance, core strength, leg strength, upper body strength, mental toughness), and a weekly sprinting session (cardio, leg strength). And even then, be prepared to butt-slide the last few hundred feet.
- I will be skiing again. I’m not sure when or where, but this was way too fun to not-do again.