Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NSBS 2.0, Day three: Leap Day at Wildcat. Purrrfect!

Jake, our tour guide, celebrates Leap Day in the appropriate manner
With a mountain named Wildcat, I suppose the trail-namers couldn't help themselves but go with a kitty-based theme. Today I found myself skiing runs like Upper Wildcat, Polecat, Lynx Lair, Catapult, Feline and Catenary, to name a few. And we never did make it to Hairball, which, if my experience with cats is any indication, was probably a little boney anyway. But that is another story.
Wildcat is right across the street from George and his various ravines.
After a hearty breakfast at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, our intrepid crew of bloggers headed over to Wildcat Mountain. Despite the snow in the forecast, the day started clear and sunny, which made the views of Mount Washington pretty spectacular. After a warm-up run down a trail with the word "cat" in its name, we met up with our new pal Thomas, his buddy Jake and the Wildcat videographer, Tom. Thomas was sporting even fatter skis than the ones he ran yesterday and Jake was on 194 cm Rossi RC 112s. I looked down at the 78 mm waist Salomon carving skis I had chosen for the day and wondered whether or not I should go back to the car and grab the Sir Francis Bacons. Did they know something we didn't know? Probably.

I stuck with the Salomons, which was ultimately a good decision. Tom was shooting for the Wildcat Video Update so we happily cooperated, skiing for the camera, standing around, skiing for the camera, and for some us, waxing poetically right on queue. I guess this gang of bloggers passed a test of some sort, because we were led into a special stash and skied a very steep, tight tree ran that had no cat references. Fortunately, there were no catastrophes. We topped this off with a couple of non-stop top to bottom cruises down the uncrowded (thankfully, given the speed we were skiing) classics Polecat, Lynx and the Catapult/Wildcat/Bobcat combination. I asked Matt, the ski instructor in the group, for a pro-tip on carving and worked the rest of day on holding an imaginary basketball between my legs. It really did help but by the end of the day my legs felt like a deflated basketball.

And so the day went, alternating between twisting, fun and definitely carveable groomed runs and moderately bumped-up natural snow runs sporting real Eastern conditions. What a blast! Wildcat's location in the White Mountain National Forest limits development: there are no hotels, no slopeside condos and nothing else to do but ski. What is at Wildcat? Great skiing, an unbelievably scenic setting, classic eastern trails, a palpable vibe of welcoming enthusiasm, a horde of silver-haired rippers (mid-week at least) and a supremely funky but highly functional base lodge with good food. Wildcat is my kind of place.

Ski area architecture at its finest. Seriously, I love it.
The view from the top is even better.
Of course, everybody had to take a picture.
Tom, the happiest videographer on the planet.
The camera guy never gets first tracks but he does get to ski a lot.
Wildcat has rabbit holes too. Matt heads down.
Matt lept as well and Tom obviously has nine lives.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NSBS 2.0, Day two: awesomeness at Attitash! The need for speed is fulfilled.

George dominates the landscape.
Having never skied in New Hampshire before, I decided to approach this trip with an open mind and not have any expectations. Sort of a "clean slate" frame of reference. And since I am definitely "not from around here," I really had no idea what to expect at Attitash. To say I was pleasantly surprised today would be a massive understatement. We had a day of unexpected awesomeness, combining high-speed groomer lappage with a few fun runs in some, uh, off-the-map terrain.

First run was on "Elevator Shaft."
The thing with Attitash is that you can't really see the whole mountain from the road, so it is hard to get an idea of the great terrain that awaits. The bloggers started the day on Bear Peak, the most easily accessible terrain from the Grand Summit Hotel. The original thought was that we might take a run or two there, then head over to Attitash. Not so! The consistently pitched fall-line cruisers, freshly groomed with a skiff a fresh snow, were insanely fun. With drops, rollers, swoopy turns and very few people on the trails, the collective consciousness of the posse agreed: open it up! We skied fast; up and down, up and down until we needed to head over for our meet-up with Thomas Prindle, the Attitash "marketing guy," and get a guided tour of the mountain. Little did we know that he would be charging and we would be following. Don't ask me the names of the runs we skied -  I was just playing follow the leader. The Attitash side was just as fun as Bear Peak but with a higher elevation, and after the sun came out, some spectacular views of Mt. Washington.

Continuing the tour with Thomas, we headed back to Bear Peak. At the top of the lift we ran into a friend of Thomas who offered to share some of his local knowledge. The result? Several runs in a beautiful medium-angled glade with several inches of fresh snow and so few tracks that I found untracked spots from the storm on Saturday.

All in all, it was a fantastic day on a new mountain with a revved-up group of great skiers. What more do you need on ski day?

There was a nice refresher of snow over the immaculate grooming.
MadPat getting into the high-speed cruising.
The slide ride is closed, I guess.
This is novel. One lift crossing over another!
A fine Harv-slarve.
A little late afternoon goodness in the trees.

Monday, February 27, 2012

NSBS 2.0: Day one, the drive.

After much deliberation, the bloggers of the NSBS decided to visit New Hampshire this year. I arrived today, a day late to the party, so sadly have no ski report. I can report that was an easy, though very long drive and the White Mountains of New Hampshire have a very different feel to them. They are big, broad, brawny and even though Mt. Washington was mostly shrouded in cloud, it completely dominates the landscape. 

After driving through the spectacular Crawford Notch, I arrived at the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel, our home for the next few days. Tomorrow, we ski Attitash, so stay tuned.

Last chance to turn off to Jay Peak - I am torn.

A view of Jay I rarely see - the drive-by.
Even obscured by clouds - the scenery in Crawford Notch is impressive.
The Grand Summit Hotel - if you go out the back door, you are on the slopes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

On the various aspects of lemonade, and, oh yes, there is snow at Jay Peak.

SBR mixes up some lemonade on Green Beret. Photo by The Snowway.
Dedicated East Coast skiers seem to be divided into two camps this season. One on side, there are those who insist on being depressed and constantly complain about the lack of snow and/or how crappy the skiing is. These people have been handed lemons and don't know what to do with them. On the other side, there are the people who make lemonade. These people go skiing anyway, practice their hard snow skills, eke out the odd "powder day" and make the best of it. Or, if they can't go skiing, they find out how much fun it can be riding a mountain bike in the winter, or take up surfing. Or even telemarking. The lemonade crowd has decided that one inch is the new foot and some have even offered tips on how skiers can maximize their stoke in a thin winter.

The well stocked wood box:
don't leave your wife at home without it!

I like to think that I live in the lemonade camp, although it has been tough to stay positive. Various life events prevented me from getting to Jay until last week. Having bought some fancy new fat skis, new boots and even a mid-week Jay pass, I had been reading the various weather reports religiously, surreptitiously plotting a road trip and building up a stockpile of Good Husband Points. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of GHPs to abandon your sweetie on Valentine's Day to go on a ski trip.

Driving across upstate New York and Vermont, I was quite amazed at the lack of snow. I had heard reports but figured that by now these areas must have something. Back home in the Hinterlands it has not been the greatest winter but we at least have knee deep crusty snow in the yard. A few local powder adventures have been possible, between rain events.

Jay Peak view from VT 105. The Jay Cloud is attached to the summit.
I began to get a bit worried when I pulled in to the Jonny Jay Clubhouse, only a short drive from the mountain, and observed green grass in the yard, along with a bit of snow. Lemonade in mind, I quickly changed and headed up the 242. As I gained elevation, I could see a little fresh snow, then a little more. Then enough snow that the snowplow had put its blade down. Then the snowplow. Take a sip of lemonade. Once the mountain came into view, all I could see was full coverage.

The first of several nice stashes that presented themselves.
Wednesday was a day for exploring, getting my Jay legs back and figuring out where the snow was. That brings up the other thing people have been talking about this winter: aspects. In this case,  (according to our friends at Wikipedia) "aspect generally refers to the horizontal direction to which a mountain slope faces." At Jay Peak, thinking about aspects and wind direction is a big part of figuring out where that 1" will turn into 1'. And since I was skiing by myself, I had time to think. In the process, I visited many old favorites that first day, including "all natural" runs like the Kitz, Green Beret, JFK and the River Quai.  All were in excellent shape, despite somewhat sketchy entrances on the latter two. Even Powerline was pretty fun, as long as you avoided the rocks. My first few forays into some low-angle glades were quite rewarding and the outlook seemed good for the next two days.

Northway, 2 PM, 2/15/12. Where is everybody?

And good it was. Thursday morning, a new 2" had landed in the parking lot. Abandoning all plans of making a plan, I just skied where it seemed to make sense. One of the best decisions of the day was taking my first run down Can Am, groomed early the night before and coated overnight with 2" of cream cheese frosting. Even though I got third tracks, there are not many times you can ski with complete abandon down that run and emerge with a huge grin on your face. And the day was just beginning.

I followed a rabbit track...
And found a rabbit hole. Down I went.
It was another busy day.
Oh darn, the sun is shining and I seem to have this snow all to myself.
Having arranged to ski with Steve from The Snowway on Friday, and feeling the need to save some energy, I took an extended afternoon break over on Tramside. This gave me a chance to check out the new Hotel Jay and even take a peek into the waterpark, surprisingly busy on such a beautiful ski day. Pro-tip: don't visit the waterpark wearing ski clothes, it is kept at jungle-like levels of temperature and humidity. After my tour, I got a Chai Latte at Aroma, sat outside and contemplated the contrasts of the emerging new face of Jay Peak. The Latte was delicious and enjoying one on a sun-drenched stone terrace with a nice view of the mountain is rather pleasant. This part of the new Jay is quite likeable. We'll just have to wait and see about the rest.

You can never have too much Bacon; Sir Francis that is.
Friday didn't start well but quickly got better. I woke to the sound of drip, drip, drip off the Clubhouse roof. This was not a good sign. Lemonade, lemonade, I repeated to myself. I went to hill to meet Steve, once again greeted by new snow in the parking lot. The JPR snow report was claiming one inch but for once I would argue that they were under-reporting. There was at least 1.75" in the parking lot and several more in the right aspects. Did I mention the weather had changed? The wind had returned and Thursday's rare combination of sun, no wind and mild temperatures was not to be repeated. Steve and I made second chair, and when the posse on the first went left, we went right and I had a near repeat of the Can Am experience from the day before. The difference was that there was a little more frosting and I was the first down the run that day. Woo Hoooooooooooo!

Steve jumps right in to his first Green Beret run of the season.
We skied all over the place, repeating several of the runs I had done over the two days before and a few new ones. Again, plans were abandoned as unusual, and very nice, conditions presented themselves. Who knew, for example, that after scoring lovely boot-top snow on the edge of the River Quai, that we would find only a few tracks down the lower Goat? Like the Can Am, it had been groomed and then covered with new snow. With the sheltered aspect of the Goat, we agreed that there were four or five inches there. We opened it up and cruised over the velvet surface. And for those of you still scoffing at fat skis, the 108 mm SFBs made that 4" feel almost bottomless. What a fantastic few days!

Steve cruising the easier lower section of the Green Beret.
So, all you complainers, get out there and ski. Make some lemonade. Support your favourite mountain, big or small. You never know, that inch might just multiply.