A bitter cold wind has been blowing down from Canada for the last three weeks. The local ski areas are announcing their opening dates. Mount Baker already has five feet of snow, Crystal Mountain has three feet and it snowed almost three feet in the Bozeman area. Big Sky is in operation and the Yellowstone Club is opening for Thanksgiving for the first time in a decade.
So much for global warming.
Almost everyone who has skis or a snowboard in a closet or a garage is trying to get in shape for that first trip. However, I’m afraid it is already too late for that.
What’s rarely discussed during the early part of the ski season is that at 7,000 feet above sea level you inhale 25 percent less oxygen. My friend, Dr. Jack Eck of Vail, Colo., who has spent almost a lifetime studying the effects of high altitude living tells me, “it is not the lack of oxygen that makes you run out of energy, but rather you exhale too much carbon dioxide and all of your cells get out of balance.”
All I know is that the first few days of living at that altitude every winter reduces my physical activity to only about a half-dozen chair lift rides every day and a long afternoon nap. Ever since I taught skiing at Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1948, I always start out the season with a run or two in a slow methodical old school method. My muscle memory comes back as slowly as all my other memories.
My conservative approach to skiing the first day or two has gotten really dangerous the last few years because of the speed differential of skiers and snowboarders. Many of them are out for their first day and going way too fast. It makes me want to buy a set of football shoulder pads and mount rear view mirrors on each shoulder so I can see them coming my way.
The rush to get out there as soon as possible is testimony to the fact that we all lose our freedom when the snow that covers any blemishes the earth might have disappears every spring.
Times have really changed when you are chasing good snow. You used to have to go to a small ski shop somewhere where they had a blackboard with the local resorts on it. The snow conditions were written in white chalk. They always had the blackboard in the back of the shop so you had to walk through all of the new merchandise to find out the latest snow conditions at nearby Mount Perfect.
Hard-packed granular snow described every snow condition between black ice and up to two inches of new powder snow on top of rocks. You could tell where the ski shop owner got a free season pass because Mount Perfect always had at least one inch of new powder snow in spite of the tropical rain that just swept their part of the world.
Today there is a Web site called www.onthesnow.com that gives you video access to over 600 ski resorts, worldwide. Check it out and plan your early season skiing accordingly.
We went somewhere to ski every weekend in spite of gas rationing and tires without any tread left. Living in Southern California in the 1930s and 40s, during my early days of skiing, I was fortunate to have Mount Waterman and Snow Valley close enough for a day trip. Someone would always come up with a gas ration coupon or two and we would be off. The trip always started by 4:30 in the morning and ended at 10 that night. We had no idea what we were doing other than trying to make seven-foot-long, stiff, wooden skis turn on bumps that were icy on the north side and corn snow on the top from the hot Southern California sun trying to melt all of the snow before the day was over. Sometimes it managed to melt it all before the next weekend.
Back then a trip for me was three peanut butter sandwiches long and an excitement that is still in my belly today. I like the excitement of walking through a ski shop and looking at the new cosmetics and the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. So now that the snow is on the ground, go get your new gear and get out there and carve it up. In the west you only have six more months of skiing or boarding ahead of you.
So plan your excuses for not showing up for work and make a list of them so you don’t use the same lame excuses to your boss anymore. Now go out and enjoy those extra days on a chairlift this winter and don’t forget your sandwiches … so you won’t waste any time away from skiing in the fancy dining rooms the lodges have nowadays.
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