Outdoors by Rick Brockway: When is snow not really snow?

Having on-and-off winter weather makes for very difficult skiing. It’s going to be in the 10s tomorrow and in the 50s on the weekend. We saw winters like this back in the 80s. Maybe it was even worse, because many ski areas didn’t have snow making. Those like Bobcat in Andes and Deer Run in Stamford were only a couple of areas that shut down their lifts and closed their doors forever.

Man-made snow is the only reason we skied this week. When we had two feet of snow a few weeks ago, things looked good. But a few days later, all that was gone. Skiing continued on a few slopes because of snowmaking.

Man-made snow has a different texture and water content, making it able to tolerate warming conditions.

My buddy Wayne found out just how different the machine-made snow was the other day. As he cruised down the slope, making wide turns on his descent, he got too close to the snow gun. The fresh snow was different than the groomed slope he was speeding across. When he hit the fresh stuff, his skis stopped. And as we learned in science class years ago, a body in motion, stays in motion.

Well, you get what I mean. Wayne came out of his skis, flew out on the new white stuff and rolled along like a giant snowball. Fortunately, the only thing hurt was his pride. He picked himself up out of the snow, shook himself off and stepped back into his skis to continue down the mountain.

The biggest problem right now is the skiing conditions. Throughout the morning, the conditions of the groomed, man-made snow were quite good. There was enough loose snow from the groomers to get a good grip with the skis’ edges, but after lunch all that changed. Enough people had gone down the slopes that we found nothing but hardpack and numerous icy spots.

Rich came down a slope named Algonquin. It’s a black diamond slope, meaning it’s steep. As he made a turn going down the headwall (the steepest section), the back of his skis came around and he nearly went down the hill backwards. Backwards? That’s not the way you want to get to the bottom of the steeps. Luckily, he was able to get control and made it safely to the easier part of the slope.

The last time he was in a similar position, his skis slid out from under him. Rich lost one ski and slid clear to the bottom of the hill. There was nothing he could do but ride it down. We see this quite often. Normally people who fall this way don’t get hurt. Broken arms and legs come from cart-wheeling down the slope, not falling back on the hill and riding it out.

A couple of runs later, I found myself in the same situation. I made a turn and slid on the icy terrain. Like Rich, I got under control and made it to the bottom of the headwall.

With temperatures below freezing, the snow guns have been blowing tons of snow on the slopes. As you read this, we’ll be racing down headwalls and cruising around the twisting slopes. There’s a lot of new terrain to explore and conquer.

I’m sorry there weren’t other crashes to tell you about. As I’ve told you before, we always laugh if our buddies fall don’t get hurt. Let’s face it, crashes make my stories far more interesting. They even make me chuckle as I write.

Enjoy the spring-like weather this weekend. At least I can wash some of the salt and crud from my car. It’ll be nice to actually see what color vehicle I drive.

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