Sunday, February 8, 2009

East vs. West

My experience as a New England skier is filled with memories that are mostly Spartan in nature. It was not a question of IF it was icy ... the question was HOW icy was it? And even what color is the ice ... is it blue yet? The cold was a wet cold that would permeate every layer of clothing you owned, and on days when it was clear and dry it was also guaranteed to be windy ... seriously windy.

But here in the West ...well it is another story. When you hear people talk about ice what they MEAN is crust. And the weather? "seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day" about sums it up. In fact most of your day is conducted out of doors. You put your boots on outside ... you eat lunch outside ... and at the end of the day, you take your boots off outside. When you take a break in New England, you are headed INside. You move your frostbitten self, a bit like a slow moving robot, toward WARMTH.

And so that brings me to the question, why does all the snow STAY here? I mean really ... in New England it is MISERABLE all the time and still the snow melts. But not here ... it has not snowed an inch since we arrived and still I see no degradation on the slopes. How can this be?

And I guess the answer is altitude. They don't call this Summit County for nothing. Daily life is conducted at 9,000 feet (2,740 m) and the skiing happens as high as 12,000 feet. (3,657 m)

But before I dump totally on my homeland, there is a custom we have in New England that does not exist here and I miss it. It is the custom of changing your boots in the lodge before you go out skiing for the day. A typical New England ski lodge has a series of wooden pegs on the walls on which you hang your backpack full of sandwiches and little wooden cubbies into which you put your footwear while you ski. Not so here. Everyone arrives in their boots ... there is no base lodge ... there ARE some pay lockers which nobody uses is all a bit strange.

So we were pleasantly surprised yesterday when we went to Arapaho Basin for the first time to find a little A-framed base lodge and to see wooden pegs on the walls and many folks putting on their boots in the lodge. I don't think it would be inaccurate to say that A-Basin is the Mad River of the West. It relies on a loyal local clientele who wouldn't be caught dead in those boutique ski areas to the west. Nestled up against the wall of the continental divide, A- Basin sits in a cirque of mountains and is generously supplied with snow by virtue of her altitude. We took 2 runs off the top 12, 472 feet ( 3, 801 m) amid some serious wind.More to come on Arapaho Basin ... we return there Tuesday for a lesson.

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