Diary of a Ski Patrolman: Week 13

Monday I skied on silk today. My skis nearly silent as they propelled me across the snow, the impenetrable fog of drizzle holding me in an isolating grasp, the thin glaze of ice on my goggles, and the soft, constant companion of frozen clatter on my jacket created a shell away from the world that […]

By Josh Allen

Mar 04 2011

Brilliant Sky
Photo Credit : Allen, Josh

I skied on silk today. My skis nearly silent as they propelled me across the snow, the impenetrable fog of drizzle holding me in an isolating grasp, the thin glaze of ice on my goggles, and the soft, constant companion of frozen clatter on my jacket created a shell away from the world that was a welcome break from the past week of constant commotion. I skied within a cloud that was solely mine, for no color or sound penetrated except for my own. There was little to feel beneath my feet, and little to see beyond my ski tips. But it was fine like that. With very few skiers on the mountain today, the near zero visibility didn’t matter. And even with the fog, you could see all that was necessary. Sometimes it’s better, even, to see so little. It allows you to experience the moment in its entirety, to soak in all that there is to feel in the proximate environment. There is no distant horizon to distract one from the immediate surroundings. Instead of seeing the houses below, you see the tips of frozen branches beside you, and are sucked into the beauty of what is there, rather than what might be elsewhere. Sometimes it’s good to be released from anticipation, and embraced solely by the sensation of carving on silky snow.

It’s not March—I deny it. I deny it because I like snow too much, and so it must remain. Snow enabled me to go on quite an adventure this weekend. I guess having cool friends was a factor, too. As a patroller, you form pretty close bonds with those around you every day. Our camaraderie is forged by fierce winds and powdery triumphs. Laughter, I think, can secure a friendship like nothing else. And believe me when I say all of us on patrol laugh—a lot—at each other, with each other, because of each other. Each day on the slopes of Okemo is dynamic as a patroller because those around me are unpredictable, sometimes crazy [in a good way], and always entertaining. Our jobs are taken seriously, but we know how to have fun, too, and excel at both.

So what did I do this weekend? I strapped my skis onto my wimpy school backpack and hiked up Proctorsville Gulf, a somewhat treacherous ravine on the side of the highway leading from Chester into Ludlow. I went with two other patrollers, Charlie and Andrew, who are better skiers than me. Or maybe just more courageous. Since they jumped off a waterfall… and I didn’t. But I was okay with taking pictures and video. I thought of myself as an “action photographer” and felt pretty cool. But it probably felt cooler to fall 25 feet through the air and land in the six feet of powder that we’d just spent 45 minutes crawling through to get to the top of the chute. It was an awesome way to spend a Sunday… and my first experience with “back-country” skiing. As a patroller I work hard and come home tired. But it’s all worth it because it’s led to meeting awesome people, people that I can ski with now and in the future. As long as they need an “action photographer,” at least…

The stoke meter was high today. Patrollers rushed out of the hut in a frenzy of cheers and wild prancing. Snow fell in a wintry white whirlwind, coursing over the now obscured landscape. Beautiful. The door opened, the patrollers returned, triumphant, smiling with the glee of a child in from play. Yep, the stoke meter was high today [really, we have a cardboard meter of how awesome the day is going]… even if the snow halted a few minutes later, and the horizon became once again entirely clear. The blizzard was only five minutes long. But for those five minutes we were about as happy as one can be.

Weather on the mountain shifts that quickly. It’s 10:21. Ominous clouds loom over the summit. It’s 10:22. A torrent of snow rips across our vision. It’s 10:24, and the glare of the Sun returns. The clouds return a bit later in the day, but we never know which ones mean snow, and which simply mean a dazzling view of a cloud-speckled horizon. What I have learned is to never trust the online forecast for the mountain’s weather. It’s always wrong. I don’t normally like using the words “always,” or “never,” but in this case it’s a must. Whatever the report for Ludlow, VT says, Okemo’s weather is different. It’s sometimes warmer at the summit than the base — an effect called temperature inversion. I enjoy this effect very much, particularly on really chilly days. I’m not sure why I check the weather twice a day, but I do. Maybe just to confuse myself and to make the day that much more surprising. That could definitely be it, since I am confused often… But whatever the reason, I’ve learned to pack extra clothes. And also to shed layers when it’s warmer than expected. The wind is the most unpredictable force of all. The forecast might be for light winds, when on the summit it’s fierce. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite — the winds will be in the valley, and it will be calm on top. Those are the good surprises, for sure. Okay, I have to stop writing, sorry, it’s time to check the weather…

I see all sorts of inspiring things day-to-day at Okemo. I also see some not-super-inspiring things, such as people crossing their skis while standing still, and proceeding to attempt movement downhill, or people wearing clothes from the 1960s [purple and pink one-piece suits, anyone?] Amongst the most inspiring, are the children that zoom, zip, and carve better than all the adults around them. Kids that are basically pro skiers are wicked fun to watch from the chairlift. They’re so tiny, they seem to glide across the snow, rather than carve into it. How can someone that weighs so little manage to make such powerful turns? I have no idea—I’m not a physicist [although at one point I was planning to be… ], but they are so much fun to see on the slopes. Of course, I think I just like seeing kids out there, in general. Not long ago, I helped a few kids get into their skis, since their mom was looking a bit frazzled. One of her sons put his tiny mitten-covered hands on my helmet for support, and then I had to manually guide his boot into his ski, and click the blinding down for him. Something very little, I know, but it felt pretty cool… like I had made a meaningful contribution to the world. And that’s good enough for me. So whether it’s watching awesome young skiers on the slopes, or helping a newcomer click into his skis the length of my normal shoe, it’s great to be a part of that. It’s great to help inspire, and set an example for the next generation of skiers. And if they turn out to be better skiers than me, that’s okay too…