The enjoyment of winter sports depends upon the weather and the snow. As I look back upon this closing season, I feel fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time on several occasions.
Of the twenty-five plus days I spent on the snow in the great Northeast, Quebec and in Italy, there were several very special moments that I wish to share in words and in pictures.
Though the season started with a couple of significant drops of natural snow, there was a heavy reliance on the manmade variety thereafter until the biggest storm in years fell throughout the Northeast in mid February. The storm dropped up to five feet or more of white gold in ski country from Pennsylvania to Maine and nearby Quebec.
On January 2nd, a trip to Whiteface reiterated once again, the importance of snow making as I skied the upper mountain in the midst of many roaring guns. Upper MacKenzie and Cloudspin had enormous mounds of man made snow several feet deep. I endured the noise and sting of the snow particles hitting my face while my skis slid softly through the silk for run after run up, over and down around 6 foot high moguls, feeling weightless, then heavy, before and after each turn.
During a second trip to Hunter in early January, I had an opportunity to ski with a very accomplished snow boarder. On a long carving board with hard boots, Ron Maita, alias "The Carve-Father" used the entire width of each trail as he carved smooth turns rubbing his elbows and gloves alternately on the smooth groomed corduroy surface. He was poetry in motion. Videos exhibiting his skill can be seen on You Tube: search "The Carve Father"
A long awaited trip to Courmayeur Italy in mid January proved to be the trip of a lifetime. Five cloudless days at the foot of Mont-Blanc, the Alps highest peak at 15,780 feet, was a feast for my eyes, body and soul. There was ample snow, mild temperatures and great food.
The trip culminated in a single run down the longest ski trail in the world, the Vallee Blanche. Starting at 12,400 feet above sea level and ending at the Village of Charmonix, the ride down took more than five hours for our group of eight.
This run epitomized why I ski. A close friend who has skied all over the world, summed it up best: "every skier must ski this run once in his/her lifetime".
Reached by a series of gondolas and trams, only guides can escort you down. Safety here is entirely in their hands. There are no patrols, no trail markings, no grooming. Each person is outfitted with a harness and a locating device. We were directed to carry out the instructions of our guide to the letter. Towering peaks, crevasses, powder fields, seracs, rock faces and azure blue ice made frequent stops a must for picture taking and resting. Skiing down the glacier debris field past huge ice mounds, and open voids in the snow, demanded cautious skill. An exhausting 40 minute climb out of the valley floor at the bottom of the run was necessary, since the glacier had melted 30 meters in thirty years according to our guide.
Back home in early February, I spent a beautiful day at Stratton Mountain testing next season's new ski models. I attended a three-day demonstration event for ski shop representatives and employees, sponsored by the Eastern Winter Sports Representatives Association. Skis evolve every year, getting better and better, and it was a joy to try out several pair. I was proud to have been asked by Snoweast Magazine to be one of its testers. After a dozen or more models, I now know my skis of choice for next season. Sharing the knowledge and experience of other skilled testers was an enjoyable experience.
A five-day trip north to the Eastern Townships of Southern Quebec, during the second week in February proved to me once again that it can snow in the mountains with no word of it at home. During my trip there was bare ground till well north of Burlington Vermont. Greeted by a dozen inches of the lightest powder at Mount Sutton, I skied its famous trees all day long in a snow storm. I also spent a day each at Bromont, Owl's Head and Mt Orford. My stay was like an inexpensive trip to France. The variety of these mountains ranges from busy, cultured Bromont (closest to Montreal), tree skiing at Mount Sutton, the views of Lake Memphremagog at Owl's Head, to the rugged old time flavor of Mt Orford. I also had the pleasure of skiing several runs with former Canadian World & Olympic Champion Aerialist, Lloyd Langlois, at his home mountain, Mount Orford.
The Eastern Townships of Quebec are not well known to Eastern US folks, but they definitely deserve to be one of your winter destinations.
My last multi-day trip of the season was in early March; a 320 mile jaunt to Maine. It included two days each at Saddleback Mountain and Sugarloaf. This adventure took place several days after the "Big storm of 2010".
My son learned how to ski at Saddleback in the late 70's, and it was a real treat to revisit the place after three decades and many improvements. The highlight was skiing the Casablanca Glade with my cousin Jeff. New this season, this glade is reputed to be the largest single section of tree skiing in the East. We were not disappointed. Saddleback is a sleeping giant. I can't wait to return.
I have been to Sugarloaf in the Carrabassett Valley several times, but its famous snowfields have never been open for lack of snow. Not this time. Claimed to be the only above timberline skiing in the east, this section of the mountain is accessed by a short hike up to the mountain's top above the Timberline Chair. Steep, windy, with great views of the surrounding mountains, our sunny day allowed us to appreciate the great snow from the recent storm.
It is now early April and I expect to ski once or twice more as the weather gets warmer and the snow turns to corn. It is a long wait till next season. For some, winter is never long enough.
For more information and videos of my adventures, go to: http://www.snowsportsna.com