Friday, December 31, 2010

North Face

Ah, the continuous vertical feet of North Face, starts steep as a double black, ends as a blue. Trails join it, but nothing criss-crosses it or gets in your way. Now open. Long, steep and steady.

Shredded Mozzarella

Not cheese. No, this is the continuation of Sundown – a wide open groomer. I still want to know where the name comes from. Macker's promised stories.

Lower Face

Like Upper Face, but blue and on the right is where the terrain park is (not in quite yet, though that didn’t stop Jacob and Bri and co from turning the whales of manmade snow into jumps). On skier’s left is where races and race training are held…

Upper Face

This could almost be two runs. To rider/ skier's left, groomed steep, nice and racey. To the right, ungroomed powder (or chowder—or whatever the natural conditions let you ski. With bumps). So to the right, the snow is often great. The one drawback to Upper Face you pick up speed and then a trail crosses… But it’s a small price to pay as this is just about the only crossing trail you’ll find at Platty. Which is one of the mountain's great features. Long runs, virtually no crossing trails.


The name here is apt. I’ve found as the sun’s going down, the low light can be deceptive here. A horse-shoeing blue, the switchback means it's never too steep. But, you can tip over the edge of the bend to rip some natural snow. This hooks up to Lower Face under the lift…

Powder Puff

Not the slope to stick your never-ever on for their first run (for that hit Bunny Hop). This is a long run – two miles – the sort where you can cruise. Or go on autopilot. It's the run one of those granola NYC-transplant types (I'm one too, okay?) calls "very zen." But, if you’re one of those skiers who don’t (or won’t or are too nervous to) let your skis rip on steeper terrain, you can find out just what your planks are capable of. And get more used to speed. Just watch out for families, and those still in wedge turns.

Morning Glory. Where would you rather be today?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

How To Build The Perfect Fire

I love my fireplace. It's a Tulikivi and just kicks the heat out into the room. Great draft. Simple mantle. I can make a fire in my fireplace in my house in one minute, light it, and it's roaring.

This Christmas holiday we rented a house in Roxbury to be close to skiing at Plattekill. It's called The Captains House and had the absolutely required fireplace for our holiday rental in the western Catskills. 4 bedrooms, big dining table to eat our holiday meal at, great field and logging road to hike around in all that fresh snow, easy access to the main (read, plowed) road, and a beautiful, wide fireplace with a gorgeous hearth with brass guard rail and plenty of firewood. Perfect.

I got out my usual items (I even remembered to bring some LLBean fatwood from my house - love that stuff to help start the fire), then started to realize just how different each fireplace can be. The grate in this one was higher, and there was no kindling or smaller logs to help get things going like I have at my house. So outside we send the 13 year old to gather sticks - which being a 13 year old from Brooklyn he only did moderately well. But I had this.

Well, you can guess… was an anemic fire at best for about 3 hours we tried to pretend it was better than it was. Next evening rolls around and more of our holiday party have joined us, including one firemaker extraordinaire. He went out and gathered lots of kindling, especially those bare, dead low pine branches and placed an entire armful on the grate and then piled logs, criss-crossed for airspace, a few pieces of newspaper underneath and we were off. Five hours of the most beautiful roaring fire, tended to by said 13 year old and newly minted first fire mate with the bellows. It entertained him better than South Park reruns. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of that fire.

Last year, friends introduced me to a wonderful New Years tradition. Take a piece of paper and on one side write your regrets for the year ending and on the other side write your wishes for the year you are starting. Then place it in the fire to burn and the smoke will exit your house and place those thoughts out in the universe.

Everyone walks through life a little differently and I'm sure there are many tried and true fire starting methods out there. A little humility and learning is always a good way to end the year. Here's to a 2011 filled with many memorable days and evenings in front of your fireplace, woodstove, or campfire.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ski School Salvation

This week being Christmas it seems an apt time for a miracle – and so it was: My friend Patty on skis at Platty. Not just that she was on 2 sticks, but skiing parallel – a feat due in no small part to her instructor Kory Ancona.

Now I have to say I started out skeptical. Patty isn’t quite a never-ever, those adults who decide to take to the slope for the first time ( I was one). No, she’d skied twice in her teens with mixed results, and obviously on long straight skis, in an era that counts (at least for skiers) as the dark ages. Patty’s lesson also started out with much theory. Here was young Kory (apple cheeks, blond hair, bubbly disposition) talking rather scientifically about edge angles and carving and how she was not going to teach the wedge. A sacrilege if ever I heard one, but she very logically said, “Why would I teach something I have to un-teach? If she needed it, yeah, but Patty doesn’t.”

Kory had clearly done that quick assessment a good instructor does where they figure out how their student learns and what they’re capable of . So here we were after side-stepping up the hill (to show what it felt like to be on edge) and doing progressively longer runs down Bunny Hop then moving onto skiing parallel from the top of Powder Puff. Not perfectly (that would be a miracle). Patty was sitting back a bit and not yet on her edges but doing smooth, even turns. And, this you’ll have to take on faith. I have no pictures. I couldn’t get ahead of her fast enough.

The next day when the wind chill had defeated me, Patty and Kory were out again on Sundown and Shredded Mozzarella. Patty on her edges. And, this is not the only miracle Kory is after. Off the hill, she’s in school studying chemical engineering and sustainable energy at Clarkson University. Kory, who grew up skiing, says, “I love to ski, so of course I want to fix the environment.” Thus, she’s out to save the world, to find a better way to make ethanol and a lighter material for wind turbines. In the meantime though, you can find her working her magic in smaller ways at Platty.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

White Christmas II: Platty's Xmas Gift That Keeps on Giving

Okay so my husband begged me not to post this today, saying “I’m skiing there tomorrow I don’t want anyone else there…” But, as we’re supposed to get walloped with snow and Platty has the rep for more snow than the other ski hills in the Catskills, I’ve set out to find the reason and called up News Channel 13 meteorologist Jason Gough, a man I’m so used to hearing on the news that actually speaking to him, I keep expecting him to break into the regional forecast.

From Albany and a skier, he sympathizes with my need to explain the snow, but as a scientist he insists on the numbers. So officially it’s not a slice of heaven or this little fairytale spot or something magical—even if it might feel that way to me. Technically it’s a combination of trailing lake effect snow (where water off Lake Erie and Lake Ontario evaporates and falls downwind of the lakes. As soon as the evaporated water runs into colder air, snow begins in earnest. And, Jason says, height helps especially the farther one gets from the lakes. In our case, on Plattekill. Lake effect snow is also technically what contributes to the 500 or so inches the Wasatch Range in Utah gets every year as Great Salt Lake water evaporates and snows on Alta …). Here it hits the slope of the mountain, which funnels the moisture up and creates precipitation.

While Jason says Nor’easters produce most of our snow in any given year (thank you weather gods for a nice Christmas present), Plattekill with its western-facing slopes benefits too. As he puts it, “If you were to geographically design a mountain in that spot, facing west is exactly what you’d want.”

While I had him on the phone I asked him to shake his snow globe and check his crystal ball. Would we get anything from La Nina? Officially no, but that’s also good, because some people say it will bring less snow. “We get no impact,” he says, “not a damn thing. Our snow comes from the Nor’Easters…” And, I might personally venture to add Plattekill’s secret slice o’ heaven…

If you want more facts you can tune into stats from Plattekill’s own weather station. And the mountain cam.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

White Christmas

I had no idea how hard making snow was. Or if it’s even snow. For the record it is. Snow itself has many different categories (graupel anyone?) The kind Chris Nolan and Colin Oliver make is a recipe of water and compressed air pushed through a snowgun or fan gun or snow cannon – all are deployed at Platty. Easy, just add water, right? Plus temperatures below 32 F. Wrong.

The afternoon I went it was 23, but with 87% humidity, which Nolan (he, the man in charge of the mountain’s snowmaking, goes by his last name) shakes his head at. High humidity = wet snow – fine for a base, but not powder. The ultimate snowmaking temperature is 15 degrees, which is why snowmaking usually happens at night. As he explains all these things, it’s like he’s talking philosophy. We’re riding around the mountain on a snowmobile dragging guns and hoses – very heavy hoses, the sort fire departments use, some 25 feet long. He slings ‘em like a lasso towards the guns and their valves. Watching him it strikes me the job is like ranching or herding sheep.

He travels with a blowtorch and ice axe and stops more than once to pound on a fan covered in ice (another humidity issue). He tells me to duck. The ice comes off with the speed of bullets, he explains and then nonchalantly dips his head himself to avoid them. They’re inches from his face. The whole endeavor gives him and Colin the air of cowboys, that is to say, as men of few words, weathered and with grit, a strong stance and exacting standards (just ask those who work for him). Like the Marlboro Man even, Nolan travels with a cigarette between his teeth as he clangs on the fan or lights up his blowtorch to melt the ice off a gun.

The whole thing is hard enough – (and cold. He’s out in balaclava, hat, insulated everything and blown-out snowboarding boots) but picture doing this in the middle of the night, fighting frozen valves open or closed and flushing ice out of the air hoses in the dark at 2 AM – or even say 6 PM when the only light comes from the headlight on your snowmobile and a headlamp. Thinking about it, I’m struck not just by the job’s heroism but its futility as well. Ultimately it will all melt. Farming snow is Sisyphian if anything ever was.

The idea is not lost on Nolan. A couple weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon he had to go home. He’d been working two weeks of 12-hour shifts and then it rained. The base was fine. He’d made enough snow but to see the weather was disheartening particularly on his second season here. He came to work at Plattekill after growing up skiing then snowboarding here. He volunteered in the summers on the mountain bike races. Now, the terrain park – which he’s currently busy building – is named for him.

I myself will never bitch about snow again. Ever. Not after my two hours with Nolan and Colin. We all know those early season chairlift conversations the why-isn’t- more-terrain-open complaints and the it’s-been-cold-enough-to-make-snow gripes. I for one foreswear them. Forever.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mystery on the Mountain—The Ashby Affair

This week had new terrain, blue skies, a fine dusting of powder, poached trails (not by me, I swear) and all around excellent conditions at Plattekill. But there was one small thing out of place – a mystery of sorts. A shredded novel at the top of Upper Face, apparently The Ashby Affair—a Harlequin romance.

So how does a book get shredded on the hill? I know a tuned ski can be sharp but really. Did someone take to reading on the chairlift or was Macker reading a romance novel as he drove the groomer? No. Blame a Norwegian. Or Norwegians, or a music video producer named Alon Simcha. A group of Brooklynites found themselves freezing on the mountain on Thursday all in the name of art. Or, a music video (however you want to call it) with shots that had them trailing a Flexible Flier up the slopes to the top of Blockbuster – all while making absolutely sure nothing on that stacked sled (including The Ashby Affair) fell off or slid around, and then setting fire to it for the last scene. Now I don’t know who the Norwegian band is or the song but when I do I’ll post it and Platty’s moment in the sun. But as to burning books and sleds, that just seems cruel. Not to mention what it could do to the base—which I can report in this mystery remains unscathed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

So You Want To Ditch Your Day Job To Own A Ski Resort?

"How do you lose a million? Start with two – oh and buy a ski hill,” Laszlo Vajtay jokes. He’s also been known to say: “We’re still out there writing the book on how to ‘How to Buy a Ski Area and Succeed’” Only he’s not quite sure how the story will end.

He and his wife Danielle Vajtay (pron: vay – tay in case you were wondering) own Plattekilll. She was a weekend warrior, all about taking the train up and back (he’d pick her up in Rhinecliff nearly 2 hours away) while they were dating. “Had I known what I was in for….” she shakes her head. Laszlo had been running the mountain on his own for two years when she moved up. He talked her into it. “He needed a hand,” she says drily. Understatedly. Like the straight man in their comedy duo.

But they insist it’s been worth it. And, if you come to ski here, you might well agree. Plattekill feels like a fairytale. Like skiing in Utah on the East Coast. It’s got steep vertical and this magic pocket of snow that happens just over it. Picture that image on TV of it raining just over someone’s head. Oh, and it feels like your own secret because there’s never a crowd, never a lift line. Imagine this a place where the longest run is 2 miles, the snow is always good (they average more than 190” a season), the terrain has insane vertical and people are nice. Wouldn’t you want to go there? Or buy it?

So he did. At a foreclosure auction when he was 30. No vulture or outside speculator, he grew up skiing there. They both started skiing there when they were 7 and 10. They both taught in the ski school and as soon as he graduated college, he ran it. Then he dumped his corporate gig …

Theirs is one of those mountain love stories. See, fairytale? And very, very sweet. Lest you think this is all sweetness and light (and I can attest that the powder is very light this week, thank you weather gods for making it 6 degrees out…) it’s not all easy or romantic. There are stories like his first year when they got 285 inches of snow. The next was a fraction of that. The New York Times even came out to take pictures of the empty lifts. All the resorts on the East Coast were having a drought year and Laszlo was the only person game (read: crazy) enough to let them come out and shoot.

Soon he started buying snowmaking equipment. Now 18 years in, the mountain is covered with guns. He and Danielle and their very small, very dedicated staff, pull long days with hard work. And, he even knows how to find a snow gun on Ebay…

But the perks are excellent. “I can ride up with the groomers and ski down. Or, hop the lift any afternoon (Platty is strictly a Friday to Sunday operation except over the holidays or when there’s a foot or more of fresh snow….). All I have to do is push start…” It’s almost enough to make you quit your day job. Or, you could just drive up this weekend.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Welcome to Heaven. Plattekill Opens!

Hi—I’m Jennifer Kabat and I’m going to be blogging about winter in the Western Catskills where when the temp plunges, the fun begins. This weekend was not only the inaugural day at Platty, but the launch of our winter blog. Saturday was (as overheard from the triple chair) “Spring Conditions in December!” So said someone on Upper Face – with a big smile on his face. There was sun, powder and t-shirts…

Me and 300 others were out in force. Jacob and Bri and their friends were doing awesome stunts off mounds of man-made snow (thank you Chris Nolan for the abundance) that looked like break-dancing on powder. (You can see video here). Kids were racing, and compare that to Belleayre’s opening day a couple weeks back. They might have been the first mountain open here, but they had 2000 people packed onto half a run… You too can do the skier-per-square-foot calculation, and you’ll see why Plattekill is a little slice of skier (and rider) heaven.

Upcoming in the blog there will be more from Jacob and Bri, a profile of Chris and Macker, the mountain man, making snow and grooming it to perfection, plus where to steal a stash with Sean Riley. Oh and competitions. Best photo, best caption with prizes of free lift tix so you can bring your friends to the mountain with the most snow in the Catskills. (This no exaggeration. So says the National Weather Service).