Friday, January 27, 2012

A Lesson in Grooming, Mixed Precip and Snow Conditions from Plattekill's Macker

The Macker – his name well earned, starts a fire with a blowtorch.

Macker is a tough guy. Smokes, drinks, skis. All hard. Man is also a perfectionist. Witness the Stockli skis he rides. (He's also open for teasing and makes fresh donuts at the mountain on weekends). He can tell you lore about the hill, but beyond that he could be seen as the master of grooming. He once described being on the groomer at the end of the day – alone – as his kind of meditation. (It's done with a smoke and the nice scent of diesel fumes).

So what does he have to say about this sort of weather? Which others might call Liquid Sunshine, and Jay Peak has called, ahem, “transluscent snow.”

Right now we're having a very strange winter. But to explain what happens when it rains and freezes goes like this:

"Natural snow falls from the sky as a crystallized flake. If you were to look closely at one they are pretty much flat. As natural snow accumulates and sits, it becomes dense. When natural snow gets warm or packed down it turns to ice rapidly. Granted it’s fun to ski in but it takes a lot to hold up to heavy ski traffic.

"Now I’ll give you the description of Man-Made snow. When snow comes out of a snowgun, the first thing that happens is a small amount of water is mixed with compressed air to start a process called nucleation, this freezes lots of little pellets and these pellets are forced into a larger water stream of spray which in turn act like a pearl in an oyster. They bounce around and get bigger and help freeze the rest of the water stream. End result SNOW. But manmade snow is technically a frozen pellet of ice (a bit like “graupel,” jk). You need to think about which one water will go through, a stacked-up pile of pellets, or a dense pile of mush. This is why, when it rains on manmade snow and then freezes you are left with frozen granular once the groomers grind it up.

"One of the biggest complaints that you hear when a winter is like this is, Oh the slopes are icy. This is a statement that gets blown out of proportion . Usually it’s hardpack they’re having a problem with, not ice. (Now this last statement was meant directly for me) Always remember, just because you can come down a Black Diamond doesn’t mean you’re an Expert Skier. An Expert Skier never complains about conditions…”

All of this means that because there's a lot of manmade snow, the conditions will actually be better. So all of you who are hoping (or even pondering) coming out to ski tomorrow, come. Because once that   frozen granular has been groomed and skied on, it becomes loose granular. Think sugar.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Poaching New Lines At Plattekill – Like Bats Out Of Hell

This weekend promises powder and plenty of it, but last weekend was epic and surprising – to find that much snow and that many stashes to share. There were lines carved and taken and hikes made. It felt like being at Alta. My shoulder hurt from carrying my skis. But, better than my telling you about it – this is from an email sent to me by a dedicated long-time Platty skier. And, the names have been cut to protect the innocent:

"We skied the powdery ridge like bats out of hell all the way down because we are young and we don't stop, only I had to pretend.  We should have skied like angels.  But, no, we skied like bats out of hell.   We used to ski that way all the time through the woods at scary speeds."  

"We love the time of year when the Double is closed.  Once it is opened, we are chased further and further away to find the quiet.  In the old days, before the time of blogs and secrets de-secretized, we would be there only because we were and we would be alone with one another.  We had followed each other and asked about things face to face.  Now, people who wouldn't  know are in the know and they show up literally out of nowhere.  People come to find "the stash".  It's like reading a fly-fishing magazine that talks about undiscovered rivers filled with the best things and they tell you where the secret river is...."

All I can say is bring the snow and take me to the river.... Also most importantly thanks to the skier who wrote such a lovely email...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ice Carving and Snowmobile Drag Racing in Walton...

Time-based art and temporal sculpture are buzz words in the Big-A art world. They also rock the world of the SUNY Delhi ice carvers. Obviously ice sculpture is temperature-dependent, so the piece could last minutes or months. Now in Walton, you can see the Delhi culinary students pull out the stops. And the chainsaws, chisels and blowtorches. A class at the college’s culinary school focuses on ice carving and does, yes, far more than those ice swans popular at weddings in the 80s. On campus, the class, “Culinary Sculpting,” wields 300-pound ice blocks made in the school’s Ice Sculpting Lab.

To see the team at work (and they are, by the way, national collegiate champions competing annually Minnesota) head out to the Walton Fairground. This Saturday January 21st, there will be ice carving and snowmobile drag racing (we’re even supposed to be getting some snow). The event is an official practice session for the National Ice Carving Competition and an ACF (American Culinary Federation) sanctioned competition, which means there will be good carvers, and the winner matters.

Friday, January 13, 2012

You Can Ski The Wasatch But You Choose Plattekilll...

 You can ski anywhere in the world but where do you go to teach your son? Well, if your Salt Lake City residents Dave and Jessi Raber (or else you happen to be reading this blog) you would say: Plattekill. And, by anywhere in the world I mean the best skiing in the U.S. which would be Utah. There Jessi didn’t just happen to ride both one plank or two – tele and snowboarding – she also worked for Sno Engineering Group, which designs ski areas. And her particular client? Snowbird. She had to ski for work. And, still she comes to Plattekill with her adorable two-year-old Silas who’s learning to talk and ski at the same time.

And baby makes three. Plus four planks.
Dave is back East for work for the winter. So, Jessi and Silas followed for the skiing. Out West the couple would pack the young’un up, skin up 11k-foot peaks like Clayton’s Peak or Catherine’s Area at Alta and ski down with the baby on their back.

Now that they’re here, they might well bring the powder with them. They got married at Plattekill (and you can see the pictures in the lodge). Two days before the wedding, no snow. Then, come the appointed weekend in December and a legendary powder day. “We figure the powder gods love us,” Jessi says, which if you look at today’s weather could well be true. Particularly since Utah’s been having the driest winter in decades.  

They wanted Silas to learn at Plattekill. “It just feels like home,” she says. “Here all the kids are included and everyone’s like a family looking out for each other. Silas can run around and I know he’ll be okay. I could never do that anywhere out West.” Even better, Silas is loving skiing. He keeps saying “more, more, more” when he’s out on the slopes. Prediction: he will be ripping down the North Face by the end of the weekend. Okay that’s magical thinking.

Both his parents are also volunteering and working on the mountain this winter: Jessi at the bar and Dave, a master mechanic, helping keep the hill running smoothly. Which in fact sent him home on Monday looking like a chimney sweep, but Platty owner, Laszlo Vajtay says, “They’re the perfect example of what embodies the unique vibe of Plattekill. We’re lucky they love doing what they do at Plattekill.”

Learning on Powder Puff

Ready to take after Dad. In the groomer.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nearly A Powder Day at Plattekill With Harvey Road

Harvey shooting for the blog.

Where does Harvey Road founder of the awesome NY Ski Blog ski on his birthday? Not his home mountain but Plattekill. And here’s the proof on Powderpuff, where he stopped to do his job, shooting  down the hill. And, as if a birthday present just for him, Laszlo turned on the guns, (got out the "pixie dust," Harvey called it) on the The Face. So while Saturday had soft spring skiing, Sunday, which should have been hard and loud, was instead a powder day if you picked your runs right. What the gods won’t provide Laszlo and co will. And did.

And check out that grin. He's having a good birthday... 

The NY Ski Blog also deserves a big thank you (particularly after the heavy snows come and I hear rumblings that MLK Day is our day for some powder). They came out in November to clear trails, including some secret passageways through the trees. Read more here, and Harvey, come back to tell me where…

Friday, January 6, 2012

Get Your Skates On

Come this Friday and skating returns to Margaretville (not skateboarding either for all who think the weather might stand in the way of actual ice).

The village has a winter tradition of free ice skating in the village park (behind Freshtown and by the pavilion). The rink is ad hoc, made of hay bales and custom liner filled with water turned into, of course, ice. It’s set up by a team of volunteers headed by Mike and Becky Porter. I can’t say enough good things about the two of them; he rode his bike across the country after two year’s of cancer treatment, was science teacher at MCS and is president of the volunteer fire department. (He also cuts a fine figure in the department’s dress uniform). And, where it comes to dress or dressing, Becky can dress a deer on the way to church on Sunday (she has before) and is a skater and skier. As Mike says, he’s just there doing her bidding. He does not actually skate but wants to encourage everyone to get outside. To make sure you can, the Porters have skates on their back porch (at the corner of Orchard and Academy Street in the village) for anyone to borrow.

The rink is open anytime you feel like coming and having a skate. To keep the ice smooth they use something called a “wand,” a four-foot garden hose attachment that sprays a thin stream of water on top. That’s all it takes to get the Zamboni effect. On Wednesday the ice was at least two inches thick, Mike reports. “Not quite good enough yet.” Because of the weather he suggests skating in the evenings and early mornings when it’s cold. And in the early morning you’re likely to catch Becky there too. That’s her favorite time to hit the ice.

Skating when it’s too warm makes it both hard to skate and is hard on the ice, which, given that the rink is run by volunteers, makes them work harder too. Plus, if you come when it’s dark out, there’s a light on a post by the rink that you can turn on yourself, anytime you want. So if you fancy a romantic midnight skating jaunt…

The rink will be up, “Until,” Mike says, “mother nature says ‘no.’” Which here in the Western Catskills means February.