Sunday, February 15, 2009

Owning Your Own Gear

This is more the story of our first true double black diamond day at Hunter than it is about the skis and poles and boots that come home with us now when we leave the mountain. Mieke and I skied Annapurna, arguably the steepest top-to-bottom run at Hunter, which only opened for the first time last week and whose name had the effect it no doubt was intended to have - it scared the crap out of me. Annapurna and Claire's Way are on Hunter West, a mysterious area across the top of the mountain, from which the only descent is in the black. We arrived at the Mountan early, on the bus as usual, but this time we simply went into the base lodge, pulled on our gear and went right to the chairs. We got out there probably 20-30 minutes earlier than we normally would. Mieke proposed "just skiing" for the first few runs to take advantage of the conditions, which appeared to be good. Off the top we arced down Hellgate and Eisenhower Drive on a surface that neither of us could believe. Hellgate, aptly named, a normally scraped-bare ice sheet that is the main artery feeding into the two great lower mountain black runs, Racer's Edge and Eisenhower, had a plush surface of grippy corduroy on which no wrong turns could be made. My "new" used K2's felt great. Stronger and better skis than the rentals. They were my own skis, and I felt at home on them. Mieke's Atomic c-9's cut into anything, and she was ripping. We were both blown away; our confidence soaring; our sense of adventure piqued. On the lift back up I mentioned Hunter West - this was a chance to conquer the fearsome Yeti and taste alpine glory. Mieke was thinking the same thing. Let's hit Claire's Way, a sweet name for a steep run. Claire sounded like a nice girl, how could she hurt us. We went for it. There was only one other skier on the run. The surface was grippy and fun. We both launched right into our turns. No hesitation, no moment of truth, no belly full of fear. It was awesome. I had Mieke in my sights for the entire run. Seeing her making turns below me, and me making turns in near-fluid succession was exhilarating. We hit the bottom of the run and we were hooting! We just skied our first double black together on the mountain, and we enjoyed the hell out of it! We jumped on the old chair for the ride back up. Annapurna was calling us. At the top there was a big scary sign in the middle of the trail to Annapurna - Expert Skier? ...You Better Be! Extremely Steep and Variable Terrain. Only skiers with properly tuned gear should attempt this run. Watch for falling skiers. We hesitated. Maybe Annapurna was harder than Claire's. Then I noticed that we had skied right by the same sign at the top of Claire's without noticing it. Mieke said: "Let's go for it."
We went for it. Alone, just the two of us, we poled across the beautiful and quiet mountain top on a narrow path, and then the terrain grew steeper. We made our turns. The terrain got steeper. We made our turns. The terrain got steeper. There was a hell wind howling up the across the trail. Mieke led the way in. I dove into the particulate blast, and I became a warrior. It's on baby! We turned and turned and turned and slid a bit and turned and then it was over. On the run out to the lift - pure exhilaration. Wow! We did it! And we did it in style! Check it off the list. Fear conquered!
The rest of the day was fantastic. We skied Racer's Edge for the first time, the only lower mountain double black. They'd been blowing snow on it all morning, and it was deep and powdery and fun as hell. We revisited Upper K-27, a run that nearly gave me the runs the first time we tried it, and it seemed easy and fun. To bring it back to the gear, those extra 20-30 minutes on the mountain were the gateway to an experience (a mountain) we'd never known. A peaceful, uncrowded, pristine white carpeted heaven for which we were finally prepared.

Here's the Favorites:
Food - Thinly Sliced Boiled Ham and Swiss with Balade Butter and Ghent Mustard on Whole Wheat made the perfect apres-ski recharger. Also, sometimes it takes a cold frosty beverage to warm you up - Saranac Pale Ale. Always drink the local beer when you are in the mountains!
Exercise - Double Black Diamonds. As much as you can handle. Make sure you stretch the quads before the drive home.
Gear - Mieke's Scott Snowdog Mittens with attached liner glove kept her hands warm all day even past the point when my hands started to freeze. EZ is still obsessed with his used K2 Apache X skis.

1 comment:

  1. AWESOME account Ez. I was terrified and exhilarated down the mountain with you! who needs to feel bad about not skiing when they can read your blog?! congrats on the big fears conquered.