Sunday, February 8, 2009

Getting your steeze on and the indignity of riding chairlifts

Spending most of my ski days in the backcountry deprives me of a regular opportunity to stay on top of ski and snowboard fashion. What I wear in the backcountry is driven far more by what is practical than by what looks good. My pants have cargo pockets on the sides, not because it looks cool, but because it's important to have easy access to things like chap stick (and in my case, rescue inhalers). My pants have big vents on the inner thigh that I can zip open for ventilation on the up and then zip back closed on the down. I wear suspenders because I don't like my pants to fall down. And my biggest cause of consternation is that my favorite backcountry jacket is my black softshell rather than my orange hardshell, since I bought the hardshell in that color because, unlike black, orange won't get mistaken for avalanche debris.

Just because I'm not a resort regular doesn't mean I'm completely in the dark. For instance, when I went shopping for my suspenders, I learned that many ski shops have struggled to keep them in stock because the kids were buying them, attaching them to their pants, letting them dangle to their butts, rather than actually wearing them to keep their pants up. Thanks to the TGR forum, I also know that tall tees are a critical element of any newschooler's steeze. But even if your steeze is whack due to a tee not hanging low enough, you can always just squat down and stretch your shirt until it hangs sufficiently below your jacket. Having a friend along for this exercise helps.

At Solitude on Saturday, in addition to skiing with my son, I had a great opportunity to check out some of the fashions I've not had the chance to appreciate in the backcountry. As if this were not enough, I was also rewarded with the chance to spend time with folks who acted like they were the only people on the mountain or at the very least as if they owned the place. It was such a wonderful experience that I thought I'd pass along a few of the highlights.

Highlight #1: The greatest snow on earth.

Of course here I am not referring to the actual snow but to the people who come from all over the world to enjoy said snow. Even though the really good inbounds snow is rapidly consumed on a powder day by so many scrubbing bubbles charging all over the mountain, and the tourists mostly ski on stuff that has been groomed and thereby rendered more or less indistinguishable from the groomed snow anywhere else in the world.

But they come, and they come wearing the finest clothing, something I get a kick out of because they're dropping two grand on an outfit they'll wear for five to ten days this year only to replace the getup with a new one next time they come.

Since they're all dressed up, of course they take pictures. With their cell phones. Or I guess I should call them mobiles in this context. At any rate, what's the point of taking a skiing picture with a cell phone? No matter how good the skier looks pushing a wide snowplow down the bunny hill, the cell phone camera is going to end up a blurred mess that evokes skiing only slightly more than this Rorschach.

But aside from laughing at the tourons from the chairlift, the real pleasure comes from sharing a lift line with them. As my son, who's four, was making his way towards the gate, some South American kid twice his size goes charging right in front of him, nearly knocking him over. I kept quiet, knowing that my four-year-old is probably a better skier and we'd get ahead of them next time and not have to worry about it.

As it happens, we got down about the same time, and sure enough this kid charges into the gate without waiting in line again. Except the gates at Solitude are kind of like getting on the subway in New York except with proximity sensors that open when you get close enough with your pass. Well young Mr. Linecutter didn't respond quickly enough when the gates opened, so they closed and wouldn't open again. He was stuck. We went to the other gate and just left him there waiting for the liftie. Schadenfreude at its finest, and I didn't even have to do anything.

Highlight #2: Was that really necessary?

Of course not all the idiots are tourists; we have plenty of villages here, some of which send their idiots up canyon on Saturdays. And similar to the Euros in their pretty clothes, they seem to be enamored by the fact that they are skiing at all, with no regard whatever for how they're doing it.

Take for instance, snowboard dad. Now there are plenty of people that I like who happen to snowboard. That's fine for them. It does not, however, mean that I like snowboarders just because some of my friends and/or family members do it. So when the dad who was teaching his daughters how to snowboard had all three of them get on the lift one at a time so that Grandma could take pictures, I was annoyed. For one thing, anyone can ride a chairlift, so who the hell cares to take a picture of that? For another, it's the beginner lift, and it's a fixed grip double. So as slow as it moves to begin with, all the novices falling off the thing mean it's constantly stopping. Please don't make the process any slower just for the sake of your scrapbook.

The other thing that left me scratching my head about its necessity was the lady skiing the beginner lift with an avalung. Now I'm all for avalanche safety and have even gone so far as to wear my beacon inbounds if I thought I might be heading out the gates or skiing something sketchy. And I realize that the recent inbounds avalanche fatalities have a lot of people who don't know better feeling pretty nervous. But an avalung on green runs? Wow.

Highlight #3: You're never too young or too old to get your steeze on.

For some reason I had assumed that really steezy looks were reserved for the park and pipe crowd between the ages of 13 and 24. Boy was I wrong. Exhibit A is this kid who is apparently between the ages of 7 and 10, and, based on the fact that he was riding the beginner lift, couldn't have been up more than three or four times in his life. And yet there he was in all his steezy glory with a tall tee hanging below his coat. Wonder how much time he spent contemplating the outfit before every bothering to try the sport?

Exhibit B was this guy, who appeared to be pushing 40. I can't decide if he was serious about that outfit, or if he's even more of a bottom feeder than I am when it comes to gear and got it on a deep, deep discount for obvious reasons. If I were to lay money on it, I'd go with the former.

When I first saw him, I really wanted to take a picture, but I didn't dare just bust out the camera and shoot. Thankfully the opportunity presented itself when we were getting ready to leave for the day. Mr. Plaid was loitering in the base area talking on the phone, so I had my son stop right in front of him and pose for a photo. You see part of my son, cuz I had to at least point the camera in his general direction to avoid blowing my cover.

Of course all this ranting is in fun and in jest because the real reason any of us head to the mountains (I think) is so we can enjoy ourselves. And I'm glad to have other people up there stimulating the economy. Sure, some people find it enjoyable to take pictures of themselves drinking beer and don't accomplish much else besides actually drinking the beer, but to each his own.

As for my son and me, we had a great time. He got there about 1:30 (I snuck in a few turns by myself and did some beacon practice before Rachel dropped him off) and skied until the last chair. We even ventured onto the Moonbeam lift, which is still beginner terrain, but feels a lot bigger when you're four. I'll leave you with a few shots of the little guy.

Wonder how many years it's going to be until he's skiing the Northwest face of Box Elder with me?


  1. Ski resorts are like societal petri dishes.

    I've skied at Deer Valley a few times and amused myself observing the rich and famous play the peacock game. Most were OK, but a few had super-size-me egos.

    My favorite resort style is the big can headphones worn under the goggle straps.

    I saw an all plaid outfit last week. It made my eyes hurt.

    Looks like you had fun skiing with your boy.

  2. random pics of weird people . . . i like your style.

    i take most of my ski pics with my cell phone camera. is it that bad?

  3. Your son is looking good out there. He has taken to skiing like a fish to water.

    We're hurting for snow here... We did the night skiing last week, but it was more like ice skating.

  4. In response to the last question...a very, VERY long time.