I can’t believe I’ve been posting stuff on DCSki for 15 years?!? I guess I am overdue to inflict the DCSki readership with a retrospective. A couple of weeks ago it dawned on me that this is the 15th ski season since I first stumbled upon Scott Smith’s web project that won’t quit. From my very first glimpse of the site in late 1999 I thought the formatting and presentation were excellent. Scott had populated it with a great deal of basic resort profile data and he was doing his best as a one man news hound and trip reporter.
By the early 2000’s I think DCSki had already attracted several writer/contributors such as ski professionals Otto Matheke and Jim Chen for articles on instruction and safety. JohnL and a few other early board members were posting occasional trip reports. Soon John Sherwood would begin his series of outstanding European trip reports, followed by Lou Botta’s polished vacation summaries and Connie Lawn’s stories championing adaptive skiing. But still, I thought the impressive site lacked input from additional experienced local recreational skiers. So I started posting reviews and ruminations. That led to local day-trip reports, family weekend trip accounts, and eventually two-week ski safari blogs with my son. We’ve been playing it by ear the whole time. Scott has been very supportive. He’s never censored me in any substantive way and has actively facilitated my ski travel writing avocation.
I ask your pardon for the wordy and overly personal nature of this piece, but here is a recap of some of the topics and experiences I have discussed and documented on DCSki over the past 15 years. What a long, strange trip it’s been - blossoming into numerous great ski moments with my family and the development of many fine new friendships I would never have predicted. Most importantly, I thank all those who’ve sent positive feedback my way. For better or worse, you’ve helped motivate me to keep my internet blogging and blabbing continuing all these years.
One of my earliest contributions to DCSki was a three part rumination on my skiing origins dating back to 1967 in the mid-Atlantic. I cut my teeth at Blue Knob, PA and that most challenging of our local mountains forever influenced my expectations about how fun and difficult and rewarding skiing could be no matter where you hit the slopes. The period from 2000-2004 was when I paid my dues as a “ski vacation dad” shepherding my flock of snowriders, although I guiltily snuck away for a memorable ski trip with a buddy to Austria in 2003 (I blame John Sherwood’s Alps-stoke). More typically, my wife and I took frequent day trips or long weekends with our four children to places like Snowshoe, Bryce, Wisp, and Killington.
Some of my commentaries on DCSki during this time were reflections on why skiing is such a great sport and where to find the toughest slopes in the mid-Atlantic. I also reported on ski swaps at local ski shops. I think swaps are an outstanding way to inexpensively outfit skiing/snowboarding families.
The zenith of this period was an epic, but arduous cross country family road trip to Colorado in December 2003 with my wife and I and our four kids caged in a minivan for a week and a half. I have a lasting image frozen in my mind that made that entire ordeal worthwhile. I was wearing an elf hat and a big smile while skiing down a beautiful groomer at Loveland Ski Area on Christmas Eve with the whole family schussing around me. My wife Kathy probably has an entirely different memory of the trip, more along the lines of the Bataan Death March while earning her wings to an afterlife of eternal bliss through perseverance and self sacrifice.
While we continued to enjoy more family trips it became increasingly rare that all six of us would travel together as my older two daughters entered college, moved away, and joined the work force. At the same time, the remaining members of the family got the opportunity to branch further out. Great local visits to Blue Knob, Timberline, Massanutten, and Wintergreen were augmented with trips to Tahoe, Quebec, and Keystone, CO.
This was also when I began to attend gatherings with ski friends I had heretofore known only online including Jimmy, Laurel Hill Crazie, The Colonel, RodSmith, GGNagy, and others. The web was great for info sharing, but finally crossing the barrier from virtual to real ski buddies awakened me to the tremendous power of the internet for bringing like-minded folks together for good times and good skiing. I was tentative about it at first, but I found that online interactions took on a healthy new depth and accountability when there was the possibility of meeting folks in real life who might be reading what you post.
Near the end of this period I began a string of remarkable father and son trips with my son Vince. We went to Colorado in April of 2009 when Vince was a high school senior. our blog of this trip might be the single most viewed item I’ve ever posted on DCSki. There was a huge spring blizzard in the middle of our trip and we caught unbelievably good conditions at Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain. Two feet of powder is the ultimate bonding experience for those who love to ski!
I made my first trip to Vermont’s Mad River Glen ski area in 2010. It was like Blue Knob on steroids with better snow. Where had MRG been all my life? Since then I’ve returned two more times. 2010 was also the year of the Snowpocalypse and I immensely enjoyed skiing five times locally during the month of February that year. Those were the best conditions I can remember in 40+ years of skiing in the mid-Atlantic.
In recent years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to ski many fine areas around the US and always with one or more family members in tow; for example, NH, UT, CA, OR, NM and additional trips to CO. I love them all, but I am no snow snob and deeply appreciate the many well run ski areas we have access to within a few hours of Washington DC. Without them we would have no skill, no regular ski fix, and no higher aspirations.
The three areas I first skied back in the 1960’s were Blue Knob, Bryce, and Liberty (then Charnita). I always get a warm feeling when I return to these mountains, almost like a family reunion. I’m a glass half full kind of guy and though our mountains are modest and our winters are fickle we in the mid-Atlantic are very lucky to have dozens of local hills that bust their chops to make snow, keep terrain open, build parks, and offer as good a product as possible. Some folks may lament the rising cost of skiing and snowboarding, but on the other hand - the product has never been better.
Highlights and Notables
As a guy who never met a ski area I didn’t like, where do I begin?
- Austria, February 2003: no name ski areas with 3500’ verticals around every corner, great cultural and culinary experiences in the province of Salzburg, so much more than a ski trip.
- Alta, January 2011: Near the end of our one and only day at this quintessential American ski area I pulled Vince aside mid-run and said a quick prayer of thanks out loud for an amazing day. It’s that kind of a place.
- I am a regular skiing joe and I try to write about what the average intermediate-advanced recreational skier can attain and enjoy. Once in a while I stumble onto especially steep, wild, or scenic terrain that scares me and thrills me and gets burned into my memory banks, examples include Highline Ridge at Taos, Quail Face at Homewood, the backside of Mt. Bachelor, St. Lawrence River views from Le Massif Quebec, the Paliviccini trail pod at Arapahoe Basin, Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands, and all over the place at Squaw Valley.
- All my kids are great in their own way, but in a skiing sense it’s been awesome to watch my son Vince develop his skills. I remember when he took his first run down Blue Knob’s double black diamond Extrovert trail in 2007. When we went back just two weeks later he proceeded to ski it ten times in a row. He’s now 23 and instructs at Liberty Mountain Resort, PA on weekends. He’s planning to take his first crack at the PSIA Level III skiing exam later this winter.
- The Homestead in good old southwestern Virginia: this was probably our ultimate family encounter with opulent ski accommodations. The terrain may be beginner-intermediate, but the hotel is double black diamond luxury.
- Kansas, December 2003: driving through eerily flat prairie lands on the return drive to Northern Virginia on the aforementioned epic family road trip to Colorado I asked one daughter what was her highlight of the trip? She said, “Kansas”. No lie!
- Bryce Mountain Resort, VA: On a day-trip with my four children I somehow found myself alone on a chairlift at mid-day. At the strike of noon the bells from the slopeside Our Lady of the Shenandoah Church chimed a nice rendition of the 19th century folk song Oh Shenandoah. It was January 2007 at the time of my Mom’s birthday, her first birthday since passing after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. She loved that kind of music right up to the end and took me skiing at Bryce many times when I was a boy. It wasn’t the heavily falling snow that caused my eyes to water on that chairlift ride.
- It looks like my wife Kathy is phasing out of downhill skiing. We’ve both recently crossed the big 6-0 threshold and never the diehard, she’s worried about injuries. She was a magnificent “ski enabler” for myself and the kids and still enjoys travelling with us to some of the larger and more diverse ski resorts, but hasn’t made turns herself in several years. However, she’s still game for cross-country skiing and we have the gear. I expect to get more into the slide and glide form of skiing in my retirement years when we can perhaps gain extended access to everyday snowpack.
My family and I are practicing Catholics. I don’t usually write about it, but if our ski trips encompass a weekend it’s likely we attended Sunday Mass somewhere in the mountains. You wouldn’t believe the array of fascinating worship experiences this has entailed, for example:
- a rollicking gospel choir of visiting Dartmouth University students commemorating African-American History month in February 2001 at a tiny church in sedate Woodstock, VT
- temperatures so cool inside an ancient, ornate little church in the heart of Salzburg, Austria in February 2003 that when I dipped my hand in the holy water font it was frozen like a brick
- Easter Sunday services in the Basilica of Notre Dame in Quebec City with Cardinal Marc Ouellet in March 2008. Elegantly celebrated entirely in French, the Mass was further enhanced by a magnificent children’s choir
- a ski trip I led of youths from my church to Bryce Mountain Resort in 2004 that included our skiing parish priest who celebrated Mass for us after the ski session at the slopeside Our Lady of the Shenandoah church.
- a Sunday Mass at Holy Name Catholic Church on a trip to Steamboat, CO on the Feast of the Epiphany in January 2012 when approximately 25 local children from ages 3-10 (probably every one a little ski ripper) staged a Christmas Pageant re-enacting the Nativity that was so cute it moved me to tears.
- a 2005 trip returning to Canaan Valley Ski Area for the first time in some years when our family made a very nostalgic visit to little St. Thomas Church in nearby Thomas, WV. The last time my wife and I had been in that church was 1980 as a dating couple on a Catholic singles group ski trip. The pastor of St. Thomas at that time greeted us in a heavy Eastern European accent and predicted we might have a lasting relationship together.
Trends and Changes in 15 Years
- The internet: you’re doing well to tap into a site like DCSki for info on deals, resorts, gear, instruction, travel advice, etc. You have a world of cyber ski buddies now.
- Tree skiing: Glades are offered at an increasing number of ski areas. They’re more interesting than groomers and less punishing than moguls provided you don’t hit a tree.
- Quivers: there is a ski now for every type of terrain and conditions including rockered skis with both tip and tail angled upwards for float in deep snow. Some people routinely swap between about four pairs depending on the situation. However, you can still have a blast with one pair 95% of the time.
- Snowmaking is better than ever, with many mid-Atlantic areas moving to automated systems where everything is monitored and initiated at the touch of a computer screen.
- Liftopia and Multi-area tickets: online advance purchase of discounted lift tickets is widespread now, as are RFID lift passes. There has also been an expansion of ski area alliances and/or reciprocity with one season pass allowing access to multiple mountains.
- Helmets: you’re in the minority now if you don’t wear one and many ski area rental shops require one when renting skis/boards.
- Miscellaneous: Gore-Tex/technical clothing, terrain parks, and high speed lifts are de rigueur these days.
- personal electronic devices: at some places every other person you ride a chair with is plugged-in with phones, iPods, GPS, intercoms,etc., same for helmet cams and other electronic devices designed to enhance your onslope experience, but sometimes detract from it. I’m among the guilty although I still always make time to gab with fellow passengers on a ski lift.
- I’m a little troubled by reports of static growth in skiing/snowboarding. Hopefully, our technology driven culture won’t lead to a population of mouse clicking couch potatoes and a downward spiral in the popularity of this great form of outdoor recreation we enjoy. All I can say is that when it comes to trail conditions, terrain options, lift infrastructure, season length, ski equipment, and ski area accessibility THESE are the good old days! Get out and ski or ride. It’s something you can start with your grandparents and finish with your grandkids:-)
As time has gone on Scott Smith’s tireless efforts to keep DCSki current, professional, and informative have earned notice around the ski world. I’ve piggybacked on his credibility and it’s allowed me to build a small reputation for myself. In case you were wondering, I do get complementary stuff like lift tickets and lunches from time to time for my journalist efforts, but no monetary compensation and a great many of my trip reports or forum posts refer to ski experiences where I paid my way like everyone else or utilized discounts available to the general public. This makes me very sensitive to prices and what constitutes a good value for the regular skiing populace. Maybe the coolest freebie I get is the rare occasion when a major ski area assigns a guide or host to show me around their mountain for a few hours. That is a huge plus for my ability to see the good stuff and report on it. It can be daunting to get a meaningful impression of a giant ski area when it’s your first and only day skiing it.
I think I am beginning to see the light at the end of the DC worker bee tunnel. I’m not sure what the future holds, but if/when retirement comes I hope to get more snow time and a bigger slice of the mountain life style. I caught the ski bug early and at this stage I’d like nothing better than to be a geezer ski bum and interwebz stokemeister.
So what really moves me to keep snapping photos and writing trip reports? It adds extra meaning to my ski experiences. After nearly 50 years on the slopes it’s no longer about how good I can ski or how many vertical feet I can log. It’s about having a good time and showing others how to have a good time. With that thought I’d like to close by thanking the DCSki readership, my family, and Scott Smith. 15 years went by in a flash. My how time flies when you’re having fun!