DCSki columnist Jim Kenney continues with part three of “Ruminations of a long-time D.C. Area Skier.” Click here to read part one.
The ever-increasing excellence of snowmaking at local resorts has been one of the greatest changes I’ve enjoyed about skiing in the D.C. area over the last 30+ years. I am constantly amazed by how much snow almost all the Mid-Atlantic resorts can lay down with only about a week of below-freezing night-time temperatures.
It’s kind of a sad joke, but all my really warm ski jackets are older than the average snowboarder. I rarely have to break them out of the closet and they never wear out. A light windbreaker will usually suffice on many local ski days. (Although this winter is starting to prove something different with the chilly temperatures!)
I have skied at the Massanutten ski area, a few hours south of D.C. near Harrisonburg, VA, several times a winter for the last 15 years. During the vast majority of those visits they had no natural snow on the ground. Additionally, the daytime tempratures were often above 50 degrees, yet they routinely had 90-100% of their terrain open every January and February. It’s like that all around the region now and it has greatly improved the typical ski experience and cut down on the ice/rock/dirt factor that was much more prevalent in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.
I embrace snowboarders, just maybe not literally. Although some of them are out of control, so are most beginning teenage skiers. As recently as the mid 1980’s snowboarders were a real rarity on the slope. Now it seems like snowboarders comprise about 30-40% of all the folks out on the mountain.
The technology went through a few evolutions before it reached today’s standard. I can remember seeing a few monoskis (snowboard with ski boot compatible bindings mounted side-by-side) on local slopes in the early 1980’s. As an aging member of the static skier population I see snowboarders as the saviors of my winter sport. They are the new blood that will pay for the skiing infrastructure that I hope to continue to enjoy for a few more years. Plus, what skier doesn’t envy those boarders cutting swooping slalom turns down a powdery black diamond slope?
I tried snowboarding once two years ago. It was a humbling experience. It took me about two hours to get to the point where I was able to go 50 yards between falls. But hey, the whole feel of it, with the outdoors and the snow and everything, is not that different from skiing and I could see trying it again if I had more time and money (and if my back muscles would permit it). My ten-year-old son got the snowboard bug from playing too much Playstation Boardercross. We got him a nice, previously owned equipment package recently and he is going to switch from skiing to boarding. I expect to learn a lot more about snowboarding this winter while hanging with him.
My own personal tastes for skiing enjoyment have changed as I’ve aged. The more macho appeal of the sport like the size of the bumps, the depth of the snow, or the number of lifts has been replaced by a more general appreciation of the atmosphere, camaraderie and family time that skiing can afford. I’ve more or less abandoned heavy-duty bump runs and my thin repertoire of aerial tricks. Those long blue cruisers and groomed single black diamond runs look real good to me now. I can relate to a description I once heard from actor Jack Nicholson about his approach to skiing such runs: he called it ballroom dancing. This mellowing has meshed well with my focus in recent years on introducing my four children to the sport.
I have dabbled with cross-country skiing as far back as the early 1970’s, but it wasn’t until around 1990 that I finally bought equipment for my wife and myself. While I used the gear in Aspen once, all my other cross-country skiing has been done locally when the D.C. area gets a sufficient snowfall. Until recently I lived near some of the civil war battlefields around Fredericksburg, VA and I found them and a local golf course to be ideal places for cross-country skiing. The manicured grass of a golf course allows you to ski with a minimum of snow cover, just don’t get caught gliding over the greens or tee boxes.
I remember thinking while cross-country skiing at the Battle of the Wilderness that my perspective and mobility over Saunder’s Field might not be too different from that of a Union or Confederate cavalry soldier from 130 years before. When local natural snowfall is generous some winters I get in more cross-country than downhill ski days, but to be honest I view cross-country skiing as a scenic fitness exercise subordinate to the real fun of downhill. The popularity of cross-country skiing as an aerobic activity never seemed to boom like jogging. Obviously, in the immediate D.C. area we are seriously limited by the lack of natural snowfall.
While she is a capable intermediate skier, my lovely wife does not quite share my same level of enthusiasm for the sport. Many skiers can relate to this dilemma of spouses or significant others of different skill and interest levels. It’s caused the break-up of many immature relationships. My wife and I have developed a very grown-up solution. I bug the heck out of her until once every year or two she gets fed up with it and sends me out to ski my butt off for a week with some buddies. Aside from the periodic all-male road trips, our family ski activities usually involve several day trips or short overnighters together each winter.
I’m still brainstorming on how to pull off the big family ski-week vacation to a mega Western or European resort. It requires juggling conflicting school schedules and, of course, a serious financial outlay. A three or four day trip to Vermont may be the right compromise for our family for any non-local skiing this winter.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.