Good skiing like most things in life is all a matter of perspective. I realized this over the past weekend when skiing with my 6 year old son in a manmade blizzard on a small Midwestern hill. Perspective determines how much you enjoy the experience.
We were skiing a small hill in Southern Indiana called Paoli Peaks. The resort is located an hour northwest of Louisville and two hours south of Indianapolis. It draws heavily from nearby Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Paoli boasts 17 trails on 70 ski able acres with a mere 300 feet of vertical drop. The layout is in the typical Midwestern “upside down” fashion with lodge on the top. The trails drop off the plateau into the woods and down to the valley below. The ride back up is provided by three older triples, and a well-worn double. Oddly enough none of the lifts had a safety bar which was very unsettling when riding with my 6 year old.
The conditions were fair given the year we have all had so far. Like out East winter has been late arriving to the Midwest this year. On this bitter day the resort’s snowmakers were hurrying to make up for lost time, thus snow guns were out in force showering the hill in a fine icy powder aka “Paoli Powder.” The resort did manage have 8 out of 17 trails open. The open trails had a frozen granular base with solid coverage from side to side. Surprising given the heavy traffic there was very little ice on the trails.
The eight open trails provided at least four unique ways down. “Tenderfoot,” a long, winding green trail through the woods, saw most of the skier traffic. This journey through the woods reminded me a lot of a tamer version of Blue Knob’s “Jack Rabbit” trail. “Mind Bender,” a wide blue dropping under the main chair through the center of the trail map, was the best challenge of the open trails, providing a nice undulating pitch given the limited vertical. It was a shorter version of Roundtop’s Minuteman.
My biggest issue with the resort’s layout was that the main chair went almost into the lodge on top. There was only about of 15 feet of space at the end of the lift to disembark and head back down. Naturally, given the traffic, this area was a sheet of ice. Thus a slow lift became even slower as it stopped often so those crashed into the side of the lodge could scamper out of the way - a problem that will probably never be overcome without some serious remodeling. That said, this place is to be praised for making a go of it and providing a winter experience for those in the area.
Winter experience it was! Although winter was late in arriving, it did arrive. The harsh Midwestern Winter was in full force during our time on the slopes. The daytime high was a mere 17 degrees. The cold northwest wind was howling sideways across the hill whipping the snowmaker’s hard work all directions. Thus that “Paoli Powder” spent a good deal of time airborne before settling on the slopes. The bone chilling cold and the upside down trail design proved hardest on the true beginners skiing on flat beginner areas on top near the lodge.
However it is all a matter of perspective, because given the harsh conditions and limited terrain the slopes were packed! Especially the wind-swept beginner area. Camo outfits, Colt’s NFL jackets and the best gear from 1987 abounded. But people were out enjoying this winter day. That’s what skiing is all about!
“You can’t pick the weather” said one camo clad skier on rentals sticks. “You have to come when it is open. If you want to be a skier.”
“Yes you do,” I thought. This is their hill and this is skiing. How many of us have gotten jaded that we really don’t enjoy the experience unless conditions are full on? We need to remember that being a skier means getting out there in any conditions just because we can.
My son is new to skiing; in fact, this was his first season. However as he told me on the way home, “Dad, I AM a skier.” Yes, after a day of blowing snow, temps in the teens and lots of up and down on a short hill, “Yes, son you are.”
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.