Should Off The Wall be Groomed?
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johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
July 6, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
On a recent summer hike up the Salamander slope at Timberline, I stopped and gazed at OFF THE WALL. Installing snowmaking on that trail was a fabulous idea. But by the end of last season, the moguls (or whatever you call them) on that trail got so big that if you misjudged one, you could end up becoming a flying squirrel. I certainly enjoyed the challenge that OTW offered but it occurred to me that maybe Timberline should groom that trail next year, but let the moguls grow on THE DROP. Now before everyone jumps on me, listen to my reasoning. [Wink]

We don't have a lot of steep, groomed terrain here in the Mid-Atlantic. Most truly steep terrain is reserved for bump terrain. Many of us, however, want to ski steep groomers similar to what exists out west and in the Alps. Steep groomers also are great for racers trying to hone their skills for tougher courses. Finally, boarders will be able to take more advantage of a steep groomer than a mogul run. It will really allow them to carve BIG lines and play on steep terrain that is not shaped like a half pipe.

Currently, THE DROP and OTW have very similar terrain-the main difference is that OTW opens earlier in the season due to snowmaking. Generally speaking, the same people ski both trails, choosing one over the other based more on snow conditions than terrain. If Timberline groomed OTW, that terrain would be skiable to a much larger group of skiers and provide a great transition slope from WHITE LIGHTNING to THE DROP. It would be a genuine black diamond as opposed to WHITE LIGHTNING and THUNDER STRUCK, which in my opinion should be reclassified as blue trails.

Am I crazy or does this idea make sense? Those who want moguls would still be able to ski THE DROP but OTW would become a steep, groomer.
jimmy
July 6, 2004
Member since 03/5/2004
2,650 posts
John,

I skied OTW for the first time this year. It was the first time I've had butterflies since my first time down Lower Shay's a couple years ago. I agree that it would be a good idea for one or the other to be groomed but I still think the groomer should be marked expert only.

I also wonder why part of White Lightning can't be left bumped up, maybe on skier's left where the trail widens out. The Drop is no place to learn to ski moguls.

Jimmy

PS I've always enjoyed hiking down Salamander more than up.
JohnL
July 6, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Should Off The Wall be groomed? Nope. Very bad idea. (Sorry John.)

  • Upper White Lightning and Uppper Thunderstruck are legitimate black diamond groomers. I think both trails are among the stronger features of T-Line. Name a significantly steeper groomed run in the US - Olympic/World Cup downhill courses excluded.
  • Off The Wall and The Drop are drastically different trails. IMHO, The Drop is basically a worthless trail. It is not really steep, it is cut pretty wide, has very little vertical and has very little terrain variation. OTW is much narrower, has a dog leg at the bottom and has a bit more terrain variation. The thing that really made OTW interesting last season was the terrain features added by snowmaking. Otherwise, it's half the trail it is.
  • I don't think OTW is really any steeper than the top of White Lightning. The steepest section of OTW may be, but it is only a couple of high speed turns long. It's a lot more "ungroomed" turns long.
  • OTW is too short, too narrow and has a potentially dangerous dog leg at the bottom of its steepest section for a groomed run in the Mid-Atlantic. Groomed runs, even if they are steep, discourage very few skiers compared to ungroomed runs. I predict a lot of nasty wipeouts into the woods/into other sliders and lots of sliders entering Sally at high speed if OTW is groomed.
  • A lot more skiers of dubious ability will be tempted to enter Cherry Bowl.
  • Timberline's toughest marked trail would be significantly easier than the toughest trails at Whitetail, Liberty, Roundtop, Snowshoe, Blue Knob and scores of other Mid-Atlantic areas. Great if T-Line wants to wussify it's slopes, bad otherwise.
  • Unless the infrastructure is significantly upgraded (very doubtful), Timberline is in the market niche of "rustic, inexpensive and old-time/challenging." One weakness in attracting harder-core/advanced sliders is that T-Line really doesn't have particularly challenging slopes, even compared to other Mid-Atlantic areas (outside of Cherry Bowl which is technically off-limits.) Making its toughest trail easier hurts T-Line with this market niche.
canaanman
July 7, 2004
Member since 03/5/2004
358 posts
I have to agree with JohnL on this one. I would much rather see Off-The-Wall left as it is, though, I wouldn't mind levelling-out some of those massive snowmaking whales on the trail. I think the only grooming that should be done on OTW is to prepare it for the season, smooth out the snowmaking mounds and spread the snow evenly. Of course, then again I wouldn't mind if they'd build one huge booter (think step-down) where the trail begins to get its steepest pitch... think of the air and injuries you could get (i bet local hospitals would sponsor it). Then slap a big quarterpipe on the dogleg.

OTW has serious potential to be a terrain park as well, then I'm wondering if they could sanction Cherry Bowl as one, too. There's plenty of tree jibs to be had in the Bowl. Big ones too.

But back onto the grooming issue, i think grooming it would entice more inexperienced skiers down its slope, and if you fall on Off-The-Wall you're done if it's groomed. Sometimes you learn that the hard way, looking down a perfectly groomed bowl 750 vertical feet long on the side of Mt. Hood. But I think grooming OTW would take out alot of its character. I love it when it starts snowing and the powder builds up between the moguls and starts filling other areas in. I don't care when its bulletproof, you'll always see me riding it with a smile.

But yes, perhaps with the way it was maintained last season, Timberline should declare OTW and Cherry Bowl a freestyle terrain area, you go in at your own risk. Oh, and if you ever get the chance this summer, bike up to mid-station and ride the trail down through pearly glades. It's steeper than you'd think...
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warren
July 7, 2004
Member since 07/31/2003
485 posts
John,
If you go out west to Utah, Montana, Whistler, etc. There are many steep black slopes that make Thunderstruck and White-Lightning look like the blues that they really are. At Solitude in Utah, there is a trail called Challenger that is typically groomed that starts out pretty steep and keeps rolling off even steeper! [Eek!] This is just one example off the top of my head. [Smile]

-Warren-
jimmy
July 7, 2004
Member since 03/5/2004
2,650 posts
"...WHITE LIGHTNING and THUNDER STRUCK, which in my opinion should be reclassified as blue trails." johnfmh

"Upper White Lightning and Uppper Thunderstruck are legitimate black diamond groomers." JohnL

[Confused] I'm sure this topic has been discussed to death here, but obviously not resolved. Trail markings are relative to the resort you're at but what are the minimum requirements to qualify as a "dcski" black diamond groomer?

Jimmy
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
July 7, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
Jimmy is right about trail markings-they are established by individual resorts and are relative to that resort. The ski industry desperately needs a set of uniform standards for trail markings but it will never happen because it will make some resorts look too easy. [Frown]

Blue trails at some New England venues like Stowe are much more challenging than the blacks at Timberline. The double fall line on the first big turn on Perry Merrill is a good example. But in defense of Timberline, their blacks are steep enough, and long enough to be enjoyable for most advanced skiers. They are also excellent for racecourses.

To me, OTW is much steeper than Upper White Lightning. Snowcats might even have to winch down it to properly groom the slope.

Canaanman argues that the slope should only be groomed once: just after the snow mounds are made. Thereafter, it should be allowed to bump up. This approach would eliminate the huge mounds we saw last year on the dogleg part of the trail, and make the trail a tad safer. I think I am leaning towards his approach.

JohnL feels it should never be groomed because it is the big draw for experts. Experts are a small fraction of the skiing public at Timberline. The big demographic group at Timberline is church groups from the SOUTH and most skiers in these groups are fairly new to the sport.

With that being said, it is always the upper level skiers in those church groups who have the most say over what mountain the group chooses to go to. The same rule often holds true with families-the experts in the group often pick the resort visited because their terrain demands are the highest. So JohnL is basically correct in arguing that Timberline needs to protect its expert niche.

But back to the issue at hand....

Both of you feel that an ungroomed OTW keeps beginners away. That, I'm afraid is false logic. I can't tell you how many beginners I've seen giving up and walking down that slope. For some reason, teenage beginners will attempt double black terrain no matter how many signs the resort puts in front of the trail. I call it "evolution in action."

I agree with both of you, however, that a groomed version of OTW might lead to more accidents because of speed and that tricky dogleg at the end. It's for this reason that I tend to side with Canaanman's view that the trail should be groomed just once. For some reason, the worst accidents at ski resorts occur on the groomers: high speed and lots of skier traffic are probably the reason why.
JohnL
July 7, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Should Off the Wall be groomed? Yes, a few times during the winter to smooth out excessive terrain features, spread out the snow and otherwise maintain the trail. The Timberline snowmakers know better than me how often to do this.

Should Off the Wall be converted to a groomed run? Definitely not for the reasons I've stated before. I interpreted the later to be the intent of the original question.

I'm not advocating converting all of Timberline (or any ski area) into an ungroomed expert's paradise; rather, I think every area should keep a small fraction of its trails as challenging as possible. Given the size of most Mid-Atlantic areas, 1-2 really tough trails is usually a good balance between the small fraction of more advanced skiers and the intermediate/beginner skiing masses.
JohnL
July 7, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
quote:
Trail markings are relative to the resort you're at but what are the minimum requirements to qualify as a "dcski" black diamond groomer?

Jimmy, I was using my own "absolute internal ranking scale" based on skiing 50+ ski areas in North America; from very small local areas in Southern New England that would make the Mid-Atlantic areas seem huge to the classic big Mountains such as Squaw, Jackson, Whistler/Blackcomb, Alta/Snowbird, etc. (People can certainly argue with my own ranking scale since it is subjective.) While the blacks at many Mid-Atlantic ski areas suffer from "grade inflation", Upper White Lightning, and to a lesser extent, Upper Thunderstruck, very much hold their own to any groomed black diamond in North America. The only thing Upper White Lightning might be missing would be a bit more terrain variation and some turns in the trail. It is certainly steep enough and long enough to be considered a legitimate black diamond in my book.

(One could also argue that any trail which is groomed regularly should not be considered a black diamond, but rather a double blue. The skiing of many "experts" really falls apart when they try to ski the ungroomed.)

I don't think that Perry Merrill or Gondolier @ Stowe are any harder than White Lightning. Perry Merrill does have one tougher dogleg at the top (I don't recall it being a double fall line but I do recall it being crowded and often bumped up due to skier traffic), but that is only one small section of a very, very long trail. The two Stowe trails may be "underated" only because they are the easiest runs down Stowe's most popular lift. If the gondola only served black diamonds, that would be a bit of a PR nightmare.

It's been a while since I've skied Solitude, and I don't recall the Challenger trail in particular. However, I don't recall any particularly tough trails off the Eagle Express lift which services Challenger. From my recollection, the toughest trails off that lift are the blue bowls; they aren't steep but due to sun exposure there can be some very tricky snow in there.

As for Whistler/Blackcomb, the only steep groomed black I can find on the map is The Dave Murray Downhill. From memory, it's not any steeper than Upper White Lightning. The trails that remind me most of White Lightning are the Saddle (off Whistler peak chair) and the groomer down the Glacier Express Chair in Blackcomb. They are blue and double-blue respectively, mostly because they are by far the easiest way down the respective chairs. The groomers at W/B aren't really all that steep, but the ungroomed blacks certainly are.
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
July 7, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
JohnL

quote:
The skiing of many "experts" really falls apart when they try to ski the ungroomed.
YES! YES! YES! and I think that's a good reason to have a few ungrooomed or lighly groomed runs at each Mid-Atlantic resort. [Cool]
jimmy
July 7, 2004
Member since 03/5/2004
2,650 posts
Thanks JohnL for clearing that up.

My only recent trip outside mid-atlantic was Mount Snow VT. Spent the good part of a day on NorthFace? skiing slopes and the liftline and that area reminded me a lot of Timberline. I didn't think it was any steeper but the contour was more interesting. We also spent alot of time cruising exhibition. My impression of Mt. Snow was 7 Springs stacked on top of 7 Springs with Timberline tacked onto the side.

Should OTW be groomed? I like the once in a while approach the more I think about it.

BTW ski guy, we're receiving some "fetal snow" here today.
wgo
July 7, 2004
Member since 02/10/2004
1,261 posts
I agree that there is a need for ungroomed slopes here in the mid-atlantic, but can someone please do something about the ice? [Wink]
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
July 7, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
Hey ski_guy_59:

Only 5 months left. [Wink]
canaanman
July 7, 2004
Member since 03/5/2004
358 posts
Now, I never suggested they should get rid of the rollers at the bottom of Off The Wall... those were very nice feeling, especially on a board, but smoothing out the cliff drop section would've been a benefit for MOST people. Of course, I'm not like most people, I had to try to jump off them. Spring slush to the rescue again. I did inquire if they would groom the snow out below that last whale bump at the end of the season so we'd have a large man-made 'cliff' to drop. But I guess that probably was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

I didn't run into one groomed black or double-black diamond in Utah last spring. Not one.
ski_guy_59
July 8, 2004
Member since 11/9/2001
221 posts
John, I loved your "evolution in action" line. A large portion of the mid-atlantic skier demographic is church groups. I promise you that 95% of the teenage boys in those groups will ski anything just to brag to their buddies. By skiing, I mean walking or rolling down, hopefully avoiding the trees on the way. I would be an advocate for grooming several times during the season.

Bump runs are great - I really enjoy them. The burning sensation in my legs at the bottom feels like nothing else I've encountered so far. However, wouldn't it be a nice surprise every once in a while for skiiers like canaanman, who ski the resort very frequently, to wake up to a groomed run? First tracks would be fantastic!

I can picture the high speed s-shaped carves down the slope into a nice quarter pipe turn to the finish!

BTW, is it snowing yet?
JohnL
July 8, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
I liked both the rollers at the bottom and the "cliff drop" sections in the middle. The only terrain features that were sketchy were the two or three "teeth" sticking up near some "cliff drops." I stayed off of them.

During the one weekend I skied T-Line last year, OTW was very, very firm. I caught minimal air of the "cliff drops", but had a blast skiing straight down them with some quick turns on the downside face or at the bottom. With soft spring snow or some fresh powder, those drops must have been a blast. The drops were only in the center of the trail, so if you didn't want to tackle them, you could ski the sides (which one of my buds did.)

cananaanman, did you ever try launching off the first roll on the bottom and landing on the back side of the second roll? The conditions were too firm for me to try that, but if the snow was a bit softer (and not much slower), it looked doable. Or at least tryable.
ski_guy_59
July 8, 2004
Member since 11/9/2001
221 posts
Only five months left! It's too hot here in Florida. I think my first trip will be to NC a few days after Christmas. Wanna see something cool? www.jarrettbaker.com
Denis - DCSki Supporter
July 12, 2004
Member since 07/12/2004
2,170 posts
I had a lot of fun on OTW just the way it was last year. I really like that they installed snowmaking there and I like the effect of leaving the whales in place. It creates a different effect than bumps that are allowed to grow on a smoothed slope. This was something more or less unique in the DC area and I would like to see T'line management keep it that way. The Drop grows nice conventional bumps and if there is a desire for a steep groomed slope, half of the Drop can be left groomed. In the past they have groomed a lane on the skier's right.

Much of T'line is an invitation to speed and it seems to me that a lot of serious injuries occur there. I don't know if it is the clientele or the slopes. The woods on the skier's left of the Thunderstruck dogleg catch a lot of people who wipe out at speed on groomed hardpacked snow. I don't think it would be a good idea to set up a similar situation on OTW. Let's leave it as it was this year.
jimmy
July 12, 2004
Member since 03/5/2004
2,650 posts
johnfmh wrote...."Both of you feel that an ungroomed OTW keeps beginners away. That, I'm afraid is false logic. I can't tell you how many beginners I've seen giving up and walking down that slope. For some reason, teenage beginners will attempt double black terrain no matter how many signs the resort puts in front of the trail. I call it "evolution in action."

Wonder if they took Liberty's approach and banned rental ski's from certain slopes? I'd never seen this before and thought it funny at first but hhe more I thought about it the more sense it made.
jimmy
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
July 12, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
Quote:

johnfmh wrote...."Both of you feel that an ungroomed OTW keeps beginners away. That, I'm afraid is false logic. I can't tell you how many beginners I've seen giving up and walking down that slope. For some reason, teenage beginners will attempt double black terrain no matter how many signs the resort puts in front of the trail. I call it "evolution in action."

Wonder if they took Liberty's approach and banned rental ski's from certain slopes? I'd never seen this before and thought it funny at first but hhe more I thought about it the more sense it made.
jimmy




This would be hard at Timberline because many people rent from Ski Barn or even the DC area ski places.

Also, I think that is a stupid policy. Even experts occasionally rent skis: people who are not local to the area.

In Europe, almost everyone rents and you can get everything from beginner skis to this season's top of the line models. The idea that only newbies rent is ridiculous.
JohnL
July 12, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
I think Jimmy meant rentals from the ski areas themselves, which seem to be pretty easy to identify and are low-end skis (at least the rentals I've seen.) I agree that banning all rentals on certain slopes would be a bad/impractical idea.

Despite any reasonable degree of signs, policies and enforcement actions, stupid people are going to do stupid things. You can't stop it, so just sit back and let Darwinism rule. (I see more foolish stuff by "adults" on the Beltway and other local roads than I see on the slopes.)
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