Monday, January 08, 2007

Naming ski runs

I bumped into an article on MSN as I was logging off of Hotmail about surviving a day of skiing. While it was clearly written for an adult perpetual beginner (I just had to click,) it got me thinking about the names of ski runs. I think it's kind of amusing that the beginner and high-advanced runs tend to have similar names - "Harriet's Hollow" and "Nancy's Couloir," for example, or "Meadow Run" and "Strawberry Fields." Meanwhile, intermediate runs get names like "Broken Axle" and "Sidewinder."

Of course, different resorts do this to different degrees. A ton of the runs at Sugar Bowl, the resort I pulled all those names from, are just named after people. Some resorts, on the other hand, have names written entirely by the Marketing department. One wonders, though, why the naming of runs is like that.

I think that a lot of the naming of the high-advanced stuff is descriptive. If a run or area is called "glades," it's probably something going through trees. If it's a bowl, it's called bowl. Or it might be named after the dominant terrain feature. "Sisters" is named after a group of rock outcroppings called the "sisters." At Sugar Bowl, most of the high-advanced runs are pre-existing terrain features. I'm sure that some cutting of trees has happened, but all the faces, gullies, bowls, etc. were there. So it makes sense that a run should keep the name it had when it was given a nickname by the first people to start skiing along the general path.

It seems like usually the people who are finding new lines don't feel a need to name things something intimidating. In fact, if the experience of the run is soft and cuddly (if you're really advanced,) the name is soft and cuddly too. "Sugar Bowl" does not sound like something to be scared of, but the reality is that you dive straight off a cornice and then it's steep until it levels out enough for there to be trees to crash into. Of course, if a person knows how to do cornices and steeps, the experience is that you drop a cornice, do some powder turns, cruise around in some trees, and then have to go back to the base of the lift on a run choked with beginners.

Perhaps the intermediate runs get the scary names because the intermediate skiers need them. They're skiing on something relatively flat and wide and usually groomed regularly, getting passed, catching edges, etc., and on the lift rides up they can see the advanced group down steep things and between outcroppings, darting through gullies, dropping cornices, etc. Some of the intermediates have been that way for a very long time. I think that if the run was named "turning practice" or "cool-down" or something like that, it would be a little disheartening for the people for whom it's an accomplishment. On the other hand, surviving "Railsplitter," "Stumpjumper," "Carnage Alley" or "Hail Mary" is something to be proud of.

A lot of beginners are pretty terrified of the whole thing. It wouldn't help them to name their run "Ankle Buster" or "Wrist Cracker." So "Cuddly Bear" becomes a pretty obvious choice.

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