Sunday, March 25, 2007

Had to happen sooner or later

So after a frantic rush to the airport today, my seat got given away. Apparently JetBlue's packed with spring breakers. So what's really got me pissed is that they gave it away on the strength of some policy that they don't publicize, or at least only publicize in one of those things with the scroll buttons that nobody reads. They do publicize that you need to be at the gate ten minutes before a flight, which I was on track to do (barely.) And apparently if I had a computer with a printer and could therefore check in from home, I'd have been okay (barely.) But you have to check in at least twenty minutes before the flight. So to everyone out there who uses JetBlue: beware. They won't tell you they do this, but they will give away your seat.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Drafting fun?

I wasted all morning today playing with Sketchup, which I think will revolutionize conceptual drawing for people who aren't very good with a pencil. Like me. This is a return, more or less, to a drafting project I did at CityTech.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mt. Freestyle

In the spirit of "Why not?" I accepted my friend's invitation to hit Boreal with her last night. I don't remember when, or if, I was last there, but lately they've transformed themselves into an "All-Mountain Terrain Park." Since it was night, I was only in the lighted area, but almost the entire lighted area was devoted to jumps of varying sizes, boxes, rails, and even a staircase. It looked a little surreal sitting in the middle of a piste.

I've been exposed to a lot of different kinds of ski area culture, but this was something new. Since the entire mountain is a giant terrain park, it's populated almost exclusively by park rats. Which is not to say that there weren't some very good freestylers - there were. But for the most part, people were going down the mountain somewhat uncomfortably, falling off of boxes and wiping out landings, and generally doing what people in terrain parks do. Maybe with a little bit better etiquette - while I didn't see anyone using a spotter unless the spotter also had a handycam or camera, people were waiting long enough for the previous person to hit a jump to (hopefully) clear the landing area, even if they wiped out.

At most areas, the park rats are all about fifteen and doing their best to look like something they're not, wearing fairly expensive outerwear that their parents, who are higher on the mountain wearing fairly expensive outerwear, bought for them. Boreal's crowd is older than that - there were almost no parents in evidence, and it seemed like people drove there themselves, so about a 16-18-year-old crowd. While I'm sure that they got at least some help with their gear, people were mostly not wearing the matched outfits that have been showing up a lot lately, and the level of water resistance was a lot lower, which probably applied to the price point as well. Lots of wet butts, and a wide variety of jackets that were never designed for rain or a snow storm. I also saw a ton of season passes, which applies to most ski areas on week days, but was still interesting to me.

Someone I was talking to on a ski lift a long time ago commented that there's a popular perception of skaters being lazy, but if you look at the amount of time that they spend on their skate boards in a given week and count it the way you would work or education, the good ones are a very hard-working group. Watching these kids teaching themselves to freestyle impressed me, especially with my aversion to hitting jumps myself. There were a fair number of people already there when I arrived at six, and the area just got more crowded while I was there. It didn't look like they were taking one or two runs and then hitting the cafeteria, either - they were taking run after run, terrain feature after terrain feature, and fall after fall (actually not too many falls, more questionable landings that they somehow rescued.) I don't watch a lot of freestyle competition on TV or even play a lot of freestyle-based games, but seeing it in those contexts always makes it look easy. Seeing the amount of effort going into actually doing it gave me a lot of respect for the people who work at it, even the ones who aren't any good at it.

Of course I wasn't going to spend a chunk of my evening at Boreal without trying to hit some kickers myself. Since damaging my body in the myriad ways I've damaged it, I don't have a belief in my own invulnerability, so it's sometimes hard for me to do that sort of thing. I managed to do one of the smaller ones in the learning part of the terrain park, and caught air off some of the rollers that the kickers sit on top of. I think I've figured out why it's so disconcerting for me to do man-made jumps when I have relatively little trouble hitting the traverses and lips that appear on- and off-piste doing downhill skiing and snowboarding. In downhilling, whether on my board or my skis, my goal is to do difficult terrain with grace and beauty. To me, that means a fast, clean line with no abrupt direction changes and a minimum of rolling down the window, etc. When I hit a natural kicker or a traverse, I go from traveling steeply downhill to traveling less steeply downhill. My trajectory may take me away from the ground for a little while because the ground resumes traveling steeply downhill before I do, but I'm always traveling downhill and ultimately my path is somewhat smoother than the terrain was. The upwards part of hitting the man-made stuff is really what bothers me, although not being able to see the landing certainly doesn't help. The process of hitting a kicker seems to me to be one of gathering speed, getting launched into space, somehow changing attitude in space to match what the landing is (I think) going to be, and then hoping that I was right. With the little airs I'm accustomed to, I turn twice to bleed a little speed and make sure I'm stable, then point straight at where the ground drops away, and wait briefly to rejoin it, many feet but little time from where I left.

I've commented in the past that I should probably take a few laps through the park now and then so that I'll be better equipped to drop cornices, odd windblown shapes, and the other air-inducing objects that appear in alpine environments. After last night's experience, I'm much more ready to consider downhill and freestyle different disciplines. While they both require some comfort with air time, one much more than the other, the airs feel totally different. The skill sets are different too - pipe riders are supposed to be excellent carvers, whether on boards or skis, but for the most part, people I saw at Boreal weren't great turners, weren't working on their turns, and really didn't seem to need any more skill at turning than they already had. Downhillers, on the other hand, seem generally to consider turning almost the only skill there is. On the one hand, now I see terrain parks a little less as mini golf compared to the Pebble Beach of the mountains above and a little more as a different sport, or at least a very different aspect, and on the other hand, I'm even less interested in learning to ride them.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I could totally do that... If I could see it

So after six days at Whistler the conclusion is this... The mountain's huge, and they've got some pretty good terrain, but the weather's really sucky. I take pride in not being a person who says this - aside from rain, which I prefer not to ski in, I believe that if the weather's too nasty, it's just because the person whining is under dressed.

Whistler has a lot of fog. A frequent theme of my skiing or snowboarding there was to ride to the top of a lift serving kick-ass terrain, then follow the "easiest way down" trail, marked by green and orange discs because even the ground becomes invisible, until I could see the snow in front of me. Then I'd drop in, but because most of Whistler's better stuff is bowls, all the really interesting things would be somewhere above and behind me. On other occasions, I might start that terrain high, having established from the lift ride up that there was nothing to hit or fall off of, but then allow my inability to see to cause a failure in nerve and do kick-turns down until I could see. And I wasn't the only one - that seems to be the standard method for negotiating even the simplest terrain during these fog-outs. Not only do kick-turns still track up the beautiful new snow, they actually track it more than a series of nice, fast powder turns down whatever terrain feature it is - they're wider and dig up more snow.

Don't get me wrong. Zach and I still bagged some pretty cool stuff. On one run from Harmony Ridge, we decided to do something called McConkey's, a fairly narrow bowl with a cornice at the top that descends into the main body of the Harmony bowl. Standing on top of the cornice in the drifting fog and blowing snow, we couldn't see the run below, let alone estimate the drop. While I may alter some details when I develop the hot tub version of this story, what Zach and I did that day was to go to the side of the cornice where a rock had formed an air cushion preventing the cornice from forming and slide down to below the level of the cornice in the rock's wind shadow. We could kind of see the run from there - enough to theorize about the possibility of drops. We stood and dithered for a little while. Zach declared that you only live once and took a sideways line in - what would under normal circumstances be far too conservative an approach for him. That initial line had a very odd trajectory - he dropped at one point. He commented to me, loudly because of the storminess, that there was a small drop. Then he started doing turns down the run. Knowing about the drop, I took a very lateral line. I suppose I thought that the drop was perhaps in his route but smoother higher. Nope. Once in the main part of the run, I did a couple kick-turns and then some rather nice powder turns if I may judge my own skiing. But if we coulda seen it... I might not have jumped the cornice. In fact, probably wouldn't - it was about ten feet tall. But I definitely would have gone straight off the mini-drop we did take, and I would have been able to do powder turns right away because I would have seen where I was going.

So whine, whine, whine, moan, moan, moan. Ultimately I had a good time and bagged some pretty cool runs. But, to paraphrase my brother, that not seeing thing got pretty old.

On a side note... The good food at Whistler is really good and the other food is no worse than every other ski resort.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Couloir Not-so-Extreme

It's a couple of days into the Whistler trip and the whole family is in a random internet cafe, checking in with our "real lives" to make sure nothing is burning down or otherwise disastrous. No pictures right now, because my brother and I have been having too much fun. Also, the light hasn't been great. Except when we were having too much fun. We started on Monday. Bad visibility, questionable snow surface, but Zach and I did some good runs in the top bowls and off the Harmony ridge line (for people who really want to follow my adventures, the Whistler web site has a map.) We also did a couple of nose runs down incredibly steep pistes, stuff I wouldn't have attempted on my own on my board, even though I don't feel quite as strong on my skis, which were the weapon of choice that day.

On Tuesday, we decided to check out the Blackcomb side. It was windy, but visibility was excellent. Zach and I wanted to do either the glacier or the 7th Heaven area, but the glacier lifts opened first. The wind was so strong that it constantly renewed the glacier, so it was a relatively dense run, but still with the feel of powder turns. I found it much harder to do the traverse at the end than the run itself, which has been a theme with the re-learning skiing experience. After a couple glacier runs, Zach decided it would be a good idea to do Blowhole, which is pretty much what it sounds like, so we did that twice, and then a run through some high bowls near the glacier. Blowhole is another run I might not have attempted without him there to overcome my better judgement.

Today was a fresh day. I started on skis, because it was only about five inches, not enough for me to consider it a true powder day. I got a couple really nice turns in the smoother, less tracked stuff but as soon as Zach and I got shunted back onto the main route I decided that it was deep enough and choppy enough for me to want to be back on my more familiar equipment, so I switched and we reconnected at one for lunch. On the board, the moguls were still unpleasant but I could get through them and I had a lot more fun in the choppy snow that was left of the fresh stuff. The day culminated with a run through Couloir Extreme and a run through Jersey Cream Bowl. Zach has decided that if he can do a run, it doesn't deserve to be called "Extreme." I was proud of my descent of Jersey Cream Bowl because it had some really good powder turns and started with my first drop over a cornice angled at more than 90 degrees from the horizontal. Zach points out that I went down with my board perpendicular to the fall line and it doesn't count, but I say it still does. It just wasn't good. Tomorrow...

It's raining out down here at the village level, but with a vertical mile to play on, I think that things should rock up on the mountain.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Europeans can't be that small!?

In case anyone was waiting with bated breath, I got to do a powder day on my board and a couple runs on skis after driving back up Tuesday night. The hot water heater is having issues and I haven't solved them yet, but I think that it's going to be a lot simpler when I get back.

Once I got out of the house and threw out a guilt-inspiring amount of food, I drove down to San Francisco, loaded my skis into my mother's new bag and her and bags into the car, and we went to the airport. I think that there's actually less space on the Airbus, at least as configured for Air Canada than on American planes or the planes that Jetblue flies, which are Airbus, but a different model. Not just rubbing shoulders with the Beau Monde - also knees and elbows. Except that the real Beau Monde would all be in business class, where there are four seats to a row instead of six. Gives me a reason (aside from jumping out of helicopters in Alaska on my snowboard or some really fat skis) to want to be rich.

We flew to Vancouver, proved that skis, snowboards, and big baggage can fit into a VW Golf, and then went to my mother's friend's very nice house. It has a view of quite a lot of the city, so lots of lights. Tres cool. Canada is bilingual and I don't think it would kill me to sprinkle in some extra French.

I may not post again until after the Whistler trip. Looks like lots of fresh snow falling, so whether I'm out carving it up on the skis or the board, I think that much fun will be had. My brother and I wear the same size Tecnica Diablos, although his are a little stiffer model, so our skis are somewhat interchangeable. I'm going to get to try his powder skis, and he'll get to try my mid-fats. Zach believes that skis are superior in all conditions, powder included, although you have to have at least two pairs, because powder skis don't carve and transition as well on hardpack and the skis that do have a disturbing tendency to get stuck in powder. I don't know if I'll ever be drawn away from the dark side entirely - I really love snowboarding - but skis do seem to open a lot of possibilities that snowboards really don't.

Gearhead that I am, I'd love to be able to afford multiples of each - powder board, off-piste board, hard-boot carving board, off-piste skis, powder skis, fast groomer skis, AT skis. Perhaps some old-school powder boards with odd shapes, like a 7-foot swallowtail or something. But for now, I've got a quiver-of-one board and some all-mountain skis that I'm sure can do powder at least as well as the skinny 220s that people used to use. I promise a real post, with some learning and growth and stuff, some time soon. Especially if improving ones ski skills and descending 5000 vertical feet in the lunch/home run qualify as learning and growth.