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A Bad Day of Skiing...

First Tracks
posted: 10/03/2001

...is better than a good day of just about anything else. Take, for instance, last February 1 at Stratton, Vermont. It was the second day of a trade fair where shop rats and ski journalists demo next year's gear.

The day dawned dark -- dark as in heavy Eastern overcast, like a total solar eclipse. It was also damp -- as damp, say, as the bathroom after a hot shower. By 9:30, the humidity became visible, misting our goggles as we streaked across the open slope beneath the gondola. By 10, the humidity became palpable: Steady precip had moved in; sticky, wet snow at the top, steady rain everywhere else. By 12, wet snow fell through thick fog on the upper slopes, while a furious rain pelted the lower mountain. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Hundreds of us fair-goers happily demoed skis and boots through it all. Once we were soaked to the skin, we couldn't get moreuncomfortable, so we plunged ahead. We'd start each run from the summit, slicing through a couple inches of heavy fresh. Then the snow consistency transformed, and we'd muscle turns through gluelike mush. By run's end, we were gliding easily over silky, drenched corn. The changing snow conditions and deteriorating visibility made every run a new adventure, like driving a twisting road at night with old windshield wipers. Where else this side of Whistler can you find so many snow textures in just one run? It was practically magical.

By day's end, it was snowing top to bottom, soft and light at the summit. It was energizing and hugely satisfying, a whipped-cream finish to an oatmeal day. These memories send a chill through me even now, in the heat of summer.It doesn't get any better than that.

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