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You Can Have Your Heli

Deep thoughts
posted: 06/16/2004

All my mornings at Jackson Hole begin the same way. Powder day or not, running solo or in a posse, I swing through the Village Cafe below the tram dock and order up two breakfast burritos. If I have time, I'll sit inside the VC, toss back a double espresso, and grab a couple quick bites beforeheading out the door. More often, I pack both burritos inside my shell, scoot to catch the first car, and nibble as we climb into the sky.

At first, the burritos warm me from the outside in, their radiant heat against my chest, but as I chow through one and start on the other, their happy calories begin to stoke the internal fires. I grab a bite here and there on a chair or tram, and, if I'm not completely ravenous, I can make those two fat bricks last all day without having to refuel. They are my secret weapon, dependable and sure, that gets me through my day—they're one of the little pleasures of my time in Jackson Hole.

The ski world is made up of such small and unheralded elements, most of which fly right by without notice. Pay attention to them, though, and you realize they are an integral part of the fabric of skiing, of the personality, culture, and daily experience of the sport. I don't know if God is in the details, but without a doubt the best parts of skiing are. Here are a few that I think really matter.

Fast-skiing zones. Well, okay, no resort has actually posted a fast-skiing area, but they're there, by tacit approval of the patrol, by quirks of traffic flow, by the miracle of grooming and open space. Uncorking pure speed is one of most basic joys of skiing, and the spots on the hill where you can let 'em run are all the more valuable for how uncommon they are.

Skins that work. So rare, they stand in stark contrast to those that don't. Touring can be a nightmare when glue doesn't stick, snow gloms between skin and ski, or skins don't grip the snow and you fall on your face. Conversely, when everything's sliding smoothly, you get in a groove, climb methodically, make your kick turns perfectly, and then, seemingly instantly, you're at the top about to drop in.

Leather gloves. How do you think they came up with the phrase, "Fits like a glove? No matter how functional synthetic materials can be, they can't compare to the buttery-soft grip of a well-worn leather glove.Ski-town hotels that allow skis in their lobbies and rooms. I like to wake up in the morning, grab my skis, and go—not stand in a ski-check line. But with all the no skis signs in hotels these days, sharing a room with your skis is close to unheard-of.

Bad snow. Your dad was right: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Challenging snow conditions build character. Strike that—they build a better skier. Windblown, variably breakable, dust over crust, crud: These are the snow conditions that leave the smaller minds cursing and the more enlightened thrilled at the opportunity to learn. There's really no such thing as bad snow, only bad skiers.

Shops that know how to tune. I mean, really tune—and by hand. In a world of seasonal workers, minimum wage, and high turnover, skilled techs are a rarity—but they're worth every penny you'll pay them to hone your edges.Powder baskets. A specific tool for a specific purpose, the powder basket lets you travel through the deep like a creature made for the deep. Everything about a powder day is better with powder baskets: breaking trail, planting a pole, getting up from a fall. Think of them as the pole version of fat skis.

New school tricks. The bling-bling gangsta attitude is silly, but the best new schoolers (shoot, even the mediocre ones) leave me breathless with the imagination, athleticism, and ballsiness of their moves. The park, pipe, and trickster scene is the most exciting and important trend to hit skiing in the last 10 years.

Old-school attitude. Back in the day, you tried to do everything well. You jumped, raced, hiked for your turns, waxed your own skis, and treated the mountains like halllowed ground. You skied hard and ate simple and did it again the next day in every kind of weather. Just traveling on a couple of sticks in the snow was enough to fill you with gratitude and joy. The old school reminds us that skiing doesn't need more diversions, just more appreciation of how cool skiing really is.

Wool sweaters, half-degree bevels, well-formed moguls, custom boot liners, real wood fires, warm feet, entertaining chairlift conversations, hidden smokehouses, patrollers who ski, open boundaries, closing-day rituals, season passes, lifties who sweep snow off the chair, extra goggles...the list goes on and on. The things that matter in skiing are the quirky idiosyncrasies and unexpected delights that bring the focus back to the skiing itself. And then you can forget about them and, well, go skiing.

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