07 January 2007

Ski Day 8: Waterlogged Training @ Ski Bowl

No photos today - too busy, and the weather was miserable. I should have taken a shot of the road in Government Camp - it was pretty snowy and made for a challenging drive without chains. I didn't chain up because Hwy 26 was in good shape until near the turn. I did chain up at the Patrol building, then drove over to Ski Bowl East.

It was a snow/rain mix at the Patrol building, and kind of snowing over at the Bowl. Looked for a while like it might clear up, but it didn't. The snow was heavy wet snow, a mushy version of the leftovers from what was described to me by John H, one of our coaches, as a perfect day yesterday. "Cascade Cement" was the term used. The weather didn't really get any better throughout the day. The snow level wavered around mid-mountain for the most part, and it was raining below that. We were all pretty soaked by the end of the day.

I volunteered to get in the handles first. I was sort of volunteered to take the sled up the Cascade chair, however, by virtue of my having done several sled uploads before. First run in the handles was a loaded sled, with Michael (seen here tail-toping) as my cargo and OEC classmate and snowboarder Raphe as my tail-gunner. I got to pick my 'crew' and wanted a snowboarder on the tail-rope in case things got dicey. I didn't think they would, but never having run sleds in the kind of heavy crap snow we had today, I didn't want to take any chances right out of the gate.

We went down Challenger (a black-diamond, reasonably steep) over off the Cascade chair, and trainer Joe wanted me to take the sled right over a rather steep initial drop-off from the flat area at the top of the run. He knew I could handle the sled okay, and with my choice of a boarder on tail-rope, he felt it was a decent initial challenge. So, I checked to make sure Raphe was ready, eased the nose of the sled close to the drop, engaged the chain-brake, and off we went into the wet sloppy snow.

The first drop wasn't bad at all, due in large part to Raphe's work on the tail rope. We ran the sled about halfway down, making a few edge transitions and really challenging the choppy wet mush. We got into some really choppy stuff and ran fine until Joe had us stop and change 'drivers' to give someone else a chance. A pretty interesting, if brief, warmup. We were using one of the heavier, sluggish sleds, called a Cascade.

I'm telling y'all right now, I am not a big fan of the Cascade sleds. If I hit the lottery big-time, I will spend some of it to replace as many of those things as I can afford to with the lighter and easier-to-handle Clippers. Aaaaaanyway...

We took the sled all the way over to the Upper Bowl chair, dropped it off, and then it was decision time. Our coaches asked if we wanted to free-ski or if we wanted to run sleds.

No contest for me. I can free-ski any old time, but I went up there for sled training. Michael and OEC classmate Rodger also wanted to run sleds, so they grouped us with trainer John H to go drag a Clipper around. John asked where we wanted to go first, and I thought about suggesting Calamity first, since it was one of the more challenging and choppy runs on the upper bowl. I decided to hit Radical instead, which is a nice steep black-diamond run as well, but appeared to have been groomed. With Rodger in the sled and Michael as my tail-gunner, we headed on down Radical. I was doing well, no hiccups, comfortable in the handles, making good transitions, communicating well with Michael. I'm getting the hang of this.

Thanks to the 32 or so years of skiing, and all the racing training, I have solid technical fundamentals on skis, so mastering the separation of the upper and lower body, reading the fall line, edge control, weight control, tip/tail pressure, and all the rest of the ski-control work are things I don't really have to focus on. I can think more about feathering the chain brake, selecting a good route down the hill, and communicating with my tail-gunner.

We switched off, and Michael was running smoothly for a bit, but lost control a couple times trying to make the edge transitions. Fortunately, I had some experience with a (nearly) driverless sled, thanks to a run with training director JG back in December, so I was able to arrest the slide and hold the sled while Michael got back in the handles. After a little bit of 'what went wrong and how to fix it' chatter, he was going again and doing nicely.

We did a run over on Multorpor as well, this time with me as the cargo, and I think Rodger and Michael did a fine job taking me down the hill. They both need to work on upper/lower body separation, but can handle the sled okay.

After lunch, we met up at the top of the upper bowl and took another trip down Radical, this time with Rodger at the helm. He did a pretty good job, too, but with a few minor hiccups. The snow seemed heavier and wetter than earlier, so it was obviously more challenging. After that, we uploaded and did in fact run one over on Upper Bob Strand's DH and down to Calamity.

Anyone who's skied the upper bowl and knows those runs knows they're pretty steep and often bumpy. Today, the bumps were pretty soft, but that doesn't make it easy. Michael wanted first crack at it, so I volunteered to tail-rope. He did a decent job, but kept traversing the sled across the trail, which is actually kind of a pain for the tail-gunner, what with having to stay directly up the fall line from the tail of the sled so it doesn't 'wash out'.

We switched off and I got to take 'er the rest of the way down upper Bob Strand's and to the top of Calamity, where we switched off again. This time, Rodger was in the handles, and although it was my turn to be cargo, Rodger asked for a 'more experienced tail-roper'. He wasn't trying to slight Michael with that, and thankfully he didn't take it that way. John commended both of them on that, for making a good safety decision. I thought John would take the tail, but I stepped up anyway, figuring if I could handle upper Bob Strand's as well as halting the sled when Michael bailed over on Radical, I could handle this.

John was cool with it, as by this time he was very comfortable with how I was handling the sled both in the handles and on the tail-rope. Off we went, and while Rodger struggled a little, he never lost control of the sled and chose a pretty good route. About halfway down, he got fatigued - no surprise as he'd trained Saturday as well and admitted he would be pretty beat by the afternoon - so we switched back and I took the sled the rest of the way over to the bottom of the Multorpor chair. So basically, I had either driven or tail-roped all the way from the top of the bowl to the bottom.

I was pretty beat after that, and thankfully Jim (the head of the pro patrol) had a snowmobile and took the sled the rest of the way to the Cascade lift.

Since the upper bowl chair and Cascade had stopped running while we were coming down Calamity, we spent the rest of the day running slideslipping drills over on the Multorpor chair, to give Rodger and Michael some more work outside the handles trying to master the upper/lower body separation they'd been struggling with. They really made some good progress. Hopefully it will translate to success in the handles. I think it will. They're both pretty good skiers and seem to soak things up well.

I did the drills, too, since you can never have enough practice. John called me a showoff, which seemed to me a compliment of pretty high order. But, as I've said before, I've been skiing an awful long time - I'd better be good at it. John also called me an "animal" and a "gorilla" today, both complimentary of my strength as a skier. At 5'7"/178, I can say with absolute certainty I've never been called a gorilla before.

Anyway, we wrapped things up when the night crew took over and relieved us, so off to the Palace for de-briefing and a trudge through the lot to pack up the Sorento and head home. The snow in the lot and on the access road had all melted, so I de-chained and headed home, soaked. I had the foresight to bring some extra mid-layers, and changed them at lunch, but everything was soaked except for my fleece jacket which I'd left in the Palace. It's all strewn about the living room now, drying by our gas fireplace.

We'll see how stiff and sore I am in the morning. Probably skip tomorrow's workout, or just do cardio. Gotta strengthen the back and legs some more. One of the things I need to work on is letting the sled do some of the work instead of muscling it around all the time. I'll thank myself for mastering that on a high-caseload day, I'm sure of it.

And I'm beat, so it's off to bed.

You're probably tired of me tooting my own horn anyway.


brando said...

A bad day skiing beats a good day working. I guess a good day skiing would be pretty darn awesome.

Who am I kidding? I ain't never been skiing.

It sounded like a ton of fun.

Ghost Dog said...

I wouldn't even classify it as a bad day of skiing, really. Wet weather, challenging snow, sure, but any day you can come off the mountain feeling like you did good things pretty much every run is a good day in my book.

Kevin said...

As a newbie patroller in a different state, I'm kinda curious--why would you rather have a snowboarder on tail rope than a skier? (I'm assuming that the level of expertise in both riding/skiing and tail roping to be equal between the snowboarder and skier pool from which you were drawing) Skiers simply have more options for speed control, particularly when trying to match a moving object at low rates of speed (they can also provide more assistance getting across a flat, but that seems not to be an issue in your case).

Ghost Dog said...

Hi Kevin, welcome!

I'm still an apprentice myself, but at the time, I made that choice because it had been demonstrated to me that boarders have more sheer stopping power.

After the Sunday I posted about, however, I have to say I have no cause to be picky about it now. Having stopping a loaded sled from the tail twice myself that day, I can say with some confidence that as long as it's someone I'm confident with, I don't really care what's strapped to their feet.