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Groomers are for goofballs and gapers

Matt Zalaznick

Whose idea of fun is it to navigate down the middle of 8,000 wobbly, weaving skiers and snowboarders who are darting unpredictably in every direction, zipping sideways across the entire slope, hurling their poles like Zeus casting lightning bolts down upon the grovelling masses?

There are more yard-sales on the groomers than a spring Sunday in suburban St. Paul.

Groomers are nice at 8:30 in the morning when the mountain’s empty ” or if you’re a first-timer, of course ” but other than that, the corduroy’s for goofballs and gapers. That’s right ” goofballs and gapers.

Those may be stages that, to borrow a phrase from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, we all have to slog through ” and Vail and Beaver Creek’s groomers during the holidays and on most afternoons can be as chaotic as a fedayeen insurgency.

On the other hand, there’s nobody out in the trees except the marmots, a sasquatch and perhaps a family of radar-collared lynx out for a winter’s re-introduced forage. And despite what the environmentalists will tell you, there are still lots of trees to hug at most ski resorts.

The trees, about 99 percent of the time, you can have to yourself ” though, as many a great glade is seldom travelled, you should always go in the trees with a buddy ” and a helmet. A stumble that would be silly out in the groomers could turn into a disaster in the trees, even in-bounds.

Those trunks are hard and merciless, the tree wells are deep and full of snow, and there are logs just lying in ambush to take a chunk out of your freshly tuned Pocket Rockets.

The main reason to go in the trees, of course, is to impress your friends and so you can act all extreme at apres. Imagine the ego-boost and the absolutely monarchal feelings of God-given superiority flowing through you on the chairlift when, after blazing Heavy Metal trees in Blue Sky Basin or Royal Elk Glade on Grouse Mountain, some dope on the chairlift asks directions to Northwoods or Gold Dust. It’s about being hardcore and being hardcore all the time.

A slightly crazy snowboarding friend of mine, who’d really rather be surfing, used to say a day on the slopes without a suffering few bruises, without a straining a few muscles, without having to dredge yourself out from under a log or two just isn’t a day on the slopes. You might as well be doing Pilates at the gym.

OK, the reasons listed above for seeking out the trees are probably ridiculous ” except for those given by my crazy snowboarder friend. His are suitable goals.

The best reason to try the trees, however, is the challenge, because it’s always a challenge no matter how many times you charge into the woods.

What else is there to achieve on the groomers than just going as mind-boggingly fast as you can? Big deal ” you’re not in a World Cup race, you probably never will and your skis and snowboards can go speeding down the hill just fine without you.

In the trees, it’s a puzzle ” you have to pay attention, you have to plan a few turns ahead, you sometimes have to make quick decisions, you’ve got to avoid the trees and the sasquatch.

And the often-repeated old Greek saying about the glades is true: don’t look at the sasquatches, look at the spaces between the sasquatches. In trees, apply the same philosophy, just substitute trees for abominable snowmen.

Sure it sounds counter intuitive. There’s a tendency to want to keep watch on those rock-solid trees, but you’re goal, of course, is not skiing into the trees so there’s no point in looking at them.

You’re skiing through the open spaces, so pick a path and keep your eyes on it. And once you dig yourself out from the bottom of the tree well, you can brag your brains out next time you’re in a gondola car full of gapers and goofballs.


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