Of snow gods and snowplows
In my youth, ski season always began in a too-hot-for-winter Texas garage: Days before every 18-hour jaunt to snow country, my dad would lovingly tune, wax and repair the entire family’s ski rigs, spending hours filing away the caked rust and grime from last season, which we kids promised to clean the previous March, but of course never did. He did this partly out of necessity, as no ski shops existed in Texan suburbia at the time. But secretly, I knew this was my father’s sacred pre-season ritual – a druidic ceremony that prepared him to become one with the powder. Through each wax-on-wax-off across the base of his Dynastars, he got closer to nirvana – and so did I. To this day, the smell of hot Swix and smoldering P-Tex candles mingling with lawnmower gasoline gets me excited like Christmas morning.My father is not alone in his pre-season preparations: Almost every dedicated skier or snowboarder allows the bum inside to carry over traditions from year to year. Some gents decide to grow a beard, Grizzly-Adams style, to weather the long winter; they’ll claim it’s about warmth, but really, there’s nothing like a coarse rug on your face to connect you to your hardy Neanderthal ancestors. One look around the Vail Daily offices is scientific proof enough for me: As the temperatures drop, the Grizzle Factor skyrockets, and somewhere the local Gilette sales rep sits weeping in a corner.Not everyone goes off the deep end, though. Most people seem to follow sensible traditions that actually might improve their on-mountain performance.”I’ll just wear my snowboarding boots all day for the first few days before I the season starts,” says Ethan St. Germain, manager of Buzz’s Ski and Snowboard shop. “I’ll wear them all day in the shop, just so I know they’re good and broken in before I get out there.”A few snow addicts cloak their rituals in normalcy, but deep in their obsessive little hearts they know the drill they must follow. It can be exciting to rock new gear on the first powder day, but sometimes only the tried and true will do.”I always ski in my old boots for the first day,” says Bryn Carey, owner of Ski Butlers. “I know the rest of my body is going to be hurting, so I need my feet to feel good.”Snow athletes focused on performance might follow rigorous training regimens, and most area gyms offer pre-ski-season fitness programs or classes. But that won’t do for Vail snowboarder Brian Hunter.”I’m not down for training, really – you just work your way up as places open; start at Loveland, then A-Basin, Copper and finally Vail,” Hunter says. “Then of course you’ve got all the jib parks in Matterhorn, and you can always start the season by picking lines through people’s yards.”In fact, Hunter has enough pre-season rituals to last him well into January. Habits range from the sartorial (“me and my buddies, we iron our handkerchiefs – you gotta keep ’em straight”) to the esoteric.”I get out my quiver (of snowboards), line them up and give them a little pep talk,” Hunter says. “It’s kind of like a mission statement…for boards.”Hunter has a friend with a menagerie of snowboarding equipment all along the walls of his basement; Hunter says he finds staring at all the equipment “calming.” Beyond the calm, though, many liken skiing to a religion, and the valley certainly has its share of the cult. Because of this, it doesn’t seem to out of place to tip the hat to a pagan deity or two…does it?”You can’t forget about Ullr, the Norse god of snow,” Hunter says. “I always wonder if he’s out there, and a few prayers now and then can’t hurt.”Hunter’s intense dedication to ski myth might seem unmatchable, but Warren Miller veteran and local pro skier Chris Anthony may top him. For someone who rips lines that could kill mere mortals, he harbors the superstitions and anxieties of a Romanian grandmother.”I refuse to ski with anyone on that first day out of fear that I might not know how to ski anymore and they will make fun of me, and I always worried about falling off the lift the first time around,” Anthony says. “And since I’m alone, I’ll ski my first run in a wedge to just get my balance back.”A skier of Anthony’s ability has the run of the mountain, but Anthony prefers to keep it light his first day out, just to be safe.”I will only ski on one run that’s groomed for the entire first day, no matter how much snow has fallen,” he says. “The reason is this: If I jump in too deep and pick up a bad habit, it’ll be with me for the rest of the season.”Anthony insists he skis a few first runs with his boots “totally unbuckled;” perhaps the man just likes an unconventional challenge to offset the groomed runs and the snowplow. But all our rituals enable us to savor the skiing experience, to tap into the childlike excitement earlier and hopefully make it last longer. This season, I resolve to start a score of illogical traditions and superstitions, and I urge everyone to do the same. Perhaps I’ll grow a beard (though my natural ability is limited) or construct an altar to Ullr or Himavat made of Fla-Vor-Ice. But before creating your tradition, heed the advice of Chris Anthony, King of winter superstition: “Basically, the idea is to set the tone for the year,” he says. “It’s a long season – do not blow your wad at the beginning.”Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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