Transcending the traverse
High & OutsideBy Scott WilloughbyMore than once I’ve heard Vail Mountain described as the world’s largest cross-country ski resort. More than 7 miles wide, it’s 5,300 acres offer a lopsided ratio of more than 11:1 horizontal to vertical (3,450 feet), and little in the realm of genuinely steep slopes comparable to its expanse of lateral traverses.Perhaps, then, the utter lack of respect for the fall line in Vail is not the visitors’ fault. He or she has been conditioned, trained if you will, to ski sideways.But that still doesn’t make it right.Traversing will forever be a part of the Vail skiing experience. With its regular crush of frenzied powder hounds hunting down the best snow and terrain, the mountain begets its own version of natural selection, pushing slower skiers and snowboarders farther away from the lift-served fall line with every tick of the clock. Like the runt of the litter scrambling for some teat, those powder-starved pups move sideways across the slopes in an effort to outflank the big dogs.Sometimes the maneuvering pays off, but all too often the overmatched visitor finds the deep snow too challenging for his or her ability level and continues to cut an irreparable gash across the formerly pristine powder. Ultimately, he or she reaches an impasse and reverses the motion, permanently destroying the fall line powder shot for dozens of skiers and snowboarders who might have made proper use if given the opportunity.The technique, or, more accurately, the glaring lack thereof, is locally known as “goating,” so named for the unsightly goat trails carved across and not down the fall line. Fine if you are a four-legged hoofed beast, but if you are a skier at one of the largest and most popular resorts in the world, it should be considered a crime against both humanity and nature.Remember, gravity isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.”Goat trails are the biggest problem on Vail Mountain,” says long-time Minturn local Chris Wade. “There are too many skiers on this mountain to waste the snow like that. People need to learn powder etiquette.””Vail should print a ‘Powder Etiquette’ code on the lift tickets right next to the ‘Skier’s Responsibility’ code,” adds Dan Mitchell, also of Minturn.Since that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, I reckon it’s my civic duty to use this very public space in an effort to educate the masses. There are several unwritten rules in the sports of skiing and snowboarding that everyone should know if we’re all going to get along out there. Not all of them will fit in this column, but here are the fundamentals: The art of the traverse Obviously, there is a time and a place for traversing. Catwalks, of which there are no shortage in Vail, are specifically designed for lateral movement. If you need to get from Patrol Headquarters to the top of Chair 17, figure out a way to do it without hacking up half of Sun Up Bowl. Take the Sleepytime catwalk all the way around, or ride the Sourdough Lift (Chair 14) and skate your lazy tush across the ridge. Maximize the vertical Please people, show some respect for the fall line. If you are skiing Earl’s Chair in Blue Sky Basin, that means ski the run to the bottom, then traverse to the chair on the catwalk. Don’t start skiing across the slope and creating “stackwalks” halfway down the hill. Preserve the powder Powder, as we all know, is meant to be skied. But there are too many of us out there these days to go abusing the privilege. No one expects you to ski across anyone else’s tracks if you can avoid it, just leave a little for the next guy. Everyone has his or her own turning style, and some of us make fewer than others. Just try to find a spot that accommodates your needs without infringing upon someone else’s. If you’re on a snowboard, that means don’t squib huge, arbitrary lines across the widest virgin powder field you can find. You ought to be able to handle crossing over the occasional ski track to do that, or hold it together tight enough in untracked to make a truly artistic expression. Learn to turn Unless you are wearing a red coat with a big white cross on it during the first week of the season, there is no reason to zigzag your turns across a beautiful bowl of untracked snow. If you can’t make the turn, ski somewhere else until you learn how. Preferably behind an instructor. That goes double for snowboarders. There’s nothing worse than heading into your favorite tree stash, only to find that some gaper has packed all out the powder after failing to graduate from the “falling leaf.” And if you can’t ride moguls, don’t. Try twice as hard If it’s a true powder day, you should be twice as tired in about half the time. That’s because you will be charging. At least you ought to be. Remember, there is a reason why you didn’t take your ski vacation in Vermont (or mover there, for that matter). Deep, soft snow is what it’s all about out here, and it’s a heckuvalot harder to hurt yourself playing in powder. But if you ever want to get any good at it, it’s going to take some effort, and maybe a risk or two. That’s where the fun is, though. If you take more satisfaction looking back up the mountain at a goat trail than the divot from your fall line faceplant, maybe you should consider Killington next season.Scott Willoughby is a local skier, snowboarder and freelance writer with dreams of opening a petting zoo in the Chair 5 maze. He can be reached at Scott_Willoughby@hotmail.com.