Sunday, February 04, 2007


Lots of things have gone on over the past couple months, but I've been too busy either doing those things or teaching to take a chance to write about them. This weekend wasn't supposed to be long, but we had been planning for a long time to make it a vacation anyway, and then lo and behold on Thursday afternoon it was announced that school would be cancelled for Friday due to the cold conditions, so I got out of town and towards the ski slopes on Friday morning.

A big group of us rented a few cabins in various places near Terry Peak, the primier mountain in South Dakota, and supposedly one of the best east of the Rockies. I was considering just relaxing around the house instead of skiing myself, since I haven't done it in ten years or so, but as we drove up the mountain to our cabin--which was about five minutes from one of the lifts--it was pretty clear to me that that wasn't an option.

I was sort of a mess when I first arrived. As everyone else headed to the lodge, I had to drive back down into town to pick up some cheap snow pants in order to top off my rag-tag assemblage of winter gear. When I came back I was very lost as to how to go about getting started. Luckily, though, a second group of SkiFAers arrived soon after. I had bought a beginner pass, which limited me to just two short green runs, but a few of the new arrivals had paid only a little more for an all-access pass and a ski lesson, so I decided to jump on that.

At the bottom of the trail map, there was a statement about how the slope rating system is relative, and even if you have been on a black diamond somewhere else, you may not be prepared for Terry Peak's black diamonds. I had never been on a black diamond before. As I rode up the lift to the top of the beginner's run, it was clear to me that what passed for a green run here would definently be at least a blue run at the dinky slope I had skiied on ten years earlier in Connecticut. But I decided to throw myself into it, and after one of my companions headed down the hill, I shrugged and followed. Of course, I didn't stop to think long enough that some kind of turns might be a good idea, so I basically tore down the slope and full speed, with nothing to slow me down--and no way to control myself--until I ran off the edge of the slope and into the trees. At this point I was also drenched in sweat. It turned out that the six or so layers I was wearing were more than enough to withstand the sub-zero temperatures. So I had to go inside and shed some clothes before going for another more controlled run.

After a couple runs on the beginner slopes I was pretty glad I hadn't stuck with the beginner pass, because the same two runs would've have gotten very boring pretty quickly. A few of us more novice skiiers tried out some of the shorter blue runs and I started to get into the groove of things. Once we had made it from the top of the mountain to the bottom, we rode back up and decided to take a long, winding green trail down. The only problem was that near the bottom the green trail was blocked off, and our only way to the bottom was on a black diamond called "Holy Terror." Quick learning, I guess, and it was about to get quicker.

After having made it up and down the mountain, Ryan (a longtime snowboarder, first time skiier) and I felt pretty comfortable with the way things were going. When we showed up for our lesson, we told our instructor that we didn't figure that the "first time on skis" lesson was really going to be very fun for us, to which Ted (our instructor) happily said, "Great! Well let's just go skiing then!" He took us to the top of the beginner slope, showed us some exercises to help us get comfortable on our skis, and then we did one run down to see how our wedge turns looked. He was happy enough with that, and started to give some instructions about turning with your skis parallel, most of which I didn't follow. We did a couple easy to moderate runs working on some basically skills. We rode to the top of the mountain. And then he says, "Okay, let's do Holy Terror." I'm skiing for the first time in tens years, I've never skiied a black diamond before, and he wants me doing one half an hour into my first lesson? But he was the boss, so we did it. Ryan was pretty controlled, but I was on my ass about every five feet. But I made it. When we got to the bottom Ted remarked that slopes don't get much steeper than that, and that we had done pretty well on it. I don't think I believed him on either count. The lesson continued, we kept skiing some of the steeper runs, and I kept falling. But I definently felt myself improving. By the end of the lesson, though, I was shot, just sore all over. I tried to a couple more mellow runs on my own, but I was exhausted and it had gotten very icy, and even those beginner slopes I had started the day with started to look daunting again. So I packed it in half an hour early, waited for some of the more committed skiiers to come in just as they were shutting down the slopes.

After a round at the lodge bar, we headed back to the cabin and I made a move straight for the hot tub. Nothing beats soaking in an outdoor hot tub when it's zero degrees out and you have been skiing all day. The only problem comes when you are done soaking and you need to put the cover back on the hot tub, so you're standing there barefoot and shirtless and soaking wet, and it's still zero degrees. But it was all worth it.

After a delicious dinner, courtesy of Kate, we took Ted the ski instructor's tip that we head into Lead to check out a bluegrass band at the Howlin' Wolf. I was somehow picturing a bar that was bigger than my kitchen, but basically the whole place was 12 feet by 12 feet, with a bar, a stage, and a small scattering of seating packed in. The band (Oakhurst) was sweet, throwing in some Wilco and MC5 covers, and the plywood floors were perfect for cowboy boot stompin' dancing. Sometimes on weekends like this I feel like this year's going by too fast, and I hardly have had a chance to hang out with everyone. And then Sunday comes around and summer starts looking pretty good again.

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