Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Skiing in the Hinterlands

I'm beginning a ridiculous stretch of work. I won't go into the details, but it's chock full of scheduling insanity—even for me.

It all began this morning, when I hit the road at 7:00am and headed for the Balsams. Don't get me wrong, any time spent at the Balsams is a good thing, but even this trip is crammed. I needed to get moving early if I wanted to get any skiing in, which obviously I did. I need to bust out early tomorrow morning in order to get back to Great Glen for a photo shoot. I'm going to miss the sweet Balsams AYCE breakfast. I'm not happy about this.

After braving the giant frost heaves of the Route 26, I made it to the Balsams. At one point in my drive, all radio ceased, save two stations—both French. I listened to one for about 15 seconds when the DJ said, "vous blah vous blah Patrick Swayze avec She's Like the Wind." Oh yeah.

Unfortunately, that was stuck in my head for my entire ski, but I soldiered on.

If you talk to anyone who has skied at the Balsams, they will pretty much all tell you the same story: "It's such a great system, I just wished they groomed it better." Today was no different. The grooming was random and sporadic. The good news was that pretty much everything looked like it had been groomed within 3 days or so. That being, said the skiing was still pretty good. But skiing is clearly an afterthought here, which is too bad because the trail system is fantastic. One of my favorites.

Luckily, I was able to check in when I arrived at 9:45. I changed and headed right out. To access the trails I wanted to ski, I had to walk across the parking lot and up the always icy and treacherous hill that leads pass the ice rink. (Again, skiing is an afterthought.) I negotiated the hill and arrived at the trails only to find that the bumper on my right binding was missing.

Needless to say, you can't really ski without a bumper. (The bumpers are the black pieces. They're soft rubber and act like, well, bumpers.) So, I left my skis and poles on the trail and retraced my steps back to the car—down the icy slope of doom. Luckily, I found the bumper in my ski bag after minimal searching. As I made my way back up the aforementioned slope of death, I saw the groomer coming back from grooming the trail I was about to ski. "Sweet! Freshly groomed!"... ... ... "Shit! My skis are lying across the trail!" Now I had to sprint up the ice floe of certain death to save my skis and poles. I reached the trail a couple seconds before the sporadic groomer rolled past, and I honestly don't know if the operator would have noticed them lying there helplessly. Disaster averted, I reattached my bumper and headed off.

The rest of the ski was very uneventful. Awesome, but uneventful. I didn't see a single person and everywhere I went for the first hour or so, I was the only one to have skied there today. It made the skiing slow, since there was powder in the tracks that hadn't just been groomed, which was the vast majority of them. In fact, the only freshly groomed trails I hit were the first trail I skied out into the system that I'd just seen the groomer finish and another short trail that brought me back to the hotel. So, it was slow going, but the conditions were pretty good. I ended up skiing about 17k in about 1:20. All the trails at the Balsams have numbers, and the last leg of my journey was on trail "0". Thankfully, Patrick Swayze was replaced by the Smashing Pumpkins.

Too bad it was only for the final 10 minutes of my ski. (Yeah, no idea what's going on in the video.) I was even able to shower, eat a tasty bacon & bleu cheeseburger and get to my meeting on time.

So far, it's been a solid week. I'm actually starting to feel moderately fit. Scary. Today was a great example. I had a lot of climbing at the beginning of my ski, but I could feel myself getting stronger and feeling better as the ski went on. Good stuff.

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