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Among the many dissatisfactions of this most unusual season is that travel beyond one’s local environs has been roundly discouraged. Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful down to my socks that we’re allowed to ski locally, and my version of same is pretty sweet. Pardon the plug, but between Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley and Mt. Rose I have a smorgasbord of savory choices.
But skiing close to home and skiing on the road are two different beasts. Nothing is the same, really, and therein lies a great deal of the road trip’s charms.
To shed light on my premise, allow me to pull back the veil on my favorite away game, an annual pilgrimage to Little Cottonwood Canyon. By the end of this brief travelogue you will probably hate me, so please fill your vessel of good will to the rim before proceeding.
In the last week of January,2009 I was able to spend a few days skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is always cathartic for my ravaged soul. The conditions were all over the map, the mountains having experienced a long, hot spell followed by rain, grapple, wet snow and finally dry snow driven by winds that could flense an adult walrus in a few minutes. Couldn’t have been better.
I had been preparing for the trip for weeks, psychologically. Two back surgeries the previous winter had reduced my training regimen from semi-annual to non-existent. Scheduling conflicts such as work kept me from visiting the areas that abound at home near Lake Tahoe, so I had zero ski days on a body with more fat on it than a French duck. I had as much chance of surviving Snowbird and Alta as a rib roast in a piranha tank.
Fortunately, the Lord is merciful, anti-inflammatory drugs are powerful and there are techniques that allow one to block out pain. There are also many wonderful people in this world with which to ski, kind people who stand quietly by, pretending to be in awe of Nature, while my chest heaves so violently in its futile quest for oxygen that tiny lung particles break lose and make for the exits. One such person is Guru Dave Powers, a man whose passion for the sport hasn’t diminished after thousands of days of riding gravity down the infinitely variable slopes and crannies of Snowbird. The Goo knows this hill, and in knowing it well knows so much more.
When I was cut adrift by Head on June 13, 2001, my once glowing prospects dimmed considerably. The date is etched in memory because I hosted a small soirée that evening in honor of my darling wife’s 50th birthday. One of the attendees was Paul Hochman, who would play several roles in my life as I wandered in the wilderness of unemployment during what were supposed to be my peak earning years.
During the gaping hole in my career that spanned 2001-2011, I would eventually spend every cent of my inheritance, plus most of what I’d saved from earlier bouts with gainful employment, just keeping the household afloat. Despite a river of red ink, my resume would suggest that I was not only commercially active during this epoch, but had my hand in all sorts of ventures.
We bootfitters are naturally obsessed with feet, but the best bootfitters don’t just fit feet; they fit the whole skier. The “whole skier” includes more than just a quick survey of the lower leg and how it’s connected to the foot. It’s even more than all of the skier’s physical attributes, which include not only height and weight, but seated posture, stance, kinesthetic wiring, arch health and stiffness throughout the kinetic chain; the whole skier also includes his or her history with the sport and, most importantly, what sort of skier he or she wants to be.
One of the most obvious traits about almost all boot customers is his or her gender. (Please forgive me if I don’t overcomplicate what should be a simple point about body type.) The first step in a sales process that consists of winnowing all possible boots down to one is picking from the pile of unisex boots or the alternative world of women’s boots.
No-brainer, right? Not so fast. What if a particular woman were tall, with a long tibia and a tapered calf? Let’s add to her profile that she’s a good athlete with a background in dance. Up to now, she’s only been an occasional skier who rented her gear, but a new beau has persuaded her to take a deeper dive. She already has her season pass.
Dear Readers who regularly devour my weekly Revelations know that I have already written at length on the subject of Why Skiers Are Better than Everyone Else. Last Friday I was reminded of my timeless prose as I spent 45 minutes traversing a very short stretch of road that connects I-80 to Route 89, my proscribed path to Alpine Meadows. As I voluntarily descended into this automotive miasma, I could make out the dim form of the interstate traffic snaking down from the west, two dense strands of tightly linked vehicles stretching beyond the horizon.
In a stunning upset that in retrospect appears inevitable, Realskiers.com has been awarded The Stump-Bertoni Prize for Excellence for the second year in a row.
For those cave-dwellers who snoozed through Realskiers.com’s first triumph in this gilded competition, permit me to bring you up to speed. Then as now, the battle for this cherished trophy (metaphorically speaking – the S-BP lacks sufficient funds for a memento commensurate with its prestige) was fierce, extending both of its eponymous founders to previously unknown limits.
The final ballot was determined by leg wrestling over Stump’s furious protest; he cogently argued that this sort of bias against the vertically challenged has no place in a free society. Bertoni imperiously overruled Stump’s evermore strident complaints, citing a lack of legible documentation, tardy submissions and a tendency to perspire copiously when provoked.
This year’s competition was no less fraught.
To (temporarily) kowtow to the cult of brevity, the short answer is, “not very.”
To elaborate, most major ski brands didn’t derail the introduction of new products that were in the works well before the pandemic dropped the hammer. There’s a rhythm to the product renewal cycle that shifts the spotlight every year to a different model family within any brand’s global collection; that rhythm was largely respected despite the unique obstacles imposed on the process this year. If most of the models appearing in 21/22 catalogs seem similar to what was offered this year, it’s because this is how the line renewal machinery ordinarily operates.
What’s difficult to judge from outside the R&D pipeline is what we’re not seeing. That is, were there more new models or upgrades to existing star products ready to launch that were put on hold to avoid overloading a potentially weakened distribution network? Possibly; what might have been a planned six-model launch may have been trimmed to three or four, for example.
Happily, there’s no real downside to this scenario for the prospective ski buyer. All essential model family refreshing and line extensions will unfold as forecast. If you haven’t bought a ski in three or four years – I believe the average span between new ski purchases is over seven – the entire universe of Alpine skis is new to you. You may spot some names you recognize, but the skis that bear the name will almost assuredly be different.
This question is one of the last objections a ski buyer tosses into the flow of the sale just as the salesperson has guided it to the brink of consummation. To keep the impending close on course, the suave salesperson will hedge the issue with some bland reassurance without raising the obvious retort, that no ski can overcome all the many and curious ills that plague the untalented mogul skier.
A great skier can manage bumps no matter what ski he or she is on. That doesn’t mean experts don’t have favorite skis for this spine-rattling condition, but they don’t need to change skis just because they encounter a bump field. They’ll manage, and chances are anyone watching them won’t be able to tell if the ski is helping, hurting or just along for the ride.
To get the subject out of the way, there are such things as mogul skis, but they’re made for competitors, not your everyday, all-terrain skier. Their tiny (61mm-66mm) waists and svelte sidecuts were common 25 years ago, but they’re as rare as bacon at a bar mitzvah today. Unless you’re planning to compete, there’s no reason for you to fish in this pond.