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.
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.
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.