Sunday, November 13, 2011

The (White) Elephant in the Room

Yesterday afternoon I was perched 20 feet up in the air, reclining in a hunting tree stand located on the corner of our property in northern Vermont. With my gun cradled in my lap, I relaxed and worked my way through a bag of peanuts I’d brought to stem the boredom. The woods were noisy with a firm breeze that pushed the tinder-dry leaves around. I unbuttoned my jacket and took off my gloves. It was 50 degrees outside.

This was opening weekend in Vermont’s annual deer hunt, and it got me thinking about skiing. If there’s common ground between skiers and hunters, it’s snow. Skiers love snow because of deficiencies in their childhood that turned them away from engaging conventionally in society, instead pursuing monetarily unfulfilling lives as ski bums, while hunter love snow because it makes tracking deer easier. It also makes seeing them easier. And by the second weekend in November, skiers are thinking seriously about the upcoming season, even as some ski bums, like me, try to balance the mania for skiing with the fever of hunting.

I’m not a dedicated early-season skier; I like plenty of snow around before I venture out. While this may exclude me from true “bum” status, it also lets me spend more energy on my other non-revenue generating hobby, hunting. But I’ve been thinking a lot about skiing this year, and the reason is new gear.

Last spring I decided to make a big switch in my telemark skiing setup, abandoning cable bindings for the newer NTN (new telemark norm) system. I began by buying a pair of Crispi Evo boots, the first new ski boots I’ve had in 13 years. That was followed up by a search for new bindings. The NTN by Rottefella is a counterintuitive looking beast. And it’s rare. Finding one at less than retail prices was difficult, and after I’d been sniped a couple of times on eBay, I found a pair for sale by some local skiers. As fate would have it, we had a connection to the seller, and that connection was Iceland.

A couple of winters ago, we hosted this wonderful couple from Iceland, who were here to ski the backcountry of Vermont. We hit it off with them, and they explained that Iceland has some of the best wild skiing in the world. There are places in Iceland that can only be accessed by boat. The trip involves sailing into one of the many fjords found along Iceland’s coast. From there, skiers hike and skin up the heights of the mountains separating the fjords. After reaching the top, it’s a breathtaking schuss down to the ocean, where the boat (after sailing around the point of land) is waiting to pick you up. Yeah.

Anyway, while they were here, the couple visited with some mutual friends down in Moretown, Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson of Ember Photography. Brian and Emily, in addition to being astonishing photographers (seriously, visit their website and check out their photos) are also adventure skiers, and they’ve skied some of the most exotic locales in the world--including Iceland. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the person selling the NTN bindings was Brian. Vermont’s like that. Instead of six degrees of separation, we have about two and a half.

In chatting with Brian, I discovered that he’s got a new website called AdventureSkier.com, which will make you forget about deer hunting and flip the ski bum switch inside you. I also learned that he had already been skiing. What about the white stuff? I asked. After all, the weather hadn’t been very cold so far this fall, and aside from a dump of snow that affected mostly southern Vermont, we were snowless. Edgeless skis was the explanation, proving that you don’t have to have the white elephant in the room in order to kick off the ski season.

Now that I’ve got my new bindings, I’ll be thinking more and more about skiing. The snow always arrives here in Stowe. Last year, we started out slowly, too, before ending up with a record setting snow year. And, as evidenced by Brian and Emily, you don’t need a ton of snow. Just the right gear and love for getting out there. In the meantime, think snow.