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BEAR MOUNTAIN & ME
by Paul Maraschiello
The Bear Mt. Mogul Challenge has always been the best party at Killington. This year was no exception. The weekend was blessed by sunshine and great weather. As usual, you had two choices, i.e., excellent spring conditions on Bear or excellent winter conditions on the north-facing trails that lead to the Killington Base Lodge.
I arrived just in time for happy hour at the Grist Mill on Thursday, nibbled the free chicken wings and enjoyed some great music. I could not help noticing this table of great looking women (there are lots of GREAT looking women at Killington). I introduced myself and found out that they were from a singing group called "High Maintenance" and they certainly are! These gals were from Texas and ready knew how to party. We had a great time dancing and I made a date to meet them for lunch and ski with them the next day. After bidding them goodby, I stopped at the Pasta Pot and feasted on the Mussels Maranara. They were served in Pete's special fra diablo sauce and the serving was huge. I chatted with Pete and his wife and stuffed, was off to bed.
The next day, I was up and on the mountain early. I rode up the K1 Express chair and took a warm-up run on Cascade and then skied the Glades and East Fall. Next I took a run down the Canyon. The snow conditions were excellent, so I took a few more runs and began looking for the best snow. It did not take me too long to decide that the best skiing of the day was on Superstar. The snow was firm, the moguls small and for a change, Superstar made YOU look good. I spent the rest of the day on Superstar and Skylark. I made a mandatory stop at Casey's Caboose for happy hour and ate my fill of the BEST free chicken wings on the Mountain.
Saturday was my birthday and I would like to thank Killington for throwing such a wonderful birthday party for me at the base of Bear Mt. They only made one mistake, they called it the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge, but I know it really was the Paul Birthday Bash! There must have been some mix up at the printers.
When I arrived at Bear, the sun was shining and there was a nip in the air. The snow had set up over night and the conditions were firm. I took a run down Wildfire to warm up and then I was ready to ski Outer Limits. The bumps were big (not as big as VW's but BIG) and the snow was VERY firm. I skied the top fairly well, but ran out of legs half way down. The sun needed to shine on the snow a little more, to soften it up and then it would be perfect. For the rest of the run it was make a few turns . . . and stop, make a few more turns . . . and stop, etc. all the way to the finish line where I shot a lot of film of the competitors.
I got some great shots of the preliminary rounds. There were a lot of really great bump skiers trying out for the contest. Most of them were really good at turning in the bumps but lacked what it takes in the air. Many contestants would ether fall in the landing of the first jump or land so far back on their skis that they were in trouble. Outer Limits is the LAST place you want to find yourself in the back seat! Going down a mogul run at speed could be a disaster. I have to hand it to them, may of the bumpers were able to recover and put on a great demonstration of mogul skiing, even if it was just riding their skis straight down the fall line at high speed to cross the finish line.
The party at the base was really great! There were thousands of people and Killington had the grill out on the porch where they were doing burgers, sausage, chicken, and steak. They also had a pig roast, sushi bar, clam bar and plenty to drink. The sun was shining and it was really a outstanding day.
The band, Andrea and the Substitutes , who were on the porch, played a wide array of blues and rock and roll. Andrea Ekizian, the singer was absolutely fabulous. She belted out blues numbers, blew the harmonica and danced to the delight of the crowd. She really got the joint jumping. This woman really has talent!
The first time I saw Outer Limits, it looked tough but not that tough. As I rode up the chair, I sneered to myself at the "wimps" who were just STANDING on the tops of the moguls. "Had all the real skiers left Killington when I moved away," I asked myself? As I continued up the Bear Mountain chair lift.
An arrogance born of skiing more than 150 days at Killington the season before had made me feel a little cocky. "I'd show 'em how to ski the bumps," I thought. I was in for a BIG surprise.
I had just driven up from D.C. and was having a blast visiting the ski area I had called home for almost ten years. This was the first year that Bear Mountain was open. I had been one of the more prominent locals at Killington before I moved away. The past year, I had been a ski bum collecting unemployment checks, skiing every day and acting in amateur theatrical productions in the evenings.
I had spent the previous two ski seasons skiing almost every day with some of the best skiers on the mountain, I thought I was HOT! I was skiing very well, and knew it. Friends had told me about this new area that Killington had opened up and I went over to take a look. Gazing down from the chairlift overlooking Outer Limits, I could see the moguls were large, but the snow had been soft on all the other trails I had been skiing and I ASSUMED the same would be true of Bear Mountain.
I was about to learn my first lesson about Bear Mountain. You can't judge the snow on Bear from the chair. Later I learned that conditions can be SEASONS apart on these two mountains. You can find excellent spring conditions on Bear (which faces south) when there are still winter conditions on the north-facing slopes of Killington Peak.
BACK AT BEAR
Now, I was back at Killington, skiing all of my favorite trails: the Canyon, Bear Claw, Cascade, Downdraft, Wildfire, East Fall, Escapade, Superstar, Skylark, and others. I was there to cover the freestyle competition and to celebrate my birthday. I arrived on Sunday and skied Outer Limits to warm up. They had groomed the left side across from the race course and I had no trouble navigating the hill with my camera equipment.
After shooting the race from the finish line, I decided to move up to the 1st jump and take some shots. I stationed myself right at the 1st jump on the narrow piece of snow that ran from the edge of the mogul course, down the side of Outer Limits, right under the chair. I had a wonderful view of the race.
Chris Brun from Northern Ski Works came in 1st for the men. Iginio Rovetto the owner of Pizza Jerks came in 2nd and David Rowels from the Black & Blue Ski Club cam in 3rd. A.J. Dakoulas (who is only 11) came in 4th. Man, this kid is going to be AWESOME when he is 12!
When I interviewed Chris Brun he said, "The race was unbelievable and the best organized. FIS World Cup style judging was in effect on the qualifying runs and the course was man-made with seeded bumps. This made the course perfect and the conditions were ideal." Chris won this event in 1997, was 4th in 1995, and placed 3rd in 1990 , 1992 and 1993. "The sport has come a long way in the past few years and it was good to see the spectators having a good time on the hill. This kicks off an elite season for the bumpers and hard core people at Killington," he said.
Gale Jaeck from the Killington ski school came in 1st, Amanda Leskinen placed 2nd, Chelsi Marshal was in 3rd place, and Lora Deblasio in 4th place. Last year, positions were reversed with Chelsi in 1st place and Gale in 3rd. The female competition was really tight. "The head-to-head was really intense and I had to stay really focuses. I knew I was ready to take 1st position. For me, it was a five-year process to win 1st place. I started the competition when I was twenty and finally won when I was 25," said this new champion. "The conditions were very conducive to good bum skiing. The course was GREAT." She has just achieved her Level III PSIA Certification and private lessons can be arranged through the ski school.
After I got done shooting the race, I put on my skis and skied down the narrow piece of snow to the right of the mogul course, directly under the chair lift. I skied the same section of Outer Limits as the competitors did and I skied it well.
You ever noticed that the moguls ALWAYS look smaller from the chair? I really found that out the first time I skied Outer Limits. . .the hard way. I also found out why everyone was just standing on the moguls that fateful afternoon.
I got off the chair filled with energy and skied around to Outer Limits. I didn't even stop at the top before descended into the bumps. It only took a few turns to enlighten me as to why no one was skiing the moguls. Outer Limits was frozen solid! The sun had warmed the slope the day before and the frigid night air had frozen everything into a solid sheet of ice. Outer Limits was "bullet proof". Killington had not yet learned how to groom this steep slope and you couldn't hold an edge for more than two turns before you blew out or fell. Linked turns were impossible, survival was all you could hope for that day.
GOD OF THE MOUNTAIN
I did more than a little praying on that decent. You could hear me exclaim "Oh God" and "Dear Jesus" as I made offerings of fear and pain to the god of the mountain. The god of Bear Mountain is a greedy god, extracting offerings of pain from all those who's inflated egos get them skiing over their head. I have been an acolyte at the altar of pain at Killington, appeasing all the gods of the mountains with the pain of a thousand falls. When I finally got to the bottom, it seemed like I had fallen every four feet, all the way down Outer Limits. I had been totally trashed by the most difficult mogul run in the East, and I deserved it. That was my first experience with Outer Limits, but not my last. Some times, like this last visit, I 've been able to ski it well, other times the mountain has won.
Outer Limits has changed over the years and the Killington snow grooming crew has learned its secrets. Snow cats no longer tip over in an effort to groom this monster of moguls. They've learned that a snow cat anchored to a tree with a stout chain can lower another grooming machine up and down Outer Limits and groom the bumps flat.
Skiing Outer Limits when its smooth is another interesting experience. On one of my many visits to Killington, the entire left side of Outer Limits was groomed flat and smooth . . . flat, smooth and STEEP. It beckoned to me when I first saw this huge expanse of gleaming snow. Now, at last I could tame Outer Limits, I thought. I hopped off the lift and pointed my skis down hill. In no time at all, I was really cooking, a huge roster tail of snow was flying off the back of my skis. This was truly an exhilarating run! I was carrying more speed than I was comfortable with but I was skiing Outer Limits and skiing it well.
Turn after turn, I kept picking up speed. If I hooked an edge, I'd be in trouble, BIG trouble. I was skiing over my head, but my edges were holding. Finally, I was at the bottom. I had successfully skied Outer Limits from top to bottom without stopping. My legs were shaking from muscle fatigue, and I had skied faster than I had ever skied in my life, but I had done it!
I still have my problems in the bumps on Outer Limits. It all depended on the snow. When the snow was good, I can usually link my turns and ski it well. If the bumps are really big, I'm only able to ski the first third of the slope before fatigue sets in and I run out of legs and need to stop and rest for a minute on the top of a mogul. Refreshed, I continue down the hill and make mandatory stops, as necessary.
When the conditions aren't ideal, Outer Limits always trashes me. Three or four turns, and I blow out of the fall line. I'm bounced around and forced into a traverse, or smacked into the side of the hill, playing "garage sale" with my equipment training behind me, lying on the snow. I try to pick my days and now only ski Outer Limits when the conditions are ideal. Over confidence still gets me in trouble and I pay the price demanded by the god of Bear Mountain.
When I look back at my running battle with Outer Limits, I have to admit Outer Limits has won more often than I have. Those moguls ARE bigger than Volkswagens and they have trashed me more than I like to admit. On most days, I only survive. On some days, like this last visit, when the snow is just right, I am the victor. I descend through the moguls linking my turns, absorbing the bumps with my knees, forcing my tips down the front of the moguls and carving my turns. Taking a little air, as an act of defiance to the god of the mountain, I make my decent on the toughest terrain in the East looking good for a change. The few times I have beaten the mountain keeps me coming back for more. Some day, I hope perfect runs will become more common. Maybe the god of Bear Mountain will relent and allow me to caress its slopes with my skis, without the tribute paid in pain. Meanwhile, I keep trying.
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