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COME ALONG TO OKEMO

by Paul Maraschiello

I called my old buddy Tex, to tell him that I had just sold a story about freestyle skiing to the Mt. Times and he invited me to stay at his place while I was skiing in Vermont. He wouldn't be there, but he said he would leave the door open. I could drive from Washington, D.C. to Tex's place in Fair Haven, Vermont on Christmas day and ski Okemo bright and early the next day.

I telephoned my daughter Jessie and invited her along as my photographer, she was studying Photography in school and she had an excellent eye. She had skied in Vermont many times with me, but she had never skied Okemo. Of course she said yes. She had to juggle her teaching schedule a little (she was a Junior Ski Instructor at our local ski area), but she was eager to go.

I picked her up at her mother's house at noon and we headed north on Interstate 95. There was very little traffic, so we made good time. The weather was excellent and cruse control kept me on the right side of John Law.

We pulled into my friend Tex's place in Fair Haven around 10 PM. Tex had built the ultimate bachelor pad a few years ago. It was a two-car garage with a studio apartment on the second floor, right in the middle of a ten acre piece of land a few miles over the New York/Vermont boarder in Fair Haven, Vermont. I only experienced a little difficulty locating his driveway. All of Vermont was covered by three feet of snow. I drove down the dirt road that served as his driveway and parked the car by the garage. All the lights were out and there was no one home. I tried the door and it was open. I called to Jessie to grab her gear and we went up stairs to the apartment and got settled in for the night.

We were up bright and early. I nuked a couple of quick cups of coffee in the microwave and we jumped into the car. It was 8 A.M., the sun was shining and it promised to be a great day of skiing.

I started the car up and began to drive. I only went a few feet when the tires began to spin, I was stuck. It didn't bother me a bit. I had lived in Vermont for almost 10 years and knew how to get unstuck. I tried backing up, no go. When I tried to go forward, I spun my wheels and slid further into the deep snow piled at the edge of the drive. The more I tried to get out, the deeper I went into the snow. Gravity rules in Vermont and only deep snow was down hill.

I had tried to purchase snow tires a few days before I left Washington, but no one had the right size in stock for my car. I was too impatient to order them and come back the next day, I had gambled and lost. I remember, when I had lived in Vermont, laughing at those "out-of-staters" who would come up to Vermont and invariable get stuck in the snow. Now I was the dummy who had driven his car, with its "all season" radial tires, into the deep snow and I was really stuck.

COME ALONG TO THE RESCUE

Tex had visited me in D.C. a month earlier, at the time, he had mentioned that he had a "Come Along" that he used to pull his car out of the snow. I crossed my fingers and hoped that it was no longer in the trunk of his car, but was in the garage with his other tools. I was in luck. The "Come Along" and a long piece of stout rope were hanging in the garage. I tied one end of the rope to main post supporting Tex's house and the other to the "Come Along".

Now, a "Come Along" is an interesting piece of equipment, a must for any Vermonter who does not have a power wench on his 4X4. This handy little device consists of a long steel cable rapped around a rechetted reel and handle. I released the cable and attached it to the car. With the line securing the "Come Along" to the house, I began to work the handle, winding the cable back onto the reel. Shortly, the rope became taunt and the car slowly began to inch itself out of the deep snow. After 15 minutes of pumping the handle of the "Come Along" the car was out of the deep snow and we were on our way to Okemo.

OKEMO AT LAST

We got to Okemo an hour later and a little frazzled. We put on our skis and hopped on the South Ridge Quad.

Okemo had changed a lot since the last time I had last skied there. They had just finished spending $28 million in new improvements to the lift system and snowmaking and the money was well spent. The Quad whisked us to the top of South Ridge and we skied over to the Northstar Express, where we rode to the top.

It was cold and the wind was blowing a bit as we got off the high-speed detachable quad chairlift. We cruised down Nor'Easter to warm up and got back on the Express for another run. Fast Lane is an expert trail right under the Express Quad and looked inviting. It was well groomed and steep, an excellent choice for our second run.

Jessie pulled away from me, flying down the mountain at full throttle. It was only my second day on skis for the season and I had a few cobwebs to blow out of my system. I took it slow and steady, making nice controlled turns. She shifted into overdrive and left me in the dust.

Jessie had been skiing ever since she was two years old. Both her parents were ski instructors and this 15 year old cheerleader/junior ski instructor was ready to put the peddle to the metal. At the bottom, I found her leaning on her ski poles, as she smiled at me and asked "What kept you Dad?" She was using that sarcastic tone teens love to use when addressing their parents. We decided to ski as much of Okemo as we could, to really soak up the ambiance of this family-oriented resort.

The first thing I began to notice, was the way the lift lines moved right along. Every chair is ether a quad or triple. We never had to waited more than five minutes to get on the chair and this was Christmas week! Triple chairlifts and high-speed quads really move people onto the mountain. Okemo has an interesting layout, with the South Ridge Quads running perpendicular to all the other lifts. Once you are at the top of the Ridge, you have the choice of riding up the Black Ridge Triple, North Star Express Quad or Sachem Quad. From the top of Sachem you can pick up the Glades Peak Quad and Ski over to the South Face Quad. If you go to the right off the "Express" you have access to the Green Ridge Triple and from that chair, the Solitude Express Quad. These series of lifts really allows Okemo to spread the crowd over the entire mountain. The further we were from the South Ridge Quads, the smaller the lines grew. Often, we would get to the chair and there would be no one there except the lift attendant ... AND THIS WAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS!

As we moved across and up the mountain, we were presented with more varied and challenging terrain. The tops of Fast Lane and Upper Chief were steep with medium sized moguls. We took Count Down over to the Glades Peak Quad and smoked it. Excellent snow really helps me ski better, and the huge snowfall they had received, made for some of the best skiing I have ever had in Vermont. From the Glades, we hit Outrage. Skiing small, sharply cut bumps in steep terrain in the trees was the reward we received for our journey to this part of Okemo. I watched my daughter ski the bumps, straight down the hill, with her skis never being more than 45 degrees out of the fall line. Turn after perfect turn, while her dad couldn't link more than three or four turns together in the bumps, before he had to bail out with a traverse, or worse yet, stop. We skied to the South face Quad, only to find a lonely lift attendant in an empty ski corral, AND THIS WAS CHRISTMAS WEEK!

We decided to explore some of the other interesting runs we had seen during our mad dash to ski as much of the mountain as we could. We had noticed some interesting stuff happening off the Black Ridge Triple. There was the Snowboard Park, where shred-heads in funny hats were doing their thing to music. Catching air and taking hard hits off a multitude of obstacles and the lip of the half pipe. A few munites later, we watched the racers run the gates at the Race Area. Some of these kids were really good and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see some top racers come out of Okemo.

When we started to cruse down Wardance, something very interesting and unexpected caught my eye. There were THINGS made of snow, strange THINGS that I have never seen before one of them looked like a high banked turn from a luge course, and then there were the huge stand-alone moguls and the cone. The cone was 12 feet high and was obviously an object you could get great air from. Jessie skied up the high bank turn and took some air off the huge mogul below it. When she disappeared behind the last super mogul, I started down the hill. I skied by the high bank, but found myself taking some air off one of the incredibly large moguls. This was unusual for me. I DON'T DO AIR! I believe that if God had wanted me to do air, I would have been born with wings (instead of skis), but there I was, 10 feet in the air with a smile on my face. Jessie's only comment was "Far out, Dad."

I had never seen anything like this before. Jessie informed me that it was a Alpine Park. She had read about them in one of the ski magazines. It looks like Equal Opportunity has come to skiing. Skiers now have a fun place to play, similar to the Snowboard Parks that have popped up at almost every ski area. Okemo's Alpine Park is really fun for the young and young at heart.

After a couple more runs, we were done. Tired out from a good day at the slope. It was the really good tired feeling that comes from pursuing the elusive "perfect turn" at a really good mountain. And, Okemo had become a REALLY GOOD mountain. A wide variety of terrain that includes open slopes, steeps and bumps. Gladed areas with moguls between the trees and "bail out" trails if you overestimated your ability while studying the trail map. If you think that Okemo is just a tame little mountain, only suitable for intermediate skiers and families, you are mistaken. There are plenty of challenging runs, steep moguls, and terrain that will challenge the best skiers.

EVENT SCHEDULE

To contact Okemo, call 800 78 OKEMO (800) 786-5366 or visit them on our Ski Area Links Page.

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