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Early Years

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Widow Maker



I started trying to go skiing at the resorts in Western Pennsylvania the first winter I was back.  It was not easy to find someone to go with, so I went alone frequently.  Skiing conditions in the entire Northeast are not always good.  It will get cold and snow a lot, then it will get warm and the snow will melt.  When it gets cold again, the surfaces become icy.  There is a phenomenon called "black ice".  It is dark and solid.  Ski edges merely slide across it.  It is very scary for a novice skier. 


This was early 1980, I was 34 years old.  That is a little late in life to start learning how to ski, but not too late.  I started buying ski related magazines and reading instructional articles.  When I was riding up the hill on the lift, I watched other skiers and tried to understand what they were doing, then imitating it on the way down.  Progress was slow but sure.

I had not enjoyed my previous trip to Seven Springs, the biggest resort near Pittsburgh, so I started going to smaller places like Hidden Valley and Laurel Mountain, also in the mountains just east of the Burgh.  Laurel Mountain is now closed, but I just learned it is about to reopen.  here is a recent map of Hidden Valley.


I don't think that section to the left existed back then.  This place was not as crowded as 7 Springs and I felt more relaxed falling and learning.

Soon I was able to make my way down the mountain.  You can see that the trails have colored symbols on them.  Green trails are the easiest at the resort.  Blue are a little more difficult.  Black are most difficult.  Double black diamond trails are for expert skiers only.  You don't seem many of those at these little places.  These classifications apply at the particular resort.  A black at Hidden Valley could be a blue or even a green at Arapaho Basin in Colorado.  I was still trying to master the greens in PA.

That first season, I don't remember how many times I skied, but I was making progress.  My plan was working.  I was starting to enjoy my time on the slopes and I was looking forward to getting an early start on the next season.  I also started skiing at night, mostly at Laurel Mountain.  It would get cold and we would go into the bar to have a schnapps to warm up.  I found that I was a little braver after a couple such visits.  I got a little better, because I tried doing a little more that I had been afraid to do.



Occasionally, I still found myself standing at the top of a steep hill that I had planned to ski down and realizing that it might be more than I had thought it would be.  They look easier when looking up or on the lift, than they do when you are standing at the precipice.


The next season, I was able to go skiing  nearly 30 times.  I was branching out a little, driving to resorts in Western New York, Peak n' Peek and Holiday Valley.  Often I would spend the night and ski two days in a row.  

Some of the guys from work were going with me.  One guy, named Jim Oberholtzer,  drove to Peak n' Peek with me one day.  As we were boarding the chair lift, we became tangled, fell and were kind of run over by the chair, until the operator stopped the lift.  A young woman back in the line started making fun of us for falling.  I waited for her at the top of the lift and we had a good laugh together.   She was a good skier and we skied together for the rest of the day.  This was probably the best day I had to this point.  I learned a lot just by following her and doing what she did.  

We planned to do some skiing together and went to a very small resort called Cockaigne.  It is no longer open, but we met friends of hers there and one was an instructor.  She asked him to give me a lesson, which would be my first ever.  He told me to follow him down the hill and go where he went and do what he did.  Cool.  I already knew how to do that.  He explained the principle of keeping the upper body facing down the fall line and doing all the twisting to make turns from the waist down.  He also showed me how to use pole plants to initiate turns.  I needed to work on that one.
  

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