Piste off

The United Nations recently announced that the Earth is taking a cooling off period from global warming. This “mini ice age,” although not expected to bring back the woolly mammoth, is expected to prolong the overdue extinction of Ugg boots. Word is this latest climactic blip has already wreaked havoc on tropical fish populations in Florida and sent Californians scrambling for their designer Snuggies.

Of course, this news is particularly perplexing given that last we heard, the Earth was bubbling over like a Hot Pocket in a toaster oven. Not to worry, scientists say, this is just part of the predicted bi-polarity of global warming. In other words, don’t throw away that sand shovel for a snow shovel just yet.

Of course, for those of us living in the Mountain West, this poses a peculiar predicament. No sooner had we thought we had El Niño and La Niña figured out, then along comes La Epocita Glacial (if you’ll pardon the Gring-lish abomination.) Granted, this is not a bad thing for those of us who happen to like the snow. But it does present a quandary: how to get the most out of the next 30 years of epic powder days.

“I got AT gear,” a friend and former telemarker fairly gushed the other day. She was headed to British Columbia on a heli trip and decided to lock down in the interest of saving her legs. “I’d never be able to keep up with those alpiners.”

I reacted like any good friend and fellow tele-er would. “Sell-out,” I blurted out before profusely apologizing. (Although turns out, this wasn’t far off the mark when she told me how much she shelled out. Not only did she sell out, but I’m pretty sure she sold out her kids, too.)

OK, so I’m a little bitter. Mostly because the one time I skied British Columbia it was the worst ski season in 20 years. And maybe I am a little jealous because the last time I got new skis was during the previous century.

Anyway, for those not up on their skiing acronyms, AT stands for “alpine touring,” which is just a new-fangled way of saying “randonee,” which is an old–fangled way of saying “can’t telemark.” Or so that’s what we used to say back in the day of impossibly wobbly leather boots, three pin-bindings and double camber planks. Hey, we needed someone to pick on other than those snowboard things (which were never going to last anyway.)

See, when the pinhead revolution took my local mountain by storm, those of us unpracticed in this groovy new knee-drop turn (OK, I know telemakring is eons old, but it was new to us) took a humiliating place in the proverbial liftline of life. For me, it was the bunny hill, where I painstakingly repeated the “big toe, little toe” mantra while suffering the most brutal of slow-motion faceplants and stomach-turning thumb jams. Fortunately the pain brought gain, and before long, I had graduated to the mean greens of “Giggle Gulch” followed by the extreme blues of “Wally World.”

Needless to say, I was young and dumb at the time, which would explain my ability to withstand the repeated beatings all in the name of a guy, who talked slow but skied fast. After getting schooled during my inaugural backcountry foray with his entire family, I vowed to master the art of the free-heeled turn in all conditions. OK, so I never quite fulfilled my promise. But several years later, I can at least manage to get down the hill without looking like a drunken tight-rope walker.

So, back to the whole AT/randonee thing. You can imagine my pain, when, after years of self-inflicted flailing and humiliation (why didn’t anybody tell me the gators went on the inside?) come to find there’s this AT stuff, and I never had to torture myself in the first place. All those years of awkward hang-ups and human catapulting were a complete waste (except for those who got to watch). All those blackened toenails and broken sunglasses had been lost in vain. Like my first pair of K2 tele skis (you know the “super fat” ones with the “crazy” flames on them) I was totally piste.

Fortunately, like a fine wine, my bitterness mellowed with age. In fact, in the last few years, I have grown to eschew the tele turn in favor of the less demanding parallel turn – or better yet, just not turning at all. And as I see more of my fellow tele-ers turning, quite literally, to the dark side, I can see the attraction.

“Telemarkers are an endangered species,” one stalwart pinner bemoaned as yet another confided that she, too, had gone into lockdown mode.

“It’s just so much easier,” the new convert bragged.

Finally, after years of ignoring the situation, my day of reckoning came this season when my vintage 1997 Scarpas bit the dust on crust. As I purveyed the last dozen years of technology, I found myself ogling the sleek, ultralight, siren song of the AT. “So much lighter. Climb faster. No more flailing. Everyone’s doing it.”

Alas, I turned my back (and it’s not just because firstborns weren’t fetching a good price that day.) Maybe it’s because I’m an old fuddy-duddy, a creature of comfort. All that buckling and hardware, quite frankly, made me feel like some sort of skiing bondage queen. Or maybe it’s because I felt like I would be betraying an old friend. But most likely it’s because, although they are fewer and farther between these days, there’s just something about getting that much closer to the snow. Ankle shots become knee shots, knee shots become hip shots and hip shots become face shots. I know, it sounds cheesy (did I mention I once wore my knee pads on the outside?) but the thought of not being able to genuflect to the powder gods seemed strangely unbalanced. Like not being able to breathe or walk and chew gum.

Needless to say, I walked out that day with a shiny new pair of free-heeled beauties that still have plenty of bling for this weekend warrior princess. And even if they happen to go the way of the woolly mammoth, I figure I’ve got at least 30 years to figure out a backup plan.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

July 21, 2022
Wildlife success or deal with the devil?

Land swap approved in Southwest Colorado, but not without detractors

July 21, 2022
Tapping out

The latest strategy to save the San Luis Valley's shrinking aquifer: paying farmers not to farm

July 14, 2022
Hey, good environmental news

Despite SCOTUS ruling, San Juan Generating Station plans to shut down