I remember a Bill Rice column several years ago where he wrote about waking up early one winter morning, seeing that the weather outside was not good, but deciding to drive up to the mountain, anyway.
He reported that by the time he reached the area, things had changed, and he had a great ski day.
Think last Saturday.
Drizzle on and off. I was already at Okemo in Vermont. And I had a great book in the room.
But I have a good waterproof ski shell and pants, and it wasn’t cold or windy. So why not at least give it a try on the hill?
It turned out, the skiing was great! Sure, it was a little soggy for the first couple of runs, and the goggles had to be wiped regularly. But Okemo, which is known for the quality of its snowmaking and grooming, especially early season, had a good variety of terrain open and the moisture kept the surface soft. Then the rain stopped. I never opened the book all day.
The next day, the sunrise was spectacular and while cloudy by the time the lifts opened, the temperature was a very nice 30 degrees and there was no wind. Perfect, or so it seemed.
After one run, I was humming the Kenny Rogers lyric from The Gambler: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”
Not a good sign!
Those soft trail conditions from the day before had hardened by early morning. It was too warm to make snow, and it was too late for much help from the groomers. Hard pack and “death cookies” — those little ice balls on the hill — were what was left.
Sang Rogers: “Know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
I was back home by 2 p.m. This doesn’t happen very often. I did have one day when the conditions were much better than expected. And it is early in the season. There will be a lot more great days this winter.
Speaking of conditions, finding a place to train is a test for Section II Alpine and Nordic competitors again this winter.
Just like a year ago, when many ski areas didn’t open until Christmas, the local high school racing venues aren’t having much luck this season. Nevertheless, the Nordic season is scheduled to start Wednesday with the Johnsburg Invitational at Garnet Hill. Queensbury, Saratoga Springs and up-and-coming Mayfield are the early-season favorites in the boys’ event, while Queensbury and Lake George are again strong in the girls’ field.
This is a classic-style race year as competitors point toward the sectional championships in mid-February at Lapland Lake and the state meet later that month at Lake Placid.
On the Alpine side, the first competition of the season is the Johnstown Invitational scheduled after Christmas at Royal Mountain.
With various mountain teams and race circuits competing for talent, it is difficult to assess the high school Alpine field before the season begins. For the boys, the leader last year was Saratoga Springs, with Queensbury, Albany Academy, Niskayuna and Shenendehowa regularly in the hunt. Bolton senior Kelton Donohue, who finished second to his older brother last year in the giant slalom in the state championships, is the competitor to beat this winter.
On the girls’ side, Burnt Hill/Ballston Spa, the defending sectional and state champion, will not field a combined team this winter. Ballston Spa will pair up with Stillwater, but the team will be missing defending sectional and state slalom champion Demi Feder, who will be sitting out the Section II race season while recovering from a leg injury suffered while playing soccer in the fall.
The Alpine sectionals will be at Gore Mountain in mid-February, and the state championships will be at the end of that month at Bristol Mountain, south of Rochester.
A good read
People who follow winter sports closely know Steve Holcomb as the first bobsled world champion and Olympic gold medalist from the United States since the 1940s. He is also one of the friendliest, most easy-going sports champions in the land, invariably modest with a warm personality and always willing to interact with fans. At Lake Placid after one of his World Cup victories, Holcomb took time after the awards ceremony to go back up on the track and give spectators a ride in his sled. He had everything going his way. Or so it seemed.
Holcomb is just out with an autobiography, “But Now I Can See,” which details a serious vision problem he has struggled with for years and how at one point, even though he was already a champion, he suffered from depression serious enough that he attempted suicide.
Even his co-author Steve Eubanks and his sliding teammates were surprised by that revelation. Holcomb recovered, and has continued his successful sliding career. It is a remarkable story from a leading competitor on the current World Cup bobsled circuit and a favorite to win another Olympic Gold at Sochi Russia in 2014.
Freddie IS Ready
Freddie Anderson is ready to make turns for another ski season, and that means it is sign up time for the Schenectady Ski School, which will be running after-school and weekend group instructional programs at Maple Ridge again, starting in January.
Freddie, who will be 92 in February, has been teaching skiing since the mid-1940’s, and at Maple Ridge since the mid-1960. With her daughter Christina, the pair offer a wide variety of instructional programs, but are best known for teaching beginners, especially children. There are about 80 instructors affiliated with the school.
The group ski programs are for children age 4 and up, while snowboard instruction is available for those 5 years and older. For dates, rates and other information, call 377-3730 or check www.schenectadyskischool.com.
Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake has its weekend operations up and running for the 41st season since Jim Blaise quit his custodial job and bought the ski hill in 1972. Conditions have been limited, but three new snow cannons and an expanded water supply added a couple of years ago should put Royal at full operation as soon as seasonal temperatures kick in.