October 29, 2007

Scared Stiff Skiing


A friend sent me an e-mail this evening. Among other things he referred to my skiing story below and encouraged me to be careful. Well I thought I’d be transparent and tell two related skiing stories. I have been skiing since 1960 and have been scared only twice.

A Picture From the Young & Fearless Years

The first scare came was when I was 14. My dad took me to ski in the mountains of southern Spain. One day he hired a ski guide to take me around the mountain for some “special” skiing. Mind you, at 14 I was an accomplished skier, for a 14 year old. Anyway, this guide took down some very nice and scenic runs. One was an Olympic downhill practice course, that was fairly extreme, but a blast. After lunch, however, he took me to some virgin terrain. Toward the end of the day we came to what I recall being a gorge. I can’t quite relate just how steep it was, but I was terrified. There was no other way to get down the mountain, so off we go about 400 yards of sheer terror. I made it down without falling, but I was scared stiff.

Second Incident: I had scary moment coming down the crevice at Copper Mountain that I describe in the previous article. Similar situation as I just described from my trip to Spain. I was skiing with a professional guide named Doug. Doug and I skied together last year and we were back together again this year. We skied great terrain, very challenging and fun.

Just before Noon we went to the Spaulding Bowl, the bowl in the picture below. We had skied it before. It is steep, there are some rocks, but it is primarily wide open as you can see. When I say, “steep,” that means you have to get the first 12-18” of your skies over the edge before you can actually see the slope you are about to go down. When you ski those double-black diamond bowls you have to make either the perfect turn or a recovery. There is much room to maneuver, but you can’t make a mistake. Most people that try those bowls are usually just trying to survive it.

On this trip to the Spaulding Bowl Doug took me way around to the left of where we usually went, which in the picture is to the far right, and well above the tree line. On the way around the top I did notice there were no ski tracks from earlier in the day. Seemed odd at the moment. The area had been open for three hours and no had been over this way yet. Oh well.

So, we come to a gap, the sign says, “So Fine.” We start down a gentle grade, and then, all at once, a sheer drop.

Like I said in the previous article, about 30 yards wide and rock walls on both sides. My first two turns were OK, but the third was a little too good. What I mean by “too good,” is that I set a sharp edge, which makes you carve harder and accelerate. This is fine for more gentle terrain, but not good for the steeps. So, when I set this edge I began to accelerate toward the rocks. In this situation that was not the perfect turn so its recovery or crash time.

Will I stop short of the rocks; or will I become a rock-art mural? We'll find out, but first, my free ski tip of the week.

One of the best and safest ways to slow down and recover is to ski back up the hill. You are using reverse gravity to get under control. That way you slow down quickly and come to a gentle stop, or slow down, get under control and begin your next turn.

Now, back to the action: So, I was trying to ski back up the steep, which I did, and stopped about 14” inches from the rocks. While I was headed for the rocks, with all sincerity, I can tell you that all I was thinking about was that I did not want to wreck my skies. That was my primary motive for stopping short of the rocks.

Now that I had come to a stop I have to inch back slowly because it is too steep to turn and go or even simply get turned around. Once I got back to where I can straighten out, turn and go I looked at Doug and said,
I'm not sure this was a good idea.”
Doug was great! He said,
Lou, look down this crevice. Do you see any rocks down the middle? No? OK, so if you fall you won’t hit anything, you’ll just slide to the bottom.”

Well, with that reassuring thought from my guide we got vertical and cruised down the crevice. No problems from there. Doug took the picture of me, once we got down and out of the Spaulding Bowl.

Doug also told me that 1) He knew I could handle it, and 2) only the professional instructors and guides know about and ski that crevice. So, I found out why there were no other ski tracks on that side of the bowl.

This picture is not me, but is representative of what the bowl skiing is like I described above.

For all you folks who ski, please note in the earlier picture I am wearing a helmet. If I had hit the rocks my head would have been safe. Most of the rest of me might have been mangled, but at least I’d still have my sense of humor.



  1. That's so cool! I hadn't pictured you as a maniac skier.... thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi Jon:

    I am very passionate about skiing, just love it. I still race in the NASTAR events too.

    All, but one of my 5 children ski or board.

    My wife is good with a magazine, hot cocoa and near a warm fire. She's not interested in strapping on the planks.


  3. More stories:

    Our church youth group goes on an annual ski trip to various areas in Michigan. Two years ago we were at Caberfae Mountain. Well, IMO, if you can hold your breath for more than half way down it’s not a mountain.

    The pastor of my church was out for the 2005 trip. He has been skiing for years, not a novice. Late the first day I was skiing and was trying to find the pastor to ski with him. I did not know he was about 30 seconds behind me on the chair lift, and trying to catch up to ski with me. So, once I was off the chair I went down a fairly steep and uneven terrain.

    I never did see or ski with our pastor that afternoon. At dinner I found out he was injured and had gone to the hospital. Wrenched his knee real bad.

    Turns out he got off the chair and took off right behind me. He had never been down that part of the er, “mountain.”

    The steep part wasn’t the problem, the uneven angle of the terrain was. The angles kind of fell away from each other such that your skis would go one way, while your body wants to go the other. CRASH!


  4. One of my favorite past-times at the church ski trips is hunting for fallen youth group kids.

    When I see one go down, and am sure he/she is not injured, I go straight for him. At the last moment I first angle my skis slightly to build some snow under them, and then cut real hard and away from my intended target. That produces a real nice rooster tail of powder and covers the poor unfortunate youngster real good. Ha, Gotcha ya! I call this, “Powdering.”

    If my boys fall, they get up fast because they know if dad’s nearby I am gunning for them.

    If a senior is my intended target I go in extra hard because once he graduates I have to respect him (a little more). Last year I really nailed two of the senior boys.

    From the chair lift I saw they were in the middle of the run, near a small stand of pines. These boys were making a small snow man, and throwing snowballs at classmates as they went by. Well, I can’t have that.

    So, at the top I watch and wait. Then they both got on their knees to work on the snow man. They are facing uphill, but looking down at the little snowman. Whoosh! It’s GO time!

    Same procedure as above, only faster and more snow. At the last second I yelled, “HEYYY!” They looked up, and took the powdering right in the moosh! The only problem was because I built so much snow, and cut so hard, I blew right out of the binding of my right ski. So, I get that ski back on fast and beat it out of there, because I know the snow balls are coming if I don’t.

    I don’t think they teach this particular technique in the ski schools, too bad!