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The first real tease comes through the mail in late August when the air conditioner is turned up full blast. This year, I took that harbinger of deep dark winter, Powder Magazine, and read it poolside.

Perhaps to say that I read the magazine is a bit out of line, because it's primarily those first photos every August that I yearn for. There's dozens of photos of people flying off huge drop-offs and skiers frolicking in deep, untracked powdery snow. I then begin to ache for snow.

Last week, I strapped on the boards and made a night skiing trip to Bear Creek, formerly known as Doe Mountain. Although the temperature hit 12 degrees, the conditions were perfect. There were no liftlines and the snow surface was packed powder.

Eight inches of fluffy white stuff had fallen the day before and a couple of weeks of below-freezing temperatures had allowed for fervent snowmaking.

The quality of the skiing and snow boarding experience, probably more than most other pursuits in life, depends on the surface.

Skiing deep powder on an untracked slope is surreal. The deeper the better. A skier's skis rise to the surface when crossing the fall line and sink back down when biting in to take a turn. A magical rhythm develops and the skier is completely lost in the moment.

And then take a peek back over your shoulder at your tracks as a gorgeous series of linking S-turns.

The state of Utah displays the slogan "Best Snow on Earth" on its license plates while the Pacific Northwest's snow is known as "Sierra Cement." The difference is often the temperature (the colder the lighter) and more importantly the amount of water in the snowflakes.

West Coast storms come almost directly off the Pacific where they suck up water and Salt Lake City's storm clouds float along over dry land before dumping in the mountains.

The polar opposite of powder snow is bullet proof ice. Ice accumulates when snow thaws during the day and then refreezes at night. Skis chatter and during one trip to Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire, the ice was so formidable that basic turns sounded like someone scratching an axe across a blackboard.

Ice will pull your skis out from under you in a flash and leave anything breakable in your parka pockets, such as sunglasses or goggles, shattered.

On a steep trail at Killington, Vermont, I once slid 200 feet on ice before I could hammer a boot hold and come to a stop while I burned a hole through my ski pants. Ski race courses are rutted deeply and often guarantee a quicker run.

Snow will turn to the consistency of mashed potatoes when temperatures rise. Kinda like skiing in mud. It's quite exhausting pushing around all that slop. For obvious reasons, skiing on ice is faster than poking along on a snow surface of mashed potatoes.

Ski areas compile their own daily reports on conditions. One term used to describe a skiing surface is frozen granular. Sure, the areas have to attract folks, but after you've been fooled a couple of times you'll certainly realize that frozen granular is often a code word for bullet proof ice.

Corn snow is one delight of spring skiing. As the ice peals from the mountain it forms little ball bearing sized crystals. Take a turn on corn snow and hundreds of little balls slide down the mountain ahead of the skis.

The savior of skiing in Pennsylvania and other areas of the "southern extreme" is snow making. High powered water is compressed and shot out to cover the slopes. The water concentration in man-made snow is so high that a skier can often instantly tell where snowmaking begins or ends because of the propensity for man-made snow to freeze faster than the real stuff.

Windblown crust is often a bumpy ride or a way for the skis to slice into and take chunks out of the snow like sheets of thick cardboard. It's a burden and one of the reasons that ski areas purchase those expensive grooming machines that spit out a corduroy velvet snow cover on the trails.

Moguls form when everyone turns at the same spot over and over again on a steep trail. They can grow so large as to resemble a snow-covered mountain of Volkswagen Beetles. Short quick turns are necessary to ski the moguls and the knees get a real workout. Moguls are a true test and might have led to the phrase. "He looks like an expert on the beginners trails and a beginner on the expert trails."

Often, several days after a snowfall pockets of untouched powder snow can be poached off outside the marked trails and in the woods. Get good or eat wood and if a skier gets oh-so close to a pine tree a blanket of snow will dump on him.

Snow must be respected. Avalanches occur when several layers of snow of different consistencies rest on top of each other. An avalanche or slide occurs when an unstable layer gives way.

Powder is supreme; ice is the equalizer. No matter what the conditions, skiing is all about sliding and turning.

And there's always that old saying, "If you don' like the weather in the mountains, wait 15 minutes." At a large ski area, several trails might be experiencing blizzard like conditions, while the rest of the mountain is bathed in sunlight.

Regardless of the snow conditions, the lodge is always nearby and toasty warm.


Bill Rettew, Jr. can be reached at

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