Dickieville.... March, 2006

Another season of women's team tennis for Kate ended in March.  Kate participates in a Boston area tennis league, the Dorothy Bruno Hills Indoor Tennis League, every winter. It has several divisions, each with ten clubs participating. Each team plays every other team twice during the season trying to gather the most points and win the division (in hopes of moving up to a higher division). This year Kate's team came in 2nd place in their division. They lost by a 4 point margin (48 to 44), with the third place team well behind by another 13 points. They were hoping to take first, but it didn't happen this year. But it's all about fun, and they celebrated a great season with a dinner party. In the picture from left to right are the hostess, Kris Ann Andonian, Kate's partner, Sheryl Fox, teammate Debbie Block, and Kate.


Laying face down in the snow, the harsh glare of the floodlights throwing long, dark shadows from my clenched fists.  I wait for the agony from the knee I just smashed into solid ice at high speed to abate enough to consider trying to move.  The pain almost takes my mind off the warm trickle of blood running down the inside left arm of my ski jacket, where a prior crash had exposed bare flesh to razor sharp ice. When exactly did I decide that taking a snowboard off the top of the mountain after three days… well, half days, really… of learning how to ride it was a good idea? 


Flashback.  The prior weekend at Stratton, standing in line for the lift, a man and his five-ish son behind me.  The man commenting on my skis.  “Wow.  Rossi Stratos.  Those were my favorite skis.  Back when I was a teenager, I mean.


Ya, it was right about then.


Day one:

We pulled into Wachusetts Mountain lot 3 around noon.  It was already looking bad… lot 3, the remote lot where you have to take a bus to the base lodge, was almost full.  Will was taking a private snowboarding lesson… I was still baffled where his sudden infatuation with the sport had come from, but as long as he was having fun and getting exercise, it was fine with me.  I had my now sixteen or seventeen year old 203 centimeter Rossignol Stratos with me… heavy, long, wood-core skis, but I’ve skied them season after season and there’s almost nothing I’m not comfortable taking on with them.


On the two prior visits to Wachusetts, I’d skied on the first one, finding the mountain small but reasonably fun, and brought a book on the second one, which turned out to be both uncomfortable and boring.  I wasn’t expecting a big crowd this late in the season, and while not what I’d call a challenge, I thought it would be better on the slope than sitting in a hard cafeteria chair trying to concentrate on a book while being jostled from the wall-to-wall crowd. But when the bus arrived at the base lodge, as expected from the crowded parking, the lines for the lifts where insane. 


I decided, on a bit of a whim, to take a snowboarding lesson to avoid the long wait at the end of each run.  The beginner’s snowboarding lesson included five other people, hereby dubbed “the wussies,” and the instructor, who looked to be about fifteen and did his level best not to show how bored he was teaching the class.  We started on the bunny hill, walking half way up and practicing right turns.  Right turn, to be exact, since in the space available you could only do one.


The wussies where very busy panicking and falling while ignoring everything the instructor was saying when it was their turn, and otherwise sitting around.  After a while, I became impatient with waiting for my one-in-six turn, so I hiked to the top of the bunny hill and practiced turning from there, stopping at mid slope where the rest of the crew were busy complaining about falling on their butts so much.  After half an hour, the instructor shifted to left turns, and I decided I liked the sound of “left,” so I did. The next hour was hiking up the bunny slope, snowboarding down, turning right or left, repeat. 


It was kind of fun, actually… not fast, but kind of hard to get use to how much edge and angle you needed to keep control, and therefore challenging.  To do it right took a lot of learning, by which I mean falling.  And falling meant a lot of getting back up, which you do by the simple technique of rotating your board until it is downhill and you are on your stomach, then pushing yourself upright, aka doing a pushup. That day, based on number of falls, I did about one hundred and sixty seven pushups.


Will finished his lesson and found me.  By that time I was linking turns and starting to really enjoy myself.  We continued on the bunny slope for a while, and then took the chair up the newbie lift, up to a very gentle couple of green circle trails back down, one with a newbie terrain park.  I made it down without too much trouble.  It was near the end of the day, but Will convinced me to do one more run… a fast one to try to beat the crowd to the bus back to lot 3.  I was feeling pretty comfortable now, by which I mean way overconfident, and I went down hard two or three times.  It didn’t seem like a big deal, but that night at home, I went to sit up in bed and I could feel something go in my back.  Serious pain.  I worked from home the next day, but by Tuesday I was feeling better after ingesting copious quantities of ibuprofen.  

Day Two:

The next weekend.  We didn’t arrive at Stratton until about ten, and it took a little time to move everything into the ski-on/off Condo, rent gear, etc, so we didn’t get on the slopes until about 11:00.  The weather was unseasonably warm, in the low fifties, but it was raining, a cold, miserable drizzle that wasn’t quite enough to make you quit while being just enough to soak you completely.  Will and Brie both wanted to Snowboard… or slushboard, in this case.  I didn’t think it would be much fun skiing by myself given the weather, so I decided to join them.  It was a mistake… it was hard to carve a turn through the heavy, wet snow, and the weather was just miserable.  The only positive was that falling wasn’t at all painful, like falling into a big batch of half-set jello.  Still, by three, I’d had enough.

The next morning, Brie and Will wanted to do snowboarding lessons.  The temperature had dropped over night… I could tell from some of the puddles that had iced over it had been below freezing, but it was already upper thirties by eight.  I didn’t have much hope for decent skiing, but I wasn’t going to snowboard after the prior day’s activities, so I decided I would hit the top of the mountain while the kids where in lessons.

The skiing was phenomenal.  They had groomed the slopes overnight, and it had frozen, but it was ridged and crusty, fine for getting an edge in.  And it was fast.  I did three trails off the top, Grizzly, Black Bear, and Upper Tamarack six times in the next hour.  The lift lines where non-existent.  Around 9:30, I actually had to take a break; not from being tired, but from, of all things, feeling nauseous...  I’m not sure if it was the lift or the high altitude.  But a twenty minute break at the condo was enough, and I headed back out again, doing another six runs, mostly on Grizzly, the double-black diamond (which I thought was a little overrated).  By then, the lift lines where starting to get long and the runs were getting a little chopped up, one of the reasons I stuck with Grizzly.  While waiting for the lift, I noticed that my skis stood out on two accounts.  They where the only “straight” skis on the mountain; all the modern skis (those made in the last ten years) are shaped, with a bulbous nose and tail, to make it easier to turn.  And they were huge compared to everyone else’s.  I was feeling a little self conscious until a man and his son, standing behind me… well, you know how that story ends.

Day Three:

Saturday evening the week after.  Will, holding his new Burton “Shaun White” snowboard, frantic with desire to try it out on the slopes for the first time.  It has a graphic of a snarling abominable snowman with red, angry eyes and claws like daggers.  I’m holding my Burton Air “Classic,” which I think is a pretty nice looking board… white on top, wood grain morphing to black on the bottom, the name of the board and a subtle Burton graphic on the transition.  Cool without being flashy.  Will’s board is 156 centimeters, a little long to allow him to grow into it.  Mine’s a 161, not much longer than Will’s but wider.  Kate is on her new skis, 149 cm shaped Volkls.  I’m still wondering whether it made a lot of sense to get the snowboard instead of new skis.  But we’ve bought season passes to Wachusetts for the kids, so we are going to be spending a lot of time there, and I think skiing would get old pretty quickly; there’s just not much of a challenge.


Snowboarding is a completely different story.

We start on the lower mountain, hitting a few green circles, more challenging than the newbie slopes.  I’m pleased with my progress; I’m linking turns well.  I can tell that I have a long way to go, however; I’m tense and I’m forcing the board around a lot, particularly when going “toe side,” a right hand cut (left for Will, who boards “goofy,” or right foot forward).  And I realize I’m having fun.  A lot of fun.  It’s more that doing something new and different.  It’s overriding the instinctual desire not to do anything stupid.  Not in the global sense of “don’t get on a snowboard.”  On skis, your body stays straight, while your legs adjust the angle of the skis and edges.  On a snowboard, most of the time, you point where the snowboard is going.  To dig in toe side, you have to lean into the turn… which means you are leaning down-slope.  Your body wants to instinctively lean up-slope. It’s very disconcerting. Of course, maybe I'm doing it all wrong.

As time goes by, I become more tired and more proficient, that is, faster and sloppier.  Then the lift we are on shuts down for some reason.  Will suggests moving to another nearby lift.  “It’s more or less like what we were just on?” I ask.  “Yep,” he responds.  After we are on the lift, he adds that it’s better, because it has foot rests, unlike the other high speed chair we were on, and I realize that Will thought I was asking about the lifts, not the trails, and that this is the lift to the top of the mountain. Two runs later, I have a splitting headache from slamming my head into the ice, a dinner-plate sized bruise on my butt, and I’ve scrapped a lot of skin off my left elbow.  The run after that I go down so hard on my knee that now, more than a week later, it still feels like I'm kneeling on tacks if I put any pressure on it.  But it was all worth it.  Why?

When I dropped off my Snowboard at the check-in while we were taking a break, the Wachusetts employee, one of the teenage ski patrollers rotating through the job, looked and said "Whoaaa... sweet board, Dude!"

And we closed out March with Brie making it onto the Varsity Tennis team for her high school.  This was tougher than you might think; there were 4 Varsity doubles slots and 48 girls trying out for them.  And it was not just freshmen like Brie; tryouts were open to girls from all four grades, from ninth to twelfth.

 Even better, Brie opened on the first match of the season (picture to the right, with some of her Varsity teammates and some of the JV players as well). 

We are all extremely proud of her.