December 18th, 2007

we're all homos -- homo sapiens

On Being a Marmot Patroller

I spent this last weekend in Marmot Basin, on the proving grounds of the Milk Run and other such places, with seven other people hoping for the exact same thing I was.

With me were exactly one snowboarder (jokes about dope go here), an accountant with dreams of being a police officer, a man who skied marmot before they had lifts, two cousins, and a husband-and-wife team. At least I wasn't the only girl.

The training weekend is less about training and more about proving yourself capable. It improves your skiing, yes, and trains you in how to handle the toboggan in terrain the likes of which you'd never thought possible, but mostly, they want to see what you do if they throw you down a section you don't know you're capable of getting down.

Take Headwall, for example. A single black diamond on the map, yes, but full of trees and deep snow, stuck off in a corner somewhere, empties out into the bottom of the Kiefer T-bar, with segments as steep as most double-blacks. I bailed once on that puppy, and what a crash it was. It's funny how one good yard sale can make you go from ripping it with confidence to tiptoeing your way down.

Interestingly, my biggest problems came when I got scared. Hesitation meant that my toboggan handling was, at times, less handling and more dragging. The trainers kept hammering that concept into me, that I did better when I was more aggressive, that it was when I backed off that I got into trouble.

The trees were my nemesis. On piste, I was great. Off piste was where the hesitation came. Visions of Mark's lower leg smashing into a zillion pieces danced through my head as I slipped through tight turns with giant spruces on either side of me. In my hesitation I managed to sink ass-deep in a tree well, whack the snowboarder with the handles of my toboggan, and fall more times than I'd care to count. Several of these falls were while handling the toboggan. On the upside, I obeyed the cardinal rule: DON'T LET GO. Not even when the toboggan was practically on top of me, and my skis were above my head.

Epic faceplants aside, it was a super fun weekend. The group was great and we encouraged each other. By the end my skiing had actually improved dramatically, with me remembering such basics as finishing off my turns instead of skidding right through them and wondering why I was picking up speed. The scenery was beautiful, even with the loud bangs of avalanche-triggering explosives.

We hiked over to Tres Hombres, a side of the mountain within the Marmot leasehold but outside the ski area boundary, in order to inspect the avalanche they had caused with the bombs. Spectacular.

Now I have to go back for my orientation weekend, to do the run that the patrol lead insists "IS NOT A HAZING" ... knowing full well that I'll have absolutely no help.

Wish me luck.