Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter XC Ski Weekend: Day 3

When you travel with a group you need to stay loose. The plans for Day three changed more times than I can count - snowshoeing, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking at Blackwater Falls, skiing ...When it came down to it, Peter, Suzanne and I went snowshoeing, most of the rest of the group went cross-country skiing, and Peter and Gina, after getting their usual late start, went hiking.
In the woods on show shoes

I had never been on snow shoes before. The other Peter was an experienced snowshoer. Suzanne and I strapped on our borrowed (from Dave & Cyndi) snowshoes and followed Peter into the woods. Well, other than Peter's initial preference for bushwhacking straight uphill, it was a blast. Skis let you move quickly through the snow, but you're somewhat constrained by terrain. Snow shoes let you go anywhere. We hiked alongside trails. We hiked off trails. We hiked up hillsides. We ran into the rest of the group at one point.

The day was much warmer. Saturday we had been wishing for more layers' Sunday we were stripping them off.

Were we having fun? By the midpoint of the day Suzanne and I were speculating where and when to get the best deals on buying snow shoes - a good sign for our enjoyment of the day, but a bad sign for the wallet.

The snowshoers were the first back to the lodge, but soon the rest of the group began to trickle in. Lunch for me was once again the spicy curry lentil soup. Peter and Suzanne, who weren't driving, each ordered beers and settled in. The Whitegrass lodge is the kind of place that invites you to hang out, except when it's jam packed (as it was on Saturday). As a result we lingered for a while before all heading our separate ways back home. A wonderful weekend.

Almost the whole group: Jen, Cat, Reggie, Dave, Cyndi and Rob (front table), Suzanne, Peter, Nelson and Caroline (rear)
The trip home was like a trip between seasons. Some warmer weather was rolling in and as I left Canaan Valley the thermometer went from the 30's to the 50's pretty quickly. Back home it was near 60 degrees, which made me eager to ditch the thermal base layer I was wearing . That weather rolled into Canaan as well and a few days later the webcams were showing sad bare spots where we had been skiing. Well, I guess we timed it just right for some not-quite-spring skiing.
Everyone except Peter and Gina

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Winter XC Ski Weekend: Day 2

Crazy conditions at the lodge - that's me betwen the ski racks
Wait a minute, this wasn't in the forecast! The weather forecast had called for a warming trend over the weekend, but Canaan Valley weather can be unpredictable. I awoke Saturday to cold temps, light snow, and fierce winds. I watched the snow swirl around as I ate breakfast at the inn and chatted with a couple of other guests, all skiers. I was in no hurry to get outside. Saturday was also the day we had figured on going telemark skiing, but it turned out that some of us preferred going back to Whitegrass for XC. I picked up Peter and Suzanne at Hypnocoffee in Davis and the three of us headed over to Whitegrass. Dave and Cyndi, Reggie and Cat, Rob, and Jen headed for Timberline to telemark. Gina and Peter slept in a while. Nelson and Carolyn headed out separately to ski.

Taking a break at a shelter. Note horizontal snowfall
Have I mentioned it was windy? The closest weather history I could find online just now was Petersburg, WV, which recorded gusts of 45 MPH. Whitegrass weather is more extreme than Petersburg so I'm guessing the winds were upwards of 50 MPH there. Peter, Suzanne and I sat for a while in the lodge watching the wind try to rip the flags off their poles, thinking that maybe we were a little crazy for even considering going outside. I regretted not having brought a full face mask and a few more layers. Finally we headed out for a warm-up run, so to speak, of Springer Orchard Trail. This took us right into the wind. I was glad for the ski goggles (not normally used for XC) that Teddy had given me for the trip. The force of the wind wad unbelievable and the snow ground against us like we were being sandblasted. I was wearing ski gloves with chemical handwarmers in them and my hands were still freezing. The water in the drinking tube from my Camelback water bottle froze. After about five minutes we stopped and questioned whether we were doing this just to prove a point, but we pressed on. Adding a pair of glove liners helped warm up my hands, and once we were into the woods we were somewhat shielded from the wind, so things got better. I'm glad we did, since conditions were great. Fresh powder over the existing base. The scenery was beautiful too. We skied for about two hours before heading back to the lodge for some marvelously warm soup (spicy curried lentil ... mmmmmmm). The afternoon was a similar story: back out into the blistering winds, this time to the Timberline trail. This is a beautiful trail which eventually leads into some woods. We skied for a while in the virgin snow of the woods, which was nice, though we were disappointed to find that the trail didn't take us to Timberline ski area (maybe we just didn't go far enough through the woods). Peter and I took a detour on the way back to check out a side trail while Suzanne headed back. Some time in the afternoon the snow stopped, but the winds remained pretty strong.

Late afternoon we left Whitegrass and after a quick stop at my inn to change (and yes, to check email) I headed over to the Purple Fiddle to meet up with the group. In addition to the hotel part of the Purple Fiddle, there are dorm type accommodations and a common area over the club portion - a kitchen, living room and pool table. We took over the living room area, broke out all the snacks and beverages we had with us, and ordered a stack of pizzas. Our original plan was to head downstairs to watch the band, but we wound up having such a good time just hanging out that we never made it down to the club - and heck, we could hear the band pretty well from upstairs anyway. I'm not sure how much pizza and snack food I had, but it was a lot - including a particularly wonderful blueberry goat cheese courtesy of Gina. I drank my share of single malt scotch (courtesy of Rob and Gina) and wine as well. Finally, one by one people started to peter out. I mean this literally, as Peter the elder was the first to go, falling asleep on the couch. Next Nelson and Carolyn headed to bed. Then came those of us who had to drive somewhere. Needless to say, plans for Sunday morning were left a little fuzzy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Winter XC Ski Weekend: Day 1

Me, in the Whitegrass lodge

I headed up to West Virginia today for a ski weekend with a group of about a dozen friends. It was in part a celebration of one of us turning the big 4-0 (alas, she was the second youngest of the group), but mostly it was just a chance to hit the trails for some cross-country skiing and maybe telemark skiing and snow-shoeing.  Plans for the trip had been long in the making, but in the final analysis were a little short on details, at least to the engineering-inclined, with no particular agreed-upon arrival time. I figured I might be skiing by myself on Day 1 and so I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled into the parking lot at Whitegrass ski area and immediately spotted my friend Rob. He had car-pooled up with Suzanne and Jen and they had arrived just minutes earlier. Whitegrass is a funky 1950’s (or thereabouts) downhill ski area which today serves as a cross-country ski resort. The lodge is small and rustic. It feels like a restaurant in a college town which happens to rent skis. While the four of us were getting into our gear Peter and Gina showed up and five of us set out on one of the shorter loop trails as a warm-up (Suzanne had promised to wait and take a lesson with the other beginner, the other Peter). Rob was using telemark ski gear (a hybrid between XC and downhill). He quickly tired of trudging along the trail in the heavier gear and went back to play on the big slope. The rest of us continued the loop, passing through beautiful woods and a horse pasture with some friendly horses.
Peter, Gina, and Jen on Springer Orchard Trail

After this trail we stopped back at the lodge and met up with Peter and Suzanne, who were just finishing their lesson, Nelson and Carolyn, who had been skiing since early morning, and Dave and Cyndi. We relaxed for a little bit in the yurt (which I assume is there to help with the chronic over-crowding in the lodge) then went into the lodge for some food – spinach mushroom barley soup for me. The big group of us started to climb Three Mile trail (which, no surprise, is three miles long). Probably the most note-worthy part of this outing was a slightly out of control Dave whacking into and wiping out a woman who was stopped in the middle of the trail. Anyway, half way up the trail we realized how late it was so we turned around and skied down.

I must say that my skiing skills started out awful. I simply had no control on downhills and intentionally fell more than once because I couldn’t stop any other way. As I skied more I got more comfortable and I improved through the afternoon. My ancient ski gear, though continued its disintegration. Last year one of my boots broke in two while I was skiing the W&OD trail after one of the Snowmageddon storms. Today, the strap on one of my ski poles broke. I skied without a strap for the rest of the day but in the back of my mind I was working ideas for temporary fixes.

Waiting upstairs at Hellbenders. That's my foot on the right.
I was a late joiner to the trip. By the time I decided to go along most of the group made arrangements to stay at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, WV – a funky hostel/nightclub. Since the Fiddle was full by the time I joined, I’m staying at the far nicer (but more expensive) Bright Morning Inn in Davis, just a few minutes away. For dinner the group – now swelled to a dozen with Catriona – decided to hit Hellbender Burrito, convenient for me since it was right across from where I was staying. It takes a while to seat 12 at a restaurant in a small WV town. Fortunately for us the restaurant had a little room upstairs to hang out in. This room felt like a college apartment – 1980’s vintage couch, beer sign, video games, junk. It was actually a cozy place to hang out for a while. Finally they called us, though we did have to eat split between two tables. I had a burrito with seitan (a wheat protein product), veggies, cheese and beans – good! I accidentally really doused my burrito with habanero sauce (I didn’t notice the bottle didn’t have a shaker top). That didn’t really slow me down any eating it and I had that wonderful burning sensation in my mouth when I was done.

Everyone had gotten up pretty early, so the combination of big burritos and beer on top of an afternoon of exertion did us in. It was an early night and we all headed back to our respective hotels to turn in.