Polar bears are super cute, right? And right now they are your spirit animal.
Because Powder + Arctic Blasts = More. Of everything. So a how-to guide to surviving skiing at 0 degrees (or colder. Today is colder. Plus windchills). My tips are two of everything—goggles, handwarmers, base layers…
First the material: wool. It wicks moisture, keeps you warm. And it doesn’t get stinky. It’s my base layer of choice. I love Icebreaker. You can, in a pinch, use a merino sweater from, say, Uniqlo… On top of that is another base layer (this one actually from Uniqlo—HeatTech). Then I go for silk (an old fine knit silk sweater that has rips in it). Please don’t laugh but this is the polar-bear secret—I go for many very thin layers, but that translates to lots of air sealing in the heat. Basically polar bears have hollow-fiber hairs which trap air to provide insulation. So on top of my three thin base layers is another wool sweater –this one thin so no layer is too thick, too heavy, but there’s air between each layer.
[Also a side note. No cotton ever. It gets wet and doesn’t dry, which is why there’s a saying: “cotton kills.” It can cause hypothermia.]
Next: On top the jackets: down (more air, those geese know something) and a windproof shell.
On the legs it’s two again for the base layers. One pair of CWX insulated compression ski tights. I cut them off above the ankle so they don’t get in the way of my boots. Over that a pair of Arcteryx fleece leggings (thick) then a pair of insulated ski pants. I know it’s a lot….
On the feet: wool ski socks as thin as possible and wicking power. On my boots: battery operated boot heaters and a neoprene insulator over the boots that straps around. (Dry Guy Boot Glove…).
Next the head: 2 balaclavas (with helmet liner), one to wear and a spare. Two pairs of goggles (one to wear and one spare). Tuck your balaclave under your goggles to make sure all of your face is covered. Eventually the inside of your goggles will fog. The fog will turn to ice. Don’t try to dry them out. Switch out the goggles and balaclava. On top—a helmet = safe AND warm.
The hands. Forget dexterity. Mittens are your friend. Having your fingers together keeps them warmer. And two Grabber handwarmers. One pair I strap on with rubber bands to my inner wrist (that part where you can see the veins—the warmer warms the blood). The other goes inside the mitten over the back of the hand (more veins, more warming).
This will make you, if not invincible, certainly able to ski the powder that came with this Thursday’s storm.
While you’re preparing for both turkey and the ski season, Isaac and I on the blog are reliving the past. Actually not reliving our past, we’re discovering it as neither of us was skiing in the 70s.
In 1971 Plattekill was keeping it real and still the hidden gem we know today. Stan Fischler (sports writer and hockey historian) wrote for New York Magazine: “I’m always amazed to discover that on any given weekend, long, maddening lines snake their way behind the chairlifts not to mention the cafeterias at such snow centers as Belleayre and Great Gorge [now defunct], while a resort like Plattekill, less than an hour past Belleayre [ed. note: it’s 20 minutes…] and with equally challenging terrain, remains a schussing wilderness and a beautiful one at that.”
Fischler lists these unheard of areas “in order of my favorites” starting with Plattekill, then Highmount [sadly also defunct], Catskill Ski Center [many recall as Bobcat in Andes and alas no more] and Noname [some of you know as Bearpen and also defunct, but rumored to be amazing if you can hike in]. His original text is below and the original image that ran in New York Magazine is above:
Plattekill in Roxbury, New York, is a gem, and good skiers have been tight-lipped for years in fear that it would be discovered. It hasn’t yet, and even on the weekends when conditions are ideal a five-minute wait on the lift-line is regarded as long. [ed. note: still true].
Owners Bonnie and Gary Hinkley [who first built the hill. Gary skis there every day it’s open] are a couple of young locals who are on the slopes as often as their customers. Their 3,000 foot “Plattekill Plunge” – with a 970-foot vertical drop—will gratify any expert, [still true] and the intermediate “Ridge Run” is high, wide and negotiable. A popular misconception is that Plattekill is mostly for advanced skiers. [people still think this] In reality it boasts some gentle novice and intermediate dips and a pleasant lodge with brown stain, red trm and Alpine background music [okay, that last detail has changed. The music is mostly of this century, though an ocassional track from the 80s has been played…]
THIS IS HOW I grew up skiing. Dog-eared ca 1972 copies of ski mags. Stacks and stacks of them. Which is to say I didn’t grow up skiing at all but spending my summer vacations in a ski house in Southern Vermont. I didn’t ski. But I read. I dreamed. I stared and studied and longed. I also grew up in Virginia, and my family wasn’t inclined towards winter. Mountains for us were hiking in the summers in Vermont on this little hill that was a ski area. Flash forward a few decades and I am living in the Catskills and I learn to ski. And then discover Plattekill, which is to me like the promised land (the promised land ca 1972—warm lodge, wooden beams, wood stove). I’d been skiing for maybe half a season when I first got there and the parking person said, “Look up there. It just opened. Macker groomed it perfectly.” He waved at the white ribbon of Northface. I had no idea who Macker was, but that the person parking my car said he skied it yesterday and promised it was fantastic, was also a warm welcome to the hill.
(Small aside: a nice thing about learning to ski in this decade is that I didn’t have to ski straight skis ca 72, and hence after a half season of skiing didn’t kill myself on Northface).
Flash forward another 2 years and I’m doing Platty’s blog. After the second post someone emails me, “It reminds me,” he writes, “of this little hill where I learned to ski in Vermont.” That little hill was where I learned to long for skiing.
But had I learned there, I probably wouldn’t be here. (I can play out a zillion alternate realities in my mind: Had my dad taken that job in Kalispell Montana where I’d have skied… Hhad they bought that place that every summer they talked of on that mountain in Vermont, where I’d have skied…. They didn’t. I ended up here and this place that keeps it real—and I still have one dog-eared copy of ski mag that I kidnapped from the vacation home when I was 15… Below images from said issue… Lange. New York. Wayne Wong in infrared.
This year for the Platty blog, there are two of us—Isaac is joining me. He grew up skiing in Idaho (more about that in his first post, coming soon). We met on the triple [chair lift], on Isaac’s first run at the mountain.
Platty’s lifts are great for such things; some of my best friendships have been formed on the double, and Isaac—no different. It was his first time at the hill, and I offered to show him around. It was also clear he could rip. Of course, he can. He grew up in the aforementioned Idaho—also he doesn’t seem to complain about skiing the East…
Talking to him after that first run, his eyes grew wide, and he could see a future of skiing in the Catskills with no lift lines, no people fighting in a lift line, or getting impatient—and also, better snow. That is the promise of Platty—to keep it real, to bring back the old school vibe of skiing, and I saw the same joy I’ve seen in countless others have at the hill. It’s the way someone recounts their first visit to the mountain as if it were the promised land. And, Isaac is also a writer. So now it’s the two of us telling you why we love it here and reporting from the hill. Also he’s braver in the trees than I and a way better skier…
It is also that time of year when I start dreaming of skiing. Actually I start in July, and I think Isaac never stops. I have two classic dreams: skiing puffy powdery bumps on Block (I’m a master in the dream in a way I never am in real life), and then strangely, skiing down a sand dune (it’s a dream after all), like I did once in Qatar. And here a shot of Platty’s opening day last year:
Now as the nights dip down into the 40s this week, it’s also time to get season tickets, check the long-range forecasts for winter (good & cold), and tune up the gear. I will be spending this weekend with a girlfriend, sharpening my skis and watching ski videos. (Her kid has just returned from racing camp in Europe…)
Stella, I love you. Really what else is there to say? There might also be thanks to Laszlo and Macker and the snowmakers for making snow last weekend long after other ski hills have stopped in the run-up to the storm. But, really all there is to say is: Yes! And then list the numbers like: 36 (that is inches…as in, 3 feet). And then there are more, new numbers like 3 or 4…of snow that keeps accumulating (as in feet, not inches, but once you make three feet, who’s to quibble?).
Or, perhaps the proof is in the pictures (or really their absence). The snow was too good to stop and pull out a camera or even a phone. So instead I’ll send you to NY Ski Blog to see Harvey Road’s post. (He always stops for pictures and was riding a fine line through the trees when I last saw him on Wednesday’s Powder Daize).
So to summarize, the snow was too good to describe—too great to stop for photos. Maybe you can imagine the whoops heard from happy skiers going down the hill (they translate to “Stella, I love you!”). And for a small bit of etymology, “Stella” means star in Latin, and every flake of snow does have a tiny bit of cosmic stardust in it. So we can thank our lucky stars (or our Lucky Stellas, and maybe raise a glass of Stella to our storm in the bar afterwards).
There are many places to start talking about Elizabeth Royster-Young: community hero, snowboarding advocate, or Brady Bunch mom. That’s how she describes her blended family—her three kids, two step-kids—they’re family of seven. Or, there’s the woman who works in tech, testing software. Or, there’s the girl from Jersey City who got pregnant at 15 in high school, a teen and single mom. The girl who got pregnant again in college and in grad school. (She jokes about no more schooling). There’s the woman who worried about feeding her kids, taking care of her family, keeping them safe, keeping them together; the woman who lived in a place known for crime and shooting. “…a place where kids can’t go outside and play,” as Elizabeth puts it. It's a place not known for mountains, not fresh air, not snow and definitely not snowboarding.
And, there’s the girl who at 14 went skiing in 8th grade. If you’re tallying the numbers, that’s a year before she had her first child. And, she loved it. “I’d never seen a mountain,” she says, “and I fell on my skis, and this guy on a snowboard helped me up.” She’d also never seen a snowboard. “He told me, ‘Don't’ worry about it. You can’t even handle your skis, so you don’t need to worry about a board.’”
Now, Elizabeth does way more than worry about a board. She rides herself, but more than that, she gets kids who could have been her out on the slopes. That’s where her charity, Shred Love, started in 2009, comes in. Its mission is “Teaching inner city and at-risk youth life lessons and values through snowboarding.” It takes kids who wouldn’t get to go outside, who’ve never seen mountains, who have little experience with snow and gives them places to explore, places to prove themselves with new skills in new realms. It gives them experiences of success. And fun. And, recently at Plattekill—on a Powder Day at that. She brought the group up this winter. Elizabeth says, “Kids who wouldn’t get to leave their community get to learn something new, get to master a skill on the slopes.”
That would be a kid like Armani Rae. “They had the hill to themselves,” Elizabeth explains, “they don’t know how spoiled they are.” But Armani said the mountain was there for her as if it wasn’t simply that she was one of the few on the hill, but as if the mountain were supporting her, teaching her, giving her something more…
Plattekill Mountain Executive Director, Laszlo Vajtay, says, “The mountain is thrilled to able to offer the opportunity for an exclusive, private, mountain usage to an organization like Shred Love who have a special cause and mission is to introduce kids to skiing and/or snowboarding that otherwise would never have that opportunity.”
“Shred Love,” Elizabeth says, “is a way to give back to my community and do it so it’s hands on and not just a donation, where we can really see the impact.” They plan a few trips a year, and the group is a 501(c)(3) charity, so all donations are tax deductible. If you wish to give you can via PayPal, using Shred Love’s email address—email@example.com or their Facebook page. (You can also contact Elizabeth Royster-Young and Shred Love directly at the above email address too).
To donate gently used gear (snowboard boots, helmets, goggles, snowboards, bindings, etc.), donors can mail it to: Shred Love, PO Box 3378, Bayonne, NJ, 07002. Donors in the Jersey City/Bayonne/NYC area can arrange for a pick up, if they'd wish.
Ski racing is full of legend and myth—Bode Miller’s skiing to school in New Hampshire as a kid, Lindsey Vonn racing at little hills in the Midwest, or Julia Mancuso toughing it out at Squaw Valley when she was little in a Gap jacket that wasn’t even waterproof and doing run after run after run. In the rain. They’re the stories of daring and vision and self-definition, and of determination against the odds. This is the same stuff you see in the Roxbury Central School Ski Team. They practice at Plattekill, and instead of waiting for the mountain to be open and training only on weekends, the team has started hiking up the hill or running a lift after school and setting their own course, placing gates on the hill and practicing over and over and over. The first time was when the mountain was leased for a private rental and the team asked the group if it was okay to practice. The private group cheered them on. Then, as snowmaking was happening, the kids would take the lifts up and set a course on the open slopes. Now the racers are there nearly every day after school.
And, it is paying off. The Roxbury racers have always been competitive. Claire McDaniel was at the State Championships at Whiteface last year, but the Roxbury students wanted more. They, like Mancuso (who, when she was 8 or 9 years old, wrote her name on the back of a Tommy Moe poster saying “Julia Mancuso – three-time Olympic Champion”) are envisioning similar success. Only the six best skiers in men’s and women’s make it to the championships, which are held at Bristol Mountain at the end of February. The RCS skiers race against teams from Margaretville Central School, Windham, Ashland, Jewett, Hunter, and now Ithaca, who’s team has some USSA racers and recently joined their division. The competition is stiff to say the least, and places are based on points accrued in races over the course of the season, but as of now the RCS racers are at the top of the league—the boys are in 1st place and the girls are 3rd in their division—and the wins are dramatic. Take last week's double header at Windham, for instance: Nick Vajtay took both the slalom and the GS. He won the slalom by 2 seconds. To put this into perspective, a 100th of a second is typical of the difference between first and second, even first and third place in ski racing. But, this was an eternity…and it is the kind of time that will carry the team to Bristol in February.
Photo credit: John McDaniel
These pictures speak for themselves: "Come ski, and bring on a long weekend! Welcome MLK Jr. Day!"
The hill is covered top to bottom: Plunge, Blockbuster, Northface...all in deep white. It’s the first time snowmaking on all the runs has happened by Jan 15! And witness these photos (and video) just to show you how much.
The snowmakers—“Snow Cowboys,” as Platty’s Head of Operations, Macker (also in some of these photos), calls them—have been hard at work. Long days, long nights, and bless Mother Nature too, for keeping it cold. And while this week has been a bit warm, Plattekill has the advantage as a weekend-only hill, so grooming won't ruin that snow. It won't turn it into boiler plate.
In short and we’ve written about this before: If it rains, don’t groom. The water will run through the snow all on its own and not turn to ice. Groom after the rain is done falling. This is something other hills—those open 7 days-a-week—don’t have the luxury to do. But Platty can promise good terrain and conditions for the weekend.
When the first day of the season=100% open, you know your scarcity fears are over. When you’re the first one in the parking lot and the owner is still plowing because all of a sudden there’s another six inches of snow… ?
When you get on the chair and you can’t see any tracks even though you’re not the first one on (or off)…?
When the second lift opens, and the terrain is untouched…?
That sums up day one at Plattekill this year, where for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century day one = a powder day.
I could go on. These are the questions (and answers) important to a skier’s heart. Well, to my skier’s heart that is. Last year is best ignored. And, this year began with a bang and powder and every single trail open—even the ones where no snow had been made and which never opened last year. So on Day One there was whooping and laughing and sheer cries of joy. Already this year Platty has had more snow than all of last year combined. And it’s only been open one day.
There was also a visit to the Cardinal, a winter rite and blessing of Ullr. The Cardinal is aka Cardenal Mendoza… brandy, hidden on the hill for winter rites (and a rite of passage for many a Platty skier.). Witness here the Cardenal’s greeting. First job finding the bottle in the snow. The rite includes a mouthful of snow, a slug of brandy and then more powder, that is, powder to be skied upon. All hail season 2016-17.
This is the season, this is the quote. This is from Macker. He is the master of snowmaking at Platty. Now this could be a conversation that includes phrases like “wet-bulb temperature” (relating to humidity) and “inversion” (warmth in the upper atmosphere) both of which have taken a toll on snowmaking across the Northeast. Or, there’s the more commonly bandied “El Nino” (which sounds to me about like an armed bandit right now).
But, at Platty there is snow. A mountain of it. And, trails. And, the reason is not those big words but the heroes on the hill, working in the middle of the night. This is Macker’s team. Normally they’d start in the evening and leave in the morning whales of snow in their wake, but this year because of the inversion, because of the wet-bulb temperature, because of El Nino, they’ve been beginning at times like 2 AM to catch that window when the temperature drops to freezing.
To return to Macker here (BTW he’s a man who says “I am happiest when I’m making snow and pushing it around,” – also to note he’s a man of few words, and those are generally bitten down and he relishes riding alone in a groomer with no one else around – “watching waves of people walking into the parking lot skis on their shoulder.”) So he has been worried and says it was so warm it felt like November, and that perhaps the world needs a leap month, that is how crazy the weather has been. He also says, “You can make snow at 32 degrees. You just get less of it. It’s not that it’s too warm, but you get way less production.”
He thinks not just about Platty but every other hill. (He is also not one to pick and choose his words carefully even for the mountain blog—eg he is hones and in his honestly talks about everywhere is suffering). “For every ski area Christmas is a third of the season, a third of the income…” His voice trails off and he talks of the impact on hills and employees and the snow. In Vermont Magic Mountain has only just opened this weekend, and Mad River Glen, whose die-hards are like Platty fanatics, did a video in December about “Skiing the Patch" (That is advertising skiing the 3 patches of snow on their hill).
Laszlo, Platty’s owner, walks in the office, talk of that year and talks of one year that was worse. 1995. He was not even 30 and it was his second year of ownership. Macker came to help out and the New York Times came to pay a call. The season before had record snowfall. That year Platty was the only ski area not afraid to talk on the record.
It was January 19, nothing was opened in the East. Back then, 21 years ago, the hill had 7 guns, and virtually no snowmaking. But they got a headling in the TIMES: "Ski Areas Suffer from an Endless Summer." Now Plattekill has a couple hundred guns plus the requisite blood, sweat and tears (and water pumped up of a less saline quality from ponds) to run them. Instead of standing on a grassy hill, Macker and Laz are here in mountains of snow. Thanks to a few heroes who are cheering on winter and giving it a helping hand.