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.
Opening weekend at Plattekill, and this past Sunday, I finally made it out. Descending onto Meeker Hollow Road, I was welcomed by a bright, clear morning. Snow still clung to the windswept fields, and to every branch shouldering the road. The conditions seemed great.
Gearing up in the lodge, sunlight beamed in through the massive windows, lighting up the empty bar. There was only a handful of us – quickly getting ready, nodding to one another, eager to kick off a new season.
Finally out, I rode the triple thinking of a first run on Upper Face. They were blowing snow on the side (skier’s left) and there seemed to be good untracked lines along the tree line although there would be some maneuvering through the whales under the guns. I love riding these, before they ice up. These were nicely spaced and created a chute near the trees.
Being newly gunned, the snow was a little heavy, but the pitch was steep enough to push through it (with tight turns, staying forward and square to the fall line.) Once backseat I nearly ate it - that’ll wake you right up when you are so close to the trees/guns.
Halfway down I heard someone behind and I pulled to the side. A woman whished past, absolutely killing it. Effortless turns, absorption, completely fluid. As if she were carving perfect corduroy and not the chopped, bumped-up, completely UN-smooth UN-forgiving line we were on.
Impressed, I nodded to her. “Beautiful,” she said, grinning.
Yeah. That’s what it is.
On a groomer, in the trees, picking your way down the side of a trail between six-foot rollers, there are always opportunities (if you choose) for Plattekill to challenge, to push you.
Legs burning, I hit the lodge to warm up. And, in what seems to be commonplace at Plattekill - I recognized someone. A man was sitting up with his two young daughters a few tables away. I remembered him from the trail-clearing crew. He introduced himself as Brian, and his two daughters, Ava and Lia.
All three wore the cheerful, wind-nipped faces of a family who had already put in plenty of turns that day. We chatted for a while, and they invited me to take some runs with them. John and his family live in north NJ and rent a place near the mountain every winter, for years they’ve spent their weekends at Plattekill. He told me he wanted his daughters to continue to learn on this mountain, because it constantly challenged them, made them learn to handle any conditions.
From the way they slayed every run I took with them, their dedication to Plattekill paid off. We eventually hit Upper Face, and I barely kept up with them. They even managed a few jumps off the rollers.
When we met at the bottom Brian called out to the man running the lift, “Bob, how’s it going?”
“Living the life,” he replied. “One chair at a time.”
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…]