New Years, Mars Girl Style

Mars Girl on Mistletoe
Early morning 1/3/09

Confucius say: he who forgets his snow pants on a ski trip will find himself shrouded in ill luck.

Thus began the long-awaited ski trip to Holiday Valley on New Year’s Eve. Upon arriving at our hotel in Jamestown (about 45 minutes from Ellicotville where the ski resorts are), Michael and I began to get ourselves ready for our first round of skiing–night skiing at Holiday Valley. The resort was open with extended hours to 11pm and we figured we could get in about four hours of skiing before settling down to the festivities at the main lodge which involved a fireworks display at midnight.

As I pulled out my snow pants from my suit case, Michael exclaimed, “Aw, crap!” And angrily explained that he’d forgot to pack his snow pants. Something about having to pull them off a hanger in his closet and forgetting to do so. Fortunately, being the Ultimate Master of Forgetfulness (having forgotten to bring the Christmas gifts I was giving to my family after driving 45 minutes to my parents’ house), I completely understood how one could forget something as obvious as snow pants on a ski trip. It could have happened to me. In fact, I’ve had to get in the habit while packing for any trip that as soon as I think of something I must stop what I’m doing and immediately go look for whatever my mind remembered.

Yeah. Some people use lists. But, see, that never works that well for me. I’m even more likely to forget a detail while brainstorming about what I need than I am when thinking on the spot. I occasionally make lists for grocery shopping, but often I forget to bring the list when I actually go to the grocery store, so it’s become a completely useless exercise for me. It’s easier to just go to the grocery store and walk through each isle to jog my memory. The same goes for packing for a trip. I just have to start packing a day or two before I need to in order to give my brain the time to come up with additional items I need to add to my suitcase.

Anyway, Michael called the front desk and got a suggestion for a local store that sells ski gear. Not exactly an expense he wanted to add to his vacation (especially since he’s got about fifty pairs of ski pants), but necessary as you absolutely cannot ski comfortably in jeans or anything that isn’t waterproof. Michael called the store and found that they were closing in a fifteen minutes so we had to speedily zip over there. He gave them his pants measurements and the sales guy promised to pull a few pairs of snow pants for him to immediately try upon arrival.

The conditions were a little slippery on the roads due to the recent snow fall. Michael’s truck is rear-wheel drive, which is prone to fish-tailing, and I was a bit nervous even though he is quite an apt driver in snow (as opposed to me). As we were looking around for the store, Michael called on his cell phone to get more precise directions of the store’s location and, based on the location he described us as currently being in, the sales person told him to turn right, immediately. Naturally, the truck slid as he tried to take the sudden corner, coming to a stop at an angle that faced us directly at the store.

“Oh great,” I quipped once my heart had stopped beating fearfully, “I can just see us crashing into the store. ‘Hi! We’re here. Give us the ski pants!'” It seemed funnier at the moment. I suppose nervousness makes one slap happy. We were nowhere near actually hitting the store; I’m just a freak about sliding in a vehicle.

Once Michael righted the vehicle and we parked, we entered the store to be greeted happily by outdoor enthusiasts of the skiing and cycling variety. The store was a ski and bicycling shop–my kind of place as it covers my two favorite activities–but, sadly, they did not sell Giants, just Raleigh and Specialized that I noticed. While Michael tried on the snow pants, I ogled a $3000 Specialized road bike, but I wasn’t all that impressed. It was certainly no Giant Defy Alliance.

$70 later, Michael had acquired a new pair of snow pants that he didn’t really need once he returned to Ohio, but it would serve our purposes for the weekend. The store employees took pity on him and apparently gave him a discount from the original price that was closer to $89.

The snow pants situation resolved, we then took off for Holiday Valley. The good news is that the lift ticket for the remainder of the evening (about 6:30pm until 11pm) was only $32, which by lift ticket standards, was pretty inexpensive. It made up for the fact that the conditions for night skiing are generally less than desirable–icy or hard pack–because the great number of day skiers ski off all the good snow. But as an experienced skier of the northeast, you come to expect these conditions so it’s no huge disappointment. Since this was my first time on skis since the weekend after Thanksgiving, I wanted to take it easy anyway. It was just something fun to do to bring in the New Year’s and I wasn’t planning on killing myself on the first half day.

Overall, the conditions weren’t quite as bad as I expected. Michael steered me over to Morning Star–a really nice long blue run–once we were warmed up and we made several runs. There are two easy black diamond runs that run on each side of Morning Star that we also did–Cross Cut, a nice steady quick little hill, and Moonshadow, which is normally a terrain park but the half pipe hadn’t been built yet. (And, no, I would not be doing a half pipe were one there!)

We were getting a little tired by 9:30ish so we decided to take just a couple more runs at the front side of the resort. We chose Cindy’s Run, a blue. The steep part at the top was a little icy, but I felt confident enough to get down it without reverting to snowplowing like a novice. We were about half way down when Michael wiped out, which is something that almost never happens. I caught the last bit of his fall and noted that he had ended on his back with both skis in the air. It didn’t look good, but yet I chose this moment to taunt him when I made it down to where he was picking himself up. After all, this was the second fall he’d taken that night and, like I said, I never see him fall.

I immediately felt bad for my taunting words when he explained, a worried look on his face, that he thought he pulled a hamstring and he was really hurting. Since he was standing, I assumed he could get down the rest of the mountain, but he seemed hesitant to start. He took it slow (but still faster than me) for the remainder of the slope. At the bottom, he told me that he had to pack it in, he was really hurt.

I was about ready to quit anyway. I would have maybe taken another run by myself, but I had no desire to revisit Cindy’s Run with all the ice at the top and the lift to Mardi Gras–another long, fun blue run–was closing. So I came in with him.

Michael worried that he would not be able to ski the rest of the weekend. It put a little damper on our New Year’s Eve celebrations, but I was reluctant to let this injury ruin our evening. We drank a few glasses of wine and listened to the band playing in the lodge until about 11:45 when the light show began. I’ve never spent New Year’s Eve in Holiday Valley, but apparently it’s a tradition for the ski patrol to ski Cindy’s Run bearing red flares while skiing long synchronized loops down the run. It was really cool. I briefly wondered if I could hold a flare while skiing without burning myself. Probably not. Some days I feel like I should go back to not holding poles.

The fireworks display began about ten minutes before midnight and ended with the finale at midnight. The timing was a little off from the celebrations shown on the TVs from New York, so as we came into the building we celebrated the turn of 2008 to 2009 all over again. We had another glass of wine and I felt really complete. This was truly a great way to spend New Year’s–injury and all (of course, it wasn’t my injury, but I was completely sympathetic). I just like to be doing something I enjoy on New Year’s; sitting there with Michael after a quick bit of skiing was my ideal celebration.

The next day, Michael’s hamstring was still bothering him pretty badly. After getting up slowly, we decided that we would drive to Ellicotville where Michael could consult a doctor at the sports clinic and I would ski alone for the day. I felt bad, and a little guilty, for skiing myself while he was injured, but I wanted to get a full day in in the event that Michael couldn’t ski the rest of the weekend and we had to call the ski portion of our mini-vacation off. We decided to meet at the main lodge for lunch.

Having used the prior day to warm up, I now felt a bit more in control of my skis. I took several runs in the Tannenbaum area–my favorite part of the resort–and, right before lunch, I got really brave and took a run down Yodeler, a black diamond run a bit more challenging than the ones I’d done the previous night. I had a little bit of a rickety start–only because I was psyched out by it being a black diamond–but once I got going, I steadily skied, albeit slowly, down the run. I was pretty proud of myself and called on my cell phone Michael to brag.

At lunch, Michael explained that the doctor had determined he’d merely sprained his hamstring and that he could probably ski the next day if he took it easy by applying a heating salve to the injury. It didn’t sound as serious as we originally thought and Michael seemed optimistic and determined that he would attempt to ski the next day.

Overall, I skied about six hours, stopping about one hour before my lift ticket expired after about three or four “last runs.” My legs were pretty sore when I was done so I think I overdid it a little.

The next morning, Michael’s hamstring was feeling a better, though still tender, and he decided to try skiing. We’d determined to go to Holimont–a private resort where I’d learned to ski at the age 16 (the family of a close friend were members). Holimont is closed to the public on Saturdays and Sundays so it’s a rare treat when I’m available on a weekday to go. Michael had never been there and I was excited to be the first to show him the place.

We took our first two runs down some greens. I was nervous the entire time that Michael would have some trouble with his leg, so I worried a little. At the bottom of the first run he told me he felt all right so I started to relax a little. He then told me he was ready for a blue run.

We took our first blue run down Exhibition–a steepish slope at the front of the resort. Ironically, this is the first slope I ever went down as a new skier because I, stupidly, refused to learn to ski on a bunny hill. My friend, for some reason, had thought this run was a green, which it so obviously is not. It was fun to revisit this old haunt because I’m obviously a much better skier than I was in those days when I learned. I remember being scared witless in the middle of that first hill, barely knowing how to snow plow even. I think it had taken me thirty minutes to get down that damn run. However, as the intermediate skier I am now, this run was perfect for me. It’s funny how perspective changes with time. This run didn’t intimidate me at all now. In fact, it turned out to be my favorite run of the day. We did it about three times that day total.

The conditions on this day were dicey. Some runs were decent while others, like Meadow, were icy (in my memory, when the conditions were less than perfect, Meadow was always a icy run). Right off the bat, I was feeling some burn in my legs indicating to me that my legs still had not recovered fully from the evening before and that pretty much overshadowed my day. I waited too long to challenge myself on some of the black diamonds and by then I wasn’t feeling as confident having fallen once on the ice. I did make one run down a black diamond–Wild Turkey, a run that in my memory was always covered in moguls but wasn’t on this day. It was the first time I’d ever done a black diamond at Holimont; when I skied there as a young Mars Girl, I’d never reached the level for those runs.

We quit around 3:30, about an hour before the resort closed (Holimont does not have night skiing). I think Michael still had some energy in him to make a few runs, but I was completely wiped. My legs just had never recovered from the overuse of the day before. I was bummed because I probably would have liked another day at Holimont.

Saturday we went back to Holiday Valley. Five inches of snow had fallen the night before–a light dusting, really. We made it up there early so that we could catch the first lift at 8:30am and thus avoid some of the later morning crowds. Our first run was down Mistletoe, which is my favorite run in the Tannenbaum area of HV. It had been groomed the night before so this run was gloriously fun to take. We did it twice in a row at my request. (I think Michael loses patience with my repetitive run routine.)

Oddly, I was feeling really good this morning with none of the muscle aching of the prior day. To top it off, the conditions were already looking better than since we’d been there. So after several easier runs, Michael asked me if I wanted to try some of the black diamonds by the Yodeler lift. Our first was Champaign, which was covered with hard snow pack–very hard to cut your skis through. I almost fell and Michael did take a harmless spill. Which prompted Michael to urge us to take another run on this slope since falling doesn’t count as having successfully completed the run in our books.

We then moved onto Yodeler, which I was proud to show him that I could do (since I did it alone previously and I had no proof to back my claim that I had done it). Yodeler seemed to have benefited from the night’s snow fall and perhaps some grooming, for it was powdery! We did it a few times because I felt really save on this run in the condition it was in. Way cool.

I even followed him down an additional black in that area without even having him check the conditions of it first. I was really charged that I was able to do so many black diamond runs. I’d not even done this well in Colorado last March. The hardest run I’d done then was Frosty’s Freeway, a “blue black” run–a designation that exists out west to indicate that the run is harder than a blue but easier than a black. (Out here, though, it would probably be a black.)

Michael then took me to an area of Holiday Valley I’d never before been to–Eagle. This area contains only black diamond runs, probably the hardest at Holiday Valley with the exception of The Wall. I felt as though I’d graduated to some new level of skiing, for I’d never been to the area of the resort where only black diamonds reigned. And I couldn’t believe that I didn’t feel at all nervous. I was in such good form that I was ready to tackle something new.

We decided to do Raven, taking the Hoot Owl elbow at the bottom. From the top of the slope, I could tell right away that I could do this run because its grade looked about the same as Yodeler. I was stoked! (Totally, almost like a snowboarder!) It was scenic in that area, so we snapped a picture on my cell phone right in front of the run. You can see the blue slope on the other side of the valley. As Michael was taking the picture, I couldn’t help but think of this as the “Before” picture; if I bit it or flaked out in fear at the top, then the happy before picture would be an aching memory of the clueless moments before my ultimate failure.

The Before Picture: Mars Girl at top of
black diamond run, Raven/Hoot Owl
(Eagle Chair area of Holiday Valley)

Fortunately, though, I made it down no problem at all. So the picture is proof of my finest hour at Holiday Valley. Graduation day, folks!

After that run, we headed back to the main lodge for lunch. I was going to make a run down Falcon, but I was getting kind of hungry and my nerves were shot as I stood at the top of that run, much less brave than my Raven experience. Falcon was a little steeper and I wasn’t sure of the conditions on it, so we just whooshed down an icy blue run, and then followed a cross-country green run that I’d never seen before back to the lodge.

After lunch, we attacked the front of the resort, hitting Cindy’s Run again so that Michael could crush the demon that had brought him down two days before. It was in much better condition than it had been on the 31st so we both enjoyed it a lot more. We made our way to The Wall in hopes that we could watch crazy people falling all over the place as they attempted this maddening run. If you’re not familiar with Holiday Valley, I’m sure you can imagine what a run called The Wall is like. You don’t have to think too hard on that one. It’s a double black diamond, normally icy, and something you triple dog dare your friends to go down. Except me–ain’t no one triple dog daring going to coax Mars Girl to go down that run, that’s for sure. You can have your fame; I wasn’t born stupid.

Unfortunately, the conditions were not good enough for The Wall to be open. Bummer. We did a run down a blue run that elbows around the tough part of The Wall–it’s the run that allows those curious to look upon The Wall to get to the bottom of The Wall without actually going on The Wall. There’s a lift at the bottom of the run so that you can also ride over The Wall for further entertainment when the slope is open. Just being on the lift gives you all the experience you need–The Wall looks damn intimidating from up high as you go over it and I had heart palpitations just looking upon it.

Side note: If I ever got good enough to attempt a run as insanely pitched as The Wall, I would never do it on a run where my descent could be observed from a lift or by skiers at the bottom. No way. Just knowing people were watching me do something stupid would really mess up my performance.

We took a few other blue runs and I battled a demon of my own–Maple Leaf, a black diamond run I’d flaked out at the top of the Saturday after Thanksgiving. After all the black diamond runs I’d been doing all day, this one was much easier in comparison and I had no problem bagging it except for the fact that at this point in the day the resort seemed to be rampant with out of control snowboarders whom almost ran into me on both my runs.

Snowboarders don’t seem to understand the concept that the downhill skier has the right of way, since we can’t see behind our heads, and they, as the uphill person, must maneuver around the downhill person. Be aware, as the ski patrol’s jackets exclaim; I wish these young punks would heed this warning. Too many times, I felt the rush of air on my arm from a snowboarder passing too close to me. I am sure it’s not all snowboarders, but I have to say that I had no such proximity problems with other skiers. And it’s not my fault–I can’t see behind me. All I can do is hope the person behind me is being careful as I hear their snowboards scraping behind me. (My one and only collision while skiing several years was also with an unalert snowboarder.)

When we got to the bottom of our second run down Maple Leaf, Michael told me that he’d almost tossed and that the movement he’d made to prevent the fall had reaggitated his hamstring. I felt bad for him. He said he could continue skiing, but he later told me he felt a little out of control for the next hour while we made several runs down some more blue runs. At about 3:30, we decided to call it quits again. I was starting to get tired, too. I left him at Tannenbaum lodge–where we’d started the day–and made two more runs. I wanted to bag another black diamond to make up for the fact that I bailed on doing Falcon, so I did Champaign again, and then had to take one more run to get back to Tannenbaum.

It was a pretty full weekend and I feel good about how much skiing we got in. Michael, who counts the number of runs we do daily, counted about 30 runs at the end of the day Saturday which is pretty good for a busy weekend day. We generally got about 25 runs every full day that we skied–more than our money’s worth. I also feel like my skiing is finally getting back to about where I was when I left Colorado. Though, I admit that I really miss the powdery, ice-less skiing of Colorado. It made me a lot braver than I am out here so I’m wondering how I would fare in Colorado if I skied there this year.

During our stay in Jamestown, we enjoyed a different restaurant each evening. I don’t think I lost much weight despite all the activity as I probably put back in as much as I exercised off. I guess it’s “ski to eat” for me, borrowing the motto of “bike to eat” my club often uses. We discovered a new restaurant called Mariner’s Pier in Celoron on the shore of Lake Chautauqua, recommended to us by the sales guy at the place where Michael had bought the ski pants. The menu offered Greek, Italian, and seafood. I ordered a great Greek lamb dish with potatoes, hummus, and some cool dill tasting dip while Michael enjoyed an Italian dish.

The setting was really cool, too. The outside of the building was unimpressive–a little red shack in the middle of a boat dock that looked a little seedy to me at first, like a place where you’d expect to walk in to a bunch of burly sailors drinking beer and belching. However, the inside was a nice little warm restaurant with elegant decoration and low romantic lighting. The clientele were not dirty sailors, or even pirates, at all–just normal middle class folks like ourselves. The wait staff was gracious. The prices weren’t outrageous. It’s definitely worth a second visit.

We headed for home Sunday and I really felt like I’d had a restful, fit weekend. It doesn’t mean I was ready for work today, but I sure feel like I got the mental holiday I needed. Michael’s going to have to spend some time stretching his hamstring and salving it for the next couple weeks before his trip to Vail at the end of the month, but I’m confident it will heal in time (even if he isn’t). Hopefully he’ll remember his snow pants!

In other news, I registered for XOBA (aka “The Across Ohio Bicycle Adventure”) Sunday morning, right at the hotel in Jamestown, since online registration had gone up at midnight. Okay, I’m a little obsessed. But, you know, the ride usually fills up by the end of February and I wanted to make sure I had my spot. So while I’m still enjoying the fruits of winter, my mind is focused on the joys of summer. There’s never too many things to do…

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