Monday, January 23, 2012

Vertical Madness

With more hype than "shit cyclists say", La Nina Winter 2012 aka "snowmadegeddon", "powpacalypse", "dirty lying bitch" or whatever you want to call her has arrived to the West..sort of.

When it comes to pow, I'm not one to complain about which resort has more or dwell on how far we could stormchase on any given weekend. I shelled out $560 for a season pass on Big Mountain, I live 8 minutes from the hill, and I'm pretty much happy to ski there bell to bell all winter long. It never really dumps here (a 12" day might happen twice a year), but the skiing's great and you can almost always find ze pow if you look around a bit. This is after all, my off season.

Although winter time is about as non-competitive as I get, Whitefish Mountain Resort has this pesky little "just for fun" contest (ie race) going on that is starting to take over my mind. The Vertical Tracker. It's a pretty simple experiment in modern psychology really, how do you get people to ski more (and thus spend more money)? Make it a contest and publish the results on the internet!

The extent to which Whitefishers go to be #1 on Big Mountain are quite remarkable, if not just plain ridiculous. You want to crack the top 30? Don't even think about having a job during lift hours. Think you can hang in the top-ten? Cancel that run down the East Rim, the accompanying cat track down Russ' Street takes too long. To win the vertical challenge you're basically required to run groomers non-stop all winter (we're one month into ski season and the leaders are already at 1.4 million feet). That's dedication, or perhaps just...Madness?

I realized I had Vertical Madness this Saturday, when at 3 O'clock on a mediocre day my friends wanted to have nachos and beers. I had been skiing non stop from 9-3, my legs we're pretty tired and I was fairly hungry and thirsty. But the thought that the bull wheel was spinning without me cast a terrible spell of anxiety over me. I'm guessing this is a common feeling among the ranks of the top 100 on Big Mountain. Especially for the weekend warriors in the peloton. Anyway, I told myself to chill, nachos and beers are a very important part of skiing, plus it was a Saturday so I could go back out later for night laps.

This morning I made the front page (top-99) for the first time in the Adult Category, holding down 81st place. We all know spandex clad cyclists are a very odd bunch, but I'm starting to think this crowd might have a few more screws loose!

Take Fred Frost for example, an old timer and multiple vertical challenge winner. Did his parents know his destiny was to spin laps all winter long when they named him Fred Frost? He can be seen on Big Mountain looking like a 1980's Santa in a purple and black onesie, complete with butt flap. Then there's the carver boarders, "Angry Rick" and "Johnny Vertical" in resplendent neon and full-face helmets, they are such a fixture on Toni Matt it's as if we're living in a video game. I've even noticed a new trend which I've yet to prove, but do have some evidence. I think some people are using fake names just to look better in the top 50. Take Alan McAlpine for example, 31st place. Have you ever heard of anyone with the last name McAlpine? Honestly, what kind of background check does the resort conduct if you have cash money and want a pass anyway?Maybe next year I'll sign up as Starfish Grove.

One thing's for certain, winter would be a hell of a lot longer, colder and much less entertaining without the antics of skiing. It's one of the few sports you can do from the day you start walking until the day you stop. Now matter what level you're at, there is always something bigger, and always room to get better. Take Noah Young for example, philosopher responsible for "the ski bum never says no" and "you don't know if you don't go". With 96 inches the last ten days at Mt. Baker, and a season pass on probation, he's mixing it up by tele skiing pillow lines with a kayak paddle below the resort and thumbing it back to the parking lot.

Is he nuts? I'll take Vertical Madness over Seasonal Affected Disorder any day of the week.


PS thanks to winter time friends Black Diamond Equipment, Deschutes Brewing and Nachos for keeping the dream alive.

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