Monday, January 10, 2011

Epic In So Many Ways!

Oh where to begin on this trip?

Just before the New Year, Robert and I decided that another ski/boarding trip in Banner Elk was in order, and soon. Somehow or another we managed to set the date for the weekend following New Years, which was rather short notice for our group. A few phone calls and texts were sent out along with a Facebook group and the ball was rolling. This trip the group included: Drew, Will, Robert, Alison, her roommate Graycie and Josh. In addition, Jon Mock had made arrangements to come on this trip! Woot! This would be the first time that Josh, Jon and I had gotten together since the accident back in September and with the three of us together I had a feeling we would manage to make this an entertaining trip.

With Jon living over on the coast, he had to leave work a bit early to make the trip over to Raleigh in time for us to leave at a decent hour. Once I got off work I finished my packing and then headed over to the neighboring Japanese restaurant for some grub. To my surprise, Jon made it in a bit early so he joined me for the end of the meal and ordered a plate himself. After the dinner we came back to the apartment, loaded up the truck, grabbed the dog and headed to Lexington to drop off Zeus and pick up Josh. We were supposed to be picking Josh up around 7:30 that evening from Lexington; however we didn’t leave Raleigh till around 7:00. Oops. After the stops in Lexington, we refueled the truck and headed west.

Earlier in the week, the northern NC Mountains had been pounded with a few good storms that brought with it a substantial amount of snow and to make things even more interesting, a storm was rolling through that area Friday night as we were making our way over. We knew this going into it and were watchful of the roads as we made our way in to Boone. Sure enough, the snow had been falling for quite awhile as the roads had a nice layer of fresh snow across the top of them. Realizing that the condo was on the top of the mountain in Banner Elk, I made a quick phone call to Robert to see how it was looking up there and if he thought we could make it up that night. (He had been there for a couple hours with the rest of the group since we left late) It wasn’t looking good. Drew and Will had a time getting up the road to Echota in Drew’s Jeep and Robert and had put Alison’s CRV in the ditch at some point on the way up as well.

Fortunately, I had made some friends in Boone while I was visiting quite frequently last year and was able to crash at a friend’s place near the base of Sugar Mountain. When we got to Banner Elk, it was apparent the storm was serious as the roads were covered with a couple inches of fresh snow and it was coming down fast. We met JVC (Josh VonCanon), Fluffy and Suzy at a bar just down the road (literally) from their house and had a brew or two before heading in for the night. On the way out we decided to have a little fun on the roads in the snow, so we slid the truck in a large parking lot and cut the fool a bit where it was safe to do so and then drove another ¼ mile to the house. The snow was nice and heavy which made it ok to drive in and still have some fun.

I parked the truck just down the road from the house in front of a machine shop, backed it under the awning of the store front and hoped for the best in the morning. We eventually got our stuff in the house and crashed in the loft upstairs. JVC warned us on the way in that he had been throwing some parties recently, so the house wasn’t the cleanest. He was right, it was a bit rough but I didn’t expect much to be honest. LOL. The loft wasn’t much, a couple twin beds and rug on some hold hardwoods, but it warm and it was free so we weren’t going to complain. We made a few jokes about our situation as we got settled and set the alarms early so we could get some nice runs in on fresh snow. We intended to go to bed rather soon, but we couldn’t help but continue to laugh at the situation we found ourselves in and wondering how we always seem to have the strangest things happen when the three of us are together.

Calling it a night in the loft at JVC's place.

5 hours later the alarms were going nuts and we slowly got up and got our stuff together for the day. Dressed and ready for the slopes I headed out to the truck to fire it up and clear a path out of the parking lot. As I opened the front door to the house, I was taken back…. It must have snowed a good eight inches in the time we were sleeping and it was still coming down!!!! I made my way to the truck, fired it up and started the defrost, knocked the snow off the windshield and started clearing the snow in front of the truck so we could get out. Josh and Jon came out a few minutes later, boards in hand and ready to go, when they saw the snow, they started to get rather excited. They knew that if the base of the mountain had this much snow, there was no telling what the summit was getting. FRESH POW!!!!

We got out of the parking lot easily, the roads weren’t great, but weren’t impassable, so we made our way up past Sugar Mountain to get some breakfast and some Uncrustables from Food Lion for a snack on the slopes. On the way out I pulled into a small garage that had been advertising snow chains for sale, so we stopped in to see what they might set us back. 200.00, we politely declined and made our on down the road, slowly. We pulled into Food Lion first as we were realizing that it was going to be tough to go much further the way the roads were getting. However, luck was on our side that morning as there was a Subway that served breakfast in the same shopping center. We knocked the snow off our boots, went in and had a nice warm sandwich as we watched the other motorists slipping and sliding up the hill next to Subway

The truck outside of Subway.

On the way back to Sugar we were stopped by a volunteer fireman who had shut the road down to allow a tow truck to get a couple cars out of the ditch. The snow was still coming down hard and the cars were having a hard time getting around after the tow truck got them out. Once clear, I tried to move on through but the fireman stopped me and said that he has been told to hold traffic until the plows come though. A few moments later, a plow came through being escorted by a local police officer in an SUV. The snow was coming down so hard and fast that within a few minutes of the plow coming through, you couldn’t tell he had been there at all. He ended up making 4 passes before he let us go on our way, and in all we had been sitting there waiting for about an hour. I called Robert to see where they were and unfortunately they had gotten a lot of snow the night before and there was no way they were going to be able to get down the mountain to go ski. They were snowed in with 4 cases of beer, a few bottles of liquor and nothing to eat.

Sugar Mountain was just around the corner as was the Alpine Ski Center. Judging by the road conditions and the truck only being 2wd I was a bit unsure if we could make it up to the parking lot, so we decided to just pull into Alpine’s parking lot and walk up to the ski lifts.

Josh getting impatient waiting on the roads to clear.

What we were dealing with that morning.

Once we got our stuff together we began the hike up the mountain. Jokingly we stuck our thumbs out as cars would pass to see if we could get a ride to the top. After a few small cars passed by without stopping a Jeep came along that did. He was headed up for a day on the slopes as well; he told us to hop on in and away we went!

We arrived at the slopes safely, lol, paid for our lift tickets and headed to the top. It was extremely cold, and the snow was still coming down, in addition the clouds were low and it made visibility poor at the top. However, there was one really good thing about all this… fresh snow, everywhere! (deep too) It took all three of us a moment or two to get used to riding in the powder, but after the first run we had it figured out and were out throwing it everywhere as we rode.

We stopped off at the terrain park to see what it was like as we had been hearing that Sugar had added some new features and what not. They had, but it wasn’t much, just a couple boxes and rails though we were told they had added some jumps. What they did have however was a snow bank that was set up as a stop for when the jumps are in place. It wasn’t supposed to be a jump, but we made it one…

Josh decided that it would be a good idea to hit it with speed and see what happens… well there wasn’t a back side to it; it was more like a spine ramp than anything. He flat landed on the other side (bank was a good 7 feet tall) and ate it pretty good. With all the fresh snow, it didn’t bother him too bad. He picked himself up and we carried on. (Laughing)

Back at the top we made a run down the black diamond, Tom Terrific. With all the powder the runs were in great shape, it was amazing. I even made a run down the double black this trip and it went surprisingly well. Much better than it did last time! With the fresh snow on top, turning was easier and the ride was much more enjoyable. I still fell, that was inevitable, but I had much more fun with it this time.

We continued to make runs on the terrain park when we got to it. Mainly just doing 50-50’s on the rails, even attempted front side board slide. Didn’t quite get the rotation, but didn’t fall. At one point when we were making our way off the terrain park I hit the snow bank with a good amount of speed and got a good bit of pop of the lip. Ended up landing on the bottom of the bank on the tail of the board and rode it out. Don’t know how I did it, but it was sweet!

With the weather being so cold and all the moisture in the air, the three of us kept having problems with our goggles fogging up and freezing over. We had to stop a couple times throughout the day to go inside and wipe them out and re-coat the lenses with anti-fog goo. At one point mine decided to freeze over at the top of the black diamond, had to ride it down blind… not fun. Later in the day we rode the double black diamond again, this time it didn’t go so well. As I was making my way down, a skier behind fell pretty hard and lost his skis, one of which came down the mountain after me! There was another boarder on the side of the slope watching all this and he yelled, “Don’t jump” just as I was about to flip sides. I stopped and looked at him and at that moment the runaway ski went right next to my board on my left side and it wasn’t slowing down… That guy had a long walk down the mountain to retrieve his ski.

Josh getting geared up for the day at Sugar.

It seemed like every time we got back to the chair lift line the thermometer was dropping a degree. On our last run I think it was somewhere around 14 degrees at the base. The last run was amazing though as we started off at the top going to Tom Terrific. I nailed it, didn’t crash at all then we cut over to right and headed down Sugar Slalom which was great all day due to little traffic on that slope. Jon was leading, with myself following and Josh bringing up the rear. Jon was moving quick but I was doing all I could to stay with him. We were dropping over to the sides of the run and dipping into the virgin snow. As we got towards the end of Sugar Slalom we made a hard right and cut over on to Big Red which is typically used for skiers to practice their race skills. It was open today so we made it a point to bomb this slope ofte. Passing the chair lift we continued on through the trees on the end of the Upper Flying Mile. At this point the trail was choppy and I was exhausted. Determined not to let Jon get too far ahead of me, I lowered my stance some more and did my best to soak up the ruts and bumps that were in the snow. Once at the bottom, Jon came to a stop, turned around and started looking for me expecting to wait a bit. He didn’t have to wait for me, I was right beside him. Josh came along a little later; he stopped to help a lady up that had fallen in front of him. We stepped out of the bindings and headed inside to warm up before we started our walk back to the truck. It was about 4pm when we called it quits. We were tired, hungry and cold.

Once we warmed up in the lodge we started our hike down the mountain and as cold as it was we quickly realized that this could be a long walk… Fortunately, Josh noticed a guy in a big 4wd Dodge truck that was about to pull out. Josh walked over to the guy, told him where we were parked and asked if we could ride in the back of his truck to the ski center. The guy agreed, so we loaded up and bummed our second ride for the day. The three of us pulled together a couple bucks to pay the guy for the trip as he dropped us of behind the truck.

The three of us rode from about 10am to 4pm, almost non-stop at Sugar and loved every minute of it. The fresh snow made it so much fun to ride, even though it was a work out to do so. It is so hard to time those conditions just right to where you can enjoy it, especially when you live so far away from it. We really got lucky this trip.

It was looking as though the salt and the moments of sunshine helped the road crews a bit as the road conditions had improved a great deal since that morning. After battling the frozen door jams, I fired the truck up and got the heat going as we packed up the boards and got out of our outer layers.

Snow was getting deep!

Earlier in the day, Jon had found out that one of his good friends would be riding at Appalachian Ski Mountain later Saturday night on the terrain parks. App doesn’t have the largest mountain and their runs are rather short, so to make up for it they have built some of the best terrain parks in the region and stay open till midnight. So after we got back in the truck we made our way to Boone and stopped by Pizza Hut for dinner. As we were sitting down I realized that the last time the three of us ate Pizza Hut together was after the tubing incident during our Deals Gap trip back in 2009. Josh and Jon got a kick out of that and we of course retold the story and laughed about the situation once again.

We arrived at App around 8 or so, geared up for the extreme cold that had set in and made our way to the ticket booth. App had implemented a safety test that year for the terrain park users due to the increase in traffic. So we had to fill out some paperwork and get ID’s made before we could get on the slopes. Once on the slopes we realized that the conditions at App were nowhere near as nice as they were at Sugar. The high winds had blown most of fresh snow off the slopes and into the trees surrounding the area which in turn made the slopes very hard and slick.

Seeing as how none of us had been to App this season, we figured we would start on the beginner park. After one run we realized it was a bit too easy and we were all looking for a more of challenge that what that one offered. Not saying it was a bad set up, it was actually very nice for a beginner and I would have probably spent some time on the rails there had the wind not been so bad. It was blowing so hard on that side of the mountain that you could not get any speed up. The wind would literally bring you to a stop before you even got to the jump!

So we switched lifts and went over to the only other park that was open at the time which was the intermediate/advanced. Josh and Jon were pumped and were eyeing the jumps that they felt comfortable on. Most were larger than I was ready for so while they were working on clearing some of the larger gaps, I was working on my basic jumps and landings by jumping the landing ramps (knuckles) and hitting the boxes on the way.

After a few passes I was starting to feel better and decided to try hitting the first jump in the park which about an 8 foot gap and was more or less a table-top (to those that are familiar with MX). My first run was good; I got off the lip clean and kept my balance throughout the jump. My speed was a bit low and I came up a couple feet short of down-siding the knuckle. But I landed clean and rode off fine; it was a great first attempt. On my second attempt I hit it with a bit more speed, determined to down side it. As I made my approach I checked up a little and then straightened the board out as I neared the lip. As the nose of the board got air born I lost my center and my tail started to come out and I began rotating over to my back side. I was at the right speed to down side the jump, had the height and everything… however I didn’t have the board where I needed it. I came crashing back down (on the down side of the jump mind you) on my ass and slid to the bottom. Instant pain! Josh was waiting for my signal to let him know he was clear to attempt but with me down on the ground trying to gather myself up, Jon (who was standing on the landing ramp on the next jump) motioned to Josh that I was down. Since there was really no one out with us that night, I laid there for a minute to make sure I was ok, then slowly picked myself up and cleared the landing zone. Oh man did that hurt, without any fresh snow to soften the impact it was like falling from 6 feet onto concrete.

Josh and Jon finished their run down the park hitting the remaining boxes, I decided against that and just headed for the chairlift. Realizing what I did wrong, I was determined to do it again and land it. On the lift ride back to the top the three of us talked about what I did wrong and ways to avoid doing what I did. Back at the top I was nervous and it showed as I approached the jump again. I felt like I wasn’t straight as I hit the ramp and I bailed at the last minute. Wasn’t the bravest thing, but I didn’t want to eat it harder than before. I brushed myself off and continued down the run. On the way I hit some of the smaller jumps just to get some air beneath me and get my confidence back.

On the next run I started closer to the jump, didn’t check up any and just hit it straight on keeping my weight low. I had just enough speed to clear the jump and down sound it cleanly. I continued on down and meet Jon at the top of the next jump. There were a couple people up at the top who had witness my last couple attempts and with my successful landing they were cheering for me as well as Josh and Jon. However, I kinda killed it as I came to a stop near Jon on the face of the next jump. I was so excited I lost focus on what I was doing, spun the board around caught my toe side edge on the snow and went face first into jump, leaving a nice dent in the snow with my helmet. The applause changed to laughter. Oh well, I was still happy I nailed it.

We made a few more passes that night down the park, I was a bit sore from my fall so I didn’t hit the jump anymore but I did manage to stick a board slide on one the boxes and worked on my landings some more on the knuckles. After another hour the three of us were beat and decided to call it a night and head home before we hurt ourselves. It had been a very long day and we had done a lot of riding.

On the way out I called Drew and asked if he wanted us to bring them some food as it looked as though we were going to try and get up to Echota and get warm showers and sleep in clean sheets. Drew said that Cookout would be amazing and he would pay me well if I brought him some. After leaving Cookout with 9 trays of food we headed to Echota in hopes that the road would be clear enough to make it up.

The entrance road was looking good and aside from a little slush it was fairly clean and only lost traction a bit in a few of the tight corners. After about a half mile climb we had to turn off the main road and onto a secondary that led into the resort. It was a tight left hander that went up hill and unfortunately I lost too much speed making the turn and ended up coming to a stop about half way up. It was apparent that the plows hadn’t worked this road in a while… I called Drew and told him we were getting close but we had gotten stuck but I was certain I could get out of it and to go ahead and get ready in the event I needed him and will to help push.

I backed the truck down the hill and went on past the tight corner up so that I could get a run at the hill that had previously given me trouble. We started to spin a bit towards the top, but we managed and continued on. For the next mile things were going great and I knew we were getting close to the top however we came up on a low spot in the road and following it was a steep hill with a sharp left hand corner. We didn’t make it halfway up and the truck came to a stop. Josh and Jon tried bouncing on the bumper and pushing but we really didn’t make much progress. I was revving the truck more than I would have liked and was spinning the tires on what asphalt I could get to. At one point I backed down the hill and tried giving it another shot with more speed. It was at this time I realized that my goofing off in the Camaro from time to time did have its advantages. When I hit the corner with a bit more speed the back end of the truck started to slide. I didn’t want to slow down too much and lose my momentum so I stayed in the throttle, peddling it slightly just to keep the back end under control and brought it back straight as I exited the corner. I managed to make it about 50 feet further that time, but still no dice. I called Drew to let him know that we were stuck and that I could used some help.

A few minutes later Drew, Will and Graycie arrived. They tried pushing and bouncing but with little luck, so with all of them in the back we decided to back down the hill and try again. With 5 people in the back it was difficult to make the corner backing down as my front wheels began to slid and struggled to gain any traction. Josh and Jon got out of the bed and went to the front of the truck and stood on the front bumper to help offset the added weight in the rear. I got as far up the other hill as I could in reverse and with everyone in the back we tried again. The added weight helped, we managed to get further than we did previously but as I started to slow down Josh and Jon bailed and started pushing as Will and Drew started bouncing. We were so close to the top of the hill and I knew we were only a little ways from the condo, I wasn’t about to give up. After spinning and fighting for traction we finally inched our way to the top of the hill! Drew told me there was an easier way to make it to the condo from where we were, so I pulled into the parking lot for the pool, backed onto a dry piece of asphalt and made a run for the next grade. It was clear sailing from there and we made it to the condo.

We unpacked the truck, took the food inside and had our dinner. It was apparent that the guys had a hell of a day. There were beer cans scattered all over the place and Robert was passed out in the bedroom. I hit him in the face with a pillow multiple times to wake him up, he would grunt and then fall back asleep.

After our showers, Josh, Jon and I passed out quick. The day took its toll on us and we were ready to rest. The rest of the group made plans to get up and head out to the slopes for an afternoon session on Sunday but we opted out and decided to head home.

Overall it was an amazing weekend and with some great riding and I hope that I will have the opportunity to ride in conditions like that again, soon.

The truck Monday afternoon at work...

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