Column, Living the Dream

Livin’ the Dream: Quintessential East Coast steeps

Author’s note: I use the male gender here to describe the skiers because women are usually not stupid enough to ski Lower O when it sucks. At least they didn’t this past weekend.

Living here in Killington we just get spoiled, even with a desk job. Well, a moveable desk job, that is. This morning, I have set my computer up in the Superstar Room of the Killington Ski Club. I have a perfect view of the World Cup Trail and a front row seat to all the excitement that is Lower Ovation.

Since its construction in the 1980s, Ovation has fascinated skiers and watchers alike. It’s hidden to the side of Superstar, a scary little sibling that most people avoid. While Superstar is always groomed to “perfection,” Ovation is left to the elements. The skier’s right can have a West Coast feel to it as you ski through the bushes on the same day that the left side can be a gnarly wind blown mess. And that’s before you roll over the final pitch.

While I feel the ungroomed headwall with its insane entrance is the most challenging and fun turn on the mountain, the bottom pushes the limits. A few years ago, a groomer friend sent a pic of his tractor on Lower O showing a 38.8 degree pitch (or around 80%). Can you imagine what it’s like when they build a mound of snow that then proceeds to slide down on its own? It was fun checking out the fissure as we rode by on the gondola a few weeks ago.

When you have a view of Lower Ovation, you start to notice things. Like how so many people cannot manage to stay on their feet. It’s one of the best shows on the mountain. While enjoying our lunches, we can watch skiers and riders unsuccessfully challenge themselves. Most people make it at least half way down, while others sit down as soon as they come over the hump and see the drop.

It’s not short like Vertigo, where you can just slide to the bottom, taking all the snow with you. It’s not bumped up like Outer Limits, where you can trust the moguls to slow you down. It’s one solid piece of snow that will eat you alive if you aren’t prepared for it. And this weekend was prime time slide-for-life conditions.

We watched one guy lose his skis about five turns in and slide down the entire pitch. I’m not sure which was the more treacherous descent — the guys who slid all the way down or the skiers who now had to figure out how to carry his skis down Lower O. We watched another guy give up halfway through, sit down and slide the rest of the way gradually gaining speed until he hit terminal velocity. Definitely not the best choice.

Another skier tried to hide in the bushes on the skier’s right, but lost his footing and he, too, ended up sliding down the trail and got launched over a mogul, getting some good air. Although he probably didn’t appreciate the hard landing or the fact that he just kept sliding, we certainly did! Others tried to dive into the woods on skier’s left and that might have worked 10 years ago, but there’s a snowmaking pipe up there now and there’s really no way to exit unless you climb over the pipe.

There was a group huddled in a large section of bushes, trying to figure out their next move. It reminded me of sitting in the bowl at Tuckerman Ravine, watching first timers and experts taking a lunch break. I’ve actually done ascent training on Lower O with my mountaineering axe and crampons, but that wasn’t what was happening here. You could feel the fear twirling around them as they tried to pause for a break on the trail.

The best part? They kept coming. So many of them.

The trail had so little traction, that you would have needed extremely good balance on steeps or the sharpest edges to make it down safely. But because you cannot see over the roller from the top — and no one ever checks a trail before they ski it — the people kept coming over the roller and sliding down the trail. Only one in 10 skiers were making functional turns down the trail making it look if not easy, then at least doable.

Quintessential East Coast. Fast and challenging. In fact, I’m watching two skiers right now start their day on Ovation. The first seems to be having an okay time, while the other is swearing at his buddy under his breath. Should have waited an hour or two for the sun to hit it and the snow to soften. Soaked in the sun, Highline would have been the more delicious choice this morning.

I love Ovation and all the adventures that come with it. One of the singular best turns in my life was dropping into the headwall on a powder day — the snow went up to my armpits. And my mouth made that Ovation reaction, forming into an “O.” Classic!

Merisa Sherman is a long time Killington resident, KMS coach, local Realtor and member of the development review board.

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