Category Archives: snowboarding

Snowboarding at Hunter Mountain

I caught the very end of ski season at Hunter Mountain last weekend, where snow was surviving the warmest weather snow could possible survive in. Despite the fact I was overheated before I’d even started, there was enough snow, or slush really, to make for a fun day and to reassure myself that even after two years of not snowboarding, I can still get on a board and not entirely maim myself.

Hunter Mountain is up in the Catskills, and we boarded the bus in Brooklyn, provided by the fantastic Ovrride which I highly recommend for fellow mountain-less New Yorkers, at an ungodly hour before the sun even showed its face. I had not been snowboarding since I’d move to New York, although I’d gone almost every weekend during the season when I lived in France to alpine stations like Val Thorens, Les 7 Laux, and Deux Alpes. This doesn’t by any way mean that I’m really awesome, so in case you go snowboarding with me and I lodge my board in a mogul or take the slowest turn you’ve ever seen down a scary black slope, don’t be surprised. But I did really miss it, and I missed snow this year in New York. There were only two days of any snow this winter, one oddly in October, and neither really stuck to the ground. I look forward to the days when snow piles up over the city and brings a strange quiet to the streets, and this winter was totally void of them.

Not that there was tons of snow at Hunter Mountain, but enough that a variety of runs were open, although this is the only time I’ve ever gotten stuck in the mud while snowboarding. But at least any falls were gentle ones as you just kind of sank into the mountain. Hunter Mountain is the second highest peak in the Catskill Mountains, a range situated northwest of New York City that is a dissected plateau rather than an actual mountain range (thanks centuries of erosion!). You might know the Catskills from Washington Irving or HP Lovecraft stories (“Rip Van Winkle” and “The Lurking Fear,” respectively), and they are the recording base of the band Mercury Rev, fronted by former Flaming Lip, Jonathan Donahue (see, everything comes back to Oklahoma).

The ski resort itself has been around since the 1950s, and has become known for its expert use of manmade snowmaking. I think they may have just given up on this season, because even in the one day we were there I’d say around 6 inches of the snow melted away, creating little waterfalls over the rocks that were exposed beneath the lift (it would have been a bad day to accidentally drop your phone).

It was exhilarating to feel the cut of a snowboard under my feet after two years, rediscovering the rhythm of carving down a slope, feeling the rush of those moments when muscle overtakes mind into flights down scenic turns, remembering that even if I fall horribly I’ll be okay if I let gravity and not my arms control the fall. There weren’t too many dramatic falls, as we stuck to the long blue slopes that curved down the mountain, but at the beginning of the day when we were unfamiliar with the slopes we somehow missed the turn off for that blue and were faced with the choice of three black slopes. The choice was either long and treacherous, or short and super steep. We were for the quick and terrifying, and of course I spent little of the ride down upright on my board. For the most part, though, it was steady riding.

Of course, I would be the one to find a grave while snowboarding. At the top of the mountain is this curious sight: a memorial to Archer Winsten, who “loved the skiing at Hunter Mountain,” according to his epitaph. I think this is the Archer Winsten who was a movie reviewer for the New York Post (here’s his obituary), but oddly I can’t find any details on the internet. If anyone can fill in the details, please let me know!

Our bus left after the lifts closed and we came back into New York City as the light was fading. Next season I’ll have to make it out to the slopes more, hopefully with more snow! I guess now that March is coming to a close we really are out of luck for snow this year and the harsh glare of summer is fast approaching.

Winter Jam NYC 2011

Last Saturday was cold with rainy, grey skies. But I couldn’t resist seeing snowboarding in Brooklyn, so I walked to Prospect Park for the 2011 Winter Jam NYC. The annual event has ski and snowboarding equipment for anyone to try out, including an area for cross-country skis, and snowshoes and other winter activities. But I was most interested in watching the snowboarding competitions.

I got there in time for the start of the women’s amateur finals (no participating for me. I don’t have a board here and…I’ve never tried rails or jumps, that could be a mistake. If there was a competition for most controlled S-turn down a slope, I would rock that.) After buying a Turkish coffee to keep my hands warm, I found a place to watch. All the ramps were really slick from the rain, making for some painful-looking falls, but everyone seemed to be having a good time.

I was expecting the place to be dead because of the weather,  and was surprised to find a pretty good size, enthusiastic crowd of watchers. The line to use the free equipment was kind of insane, too. There was a very slight hill, like a min-bunny slope, where kids were tumbling on little snowboards and people were flailing ski poles frantically in the air. All of this was taking place in the Nethermead of Prospect, a hidden meadow encircled by the oldest trees in the park.

After the women, the men’s amateur finals started, with a lot more contestants, including a kid who seemed to be no more than six-years-old and was already a way better rider than me. Darn those fearless kids and their flexible bones!

It did all make me miss snowboarding, something I haven’t done since I left France. It was so much easier when I was just hours from the Alps! I guess I live with fewer bruises now.

After the men’s amateur finals, there was a competitions for the professionals, which were actually a little less entertaining by being a little more controlled and less risky. Plus, the rain was starting to come down harder, so I decided to walk back home. Back to my apartment and a much needed hot chocolate, and maybe a quick glance at my poor, idle snowboard boots in the closet.

Val Thorens

Paragliding over the Alps at Val Thorens.

Paragliding over the Alps at Val Thorens.

The weather is getting warmer and we’ve actually had days without clouds or rain. I was able to have cold drinks on the cafe terraces on the squares of Valence and watch the sun setting behind the castle on the cliff. However, the warm weather also means that the ski season is coming to an end, so this past Saturday me and Canadian assistant friend Lauren went to Val Thorens.

One of the telepheriques at Val Thorens.

One of the téléphériques at Val Thorens.

Val Thorens is at an altitude of 2,300 meters (or 7,545 feet) and is the highest ski station in Europe. This means that is has a long season, so although it was light jacket weather in Valence there was still snow on the ground at Val Thorens and cold wind in my face. It’s part of the Trois Vallées (Three Valleys), a huge ski area with 410 miles of slopes. Since we were only there for a day, I didn’t venture outside of Val Thorens and the adjoining Orelle ski areas. We actually started in Orelle, as it seemed to have the main parking lot for buses, and then took the longest télécabine in the world to the slopes. I’m so glad I’m not afraid of heights, because that was quite the long and dizzying ride up the mountain.

Ready to snowboard the Alps.

Ready to snowboard the Alps.

I took a few runs at Orelle to warm up and remember how to turn and important things like that. I feel like I have progressed a lot with snowboarding since I got to France. I can confidently go down all blue slopes and tumble in a less elegant fashion on the easier reds. There probably won’t be a day when I feel like going down a black in the Alps, but for a girl from Oklahoma I think I do pretty well. I did have a somewhat painful fall near the end when my legs were so tired that I caught an edge and landed flat on my back on an icy area. But considering I was having those every five minutes my first snowboarding trip here, I’ll call the day a success.

Danger of unintentional cliff diving.

Danger of unintentional cliff diving.

I had read online before our trip that about 70% of the Val Thorens skiers were foreigners, and it turned out to be accurate as I barely heard any French. It’s pretty close to the border of Italy, so I bet a lot of people come over that way. They all seemed to be in massive skiing groups. It’s not unusual to see a group of four or five people skiing together, but I literally saw a group of 15. And when I’m doing my control-freak S-turns down a steep incline with a few moguls and a group of 15 expert German skiers comes speeding down the slopes I get a little thrown off. Yet it really wasn’t that crowded and there were a couple of runs I did where I didn’t see a single other person.

Skiers at Val Thorens.

Skiers at Val Thorens.

One thing that’s different about skiing/snowboarding in the Alps is that the slopes are incredibly long. There might only be two or three coming off a lift, but they’ll be at least twice as long as a slope in New Mexico. And just a side note, when I told people that I usually went snowboarding in New Mexico they seemed shocked that there were any mountains and asked if I had to dodge cacti. I realize my geography of France is not perfect, but I’m always a little surprised at the perception of the United States here. In one of my classes a teacher printed off maps of the USA for the students to find Oklahoma. I have no clue where she got this map, because on it everything below Oklahoma City had been absorbed by Texas and the state was more like a frying pan than its usual saucepan shape.

A steep drop off at Val Thorens.

A steep drop off at Val Thorens.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my snowboard. It’s a great board and I’d love to keep it, but I need to think realistically about moving back to the States and the fact that I already have a board back home. If anyone reading this might be interested in buying it, it’s a Rome Blue 155 board and was only used once before I bought it. It looks like this, has Hammer bindings, is made in Austria, and would only cost you 150 euros. Anyway, that’s the end of my classified ad.

Val Thorens village, accessible by skis.

Val Thorens village, accessible by skis.

After the day of snowboarding I was exhausted and took it easy that night. I was a little sore the next day, but after some stretching I’m fine. No bruises even! I got a pear hot chocolate at the tea shop yesterday and then a coke at the pub. Today is beautiful, so I think I’m going to go to the park now and enjoy the sun.