Peter Shelton

The Geezers Club

Posted in Ski evolution, Watch columns by pshelton on February 27, 2010

Sometimes when I’m at a loss for something to write about, Ellen suggests, “Write about cats.”

She doesn’t mean cats, themselves, necessarily, though we are wrestling with end-of-life, quality-of-life issues (his and ours) for dear old Tonapaw, who is at least 17 human years old: skinny, stiff, irascible—prone to what the vet calls “inappropriate vocalization.” He yells a lot. It’s apparently a sign of kitty dementia.

No, Ellen means write about what’s in your lap. Right now. Where do your thoughts go when you’re not monitoring them, when you’re not on guard, at work, or in public?

Right now, it’s snow. We woke up this morning and we couldn’t see the car. We know it’s there inside that lump, we just can’t see it. It’s like an Iditarod sled dog asleep, curled up inside a snow dome of the night’s making.

Finally, yes, a Colona storm to match the big ones that have swept across to our south. Or the ones lately riding the split jet to the north and gracing Steamboat and Powderhorn.

The irony of this is we’re leaving tomorrow for Utah. Where it hasn’t been snowing so much.

This reminds me of the cardinal rule when I was growing up on the coast of southern California: Never leave good waves to go looking for good waves. Never leave good snow in search of good snow.

We’re going anyway. Jimmy and Gina already have their plane tickets from Florida. The cousins in Salt Lake City have already set out the guest mattress in the living room. Ellen’s already shopped for the cheeses and crackers and nuts and pomegranate juice that we’re contributing to the communal larder. I’ve already waxed the skis.

We haven’t seen these guys in a long time. We’re going to have fun no matter what the snow is like. And chances are the snow at Alta will be stellar. Alta is like Trestles. Trestles has all the gifts: a stable rock reef created and maintained by the outflow from San Mateo Creek; a subtle, sandy point to the north around which the waves wrap like a metronome pulse (President’s Point we called it during the years Nixon occupied a cliff-top mansion there); and direct exposure to storm swells from many directions.

Alta is similarly blessed. It sits at the top of the Wasatch Range, on the wet western side. Little Cottonwood Canyon funnels moisture up to Alta’s sudden, closed end, where the clouds linger, and linger. Productive storms can come from any quadrant of the western compass, and some of the best ones pick up added juice from the Great Salt Lake.

I think it’s easier these days to predict where and when good surf will hit. Especially now with satellite pictures and real-time information from deep-ocean buoys on wave height, period and direction. The ocean, for all its vastness, is a comparatively smooth pond across which energy travels in predictable ways. The pros can punch up their laptops, check the buoys and buy their airplane tickets at the same time to meet a swell the next day in northern California or Tahiti.

Snow in the mountains is less predictable. It’s the vertical thing. Winds from ground level to 40,000 feet. The volatile 3-D mix of moisture and temperature and terrain. I joked with Jimmy on the phone this morning about changing their reservations and coming here instead, here where the snow is happening deep and now. “Aw,” Jimmy said wistfully, “if we were 25 again and flexible enough to follow the snow.”

But we’re geezers. This will be the first time we’ve skied together since I’ve had both my hips replaced. It’ll be Jimmy’s first turns on his new knee. We’re nervous as cats. Excited to all be together again and go sliding down one of our favorite hills.

We are stiffer than we used to be, skinny and irascible, and when we get up on that mountain, we are going to yell. A lot.

One Response

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  1. Pamela said, on March 11, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Hi Peter,
    I am a fan of your column and thought of an idea for you to consider, besides cats, which of course I am also a real fan of.

    I have a friend Crosby Perry-Smith in Ouray, who I think you know. He is such a remarkable guy. You know he is 86 years old and he is still skiing several times a week. His friend Jan tells me that he does at least 10 runs down the mountain when he is at Telluride and he doesn’t stop to rest during any run! He is the most natural cross country skier I have ever seen. You of course, know his background with the 10th Mt. Division and all that he did after that. We have a virtual icon in our own back yard and it is Crosby! (He is also doing Pilates with me!)

    Thought I would throw out this idea to you. ( I guess a German journalist is writing a book about his father who was a famous climber in Europe)


    Pam Benson

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