Peter Shelton

The opposite of play is not work, it is depression

Posted in Life in Central Oregon, Ski teaching by pshelton on April 24, 2015

On my last day teaching with the Gravity School at Mt. Bachelor, I got a tip from New Hampshire Daniel.

I should know what Daniel’s last name is. I’m embarrassed I don’t. He’s one of the most stalwart ski coaches on the staff, has been for years. He works every day. He teaches a lot of kids, and he’s very good with them. I see him in the cafeteria surrounded by whatever tribe of little Indians he has that day, and the vibe is super mellow. The kids are free to be themselves, be silly if they want, but Daniel is in charge. And on the hill he has pockets full of tricks to get his troop skiing, playing at skiing – making skiing play.

With his thrift-store skis, white hair and slow smile, he’s brilliant at it. But he might not have been the first pro from whom I would expect to get the skiing tip of the season. Out of the blue, standing together on the ski school deck, after it was clear there would be no lessons that final afternoon, he told me he’d improved his own skiing with a trick that helps him keep his inside hip higher through a turn. Focusing on this one thing had put him in a better stance on his skis and allowed him to carve a clean arc with almost all of his weight on the outside ski, the working ski.

I tried it, and it clicked. I couldn’t do the arm thing that Daniel said triggered the positive response in his skiing. (It was something about raising your hand as if to ask a question.) But it was enough, the zeroing in on that anatomical link. It led, later that day and in days since, to my assuming a taller, more forward position, which led to more control, more playfulness, as if a delighted puppet-master were floating above my descent. It is a feeling I have treasured without always understanding it when it came my way in the past, by accident or other design. Now here was a direct-action tool to get me there more often.

Daniel’s hip tip joined a handful of technique gems from the season, my first at Bachelor. Instructor trainer Mike Philips led a clinic early in the year that focused on two-legged carving – railroad track skiing. His insight had to do with patience, the patience to stand in balance while a turn develops, gradually.

Then there was Greg Dixon, another clinician, who played with the idea that all turns fall somewhere along an intensity spectrum, a spectrum he defined with a nautical analogy. At one end would be your “submarine” turns, diving, pressing deep into an etched groove. At the other end, imagine a hovercraft skittering lightly atop the snow. There was lighthearted argument within the group about whether our between-the-extremes boat impersonations should be jet skis, or cigarette boats, or . . .

These late-spring weeks the submarining has been splendid. April storms turned Mt. Bachelor’s volcanic ribs into huge ocean waves the better to lean into a bottom turn followed by a soaring, weightless cutback off the lip. It’s a good thing I’m a goofyfoot. Most of this wind-deposited snow has filled in the left sides of the gullies. As a goofyfoot kid on the California coast (whose natural stance is right foot forward on a surfboard) I was always looking for left-breaking waves, frontside waves as it were, where my toes, my chest and my hands were facing the green wall of water. As skiers, we have no frontside or backside, in theory. We face forward, down the hill. We go left and right, foot to foot, not toeside to heelside. But still . . . the old love affair with big, left-hand walls remains, and this season Bachelor’s wave-like furrows delivered.

Now the teaching season is done. The beginner-area “magic carpet” is shut down. All but three of the chairlifts are closed. Still, there is top-to-bottom skiing. Some days very good skiing, other days not so much, as a high sun works its fingers deeper in the snowpack. The most exquisite snow might be on the ridges where, earlier in the year, a rain/freeze cycle set up regions of glassy ice polished smooth by each successive wind event. Skittering slick and loud, these places were to be avoided, until now. Watch, ski school supervisor Chris Smith told me one day last week, those pods of ice (I see them sometimes as breaching whalebacks) will turn to “silk.” And they have.

Getting to these delicacies can take some doing. You might need to traverse rock-hard chunks of cornice fall. And you’ll likely have to punch through half-baked remnants of the last powder storm – like a switching yard of frozen tracks. It’s worth it when you get to the silk, the quiet, smooth Yes! of easy. Technique, after all, is about more than aesthetics. It is, or should be, in service to where you want to go, to what state of play.

New Hampshire Daniel told me he’ll be attending the annual PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) giant slalom camp the last weekend in April. (“I just try to stand up,” he said with a self-deprecating grin.) Then he will head back across the country to his home state and a summer job tending bar. Come fall, he’ll get in the car and migrate west again for another winter on skis.

Meanwhile, the season in central Oregon isn’t quite over. I’ll be out there as long as the snow lasts, submarining where called for, skipping like a stone where possible. And watching my hips.

Thanks, Daniel. When the snow is gone I’ll rewind, and press play.

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Thank You, Dear Readers

Posted in Personal History, Watch columns by pshelton on September 7, 2013

This is my last column for The Watch for a while. Maybe forever.

When we were out in California last month, my parents, who are 88 and just shy of 90, talked more than usual about the end. (more…)

The Old Ridgway Bijou

Posted in At the Movies, Watch columns by pshelton on August 29, 2013

The Film Festival is coming to town! The Film Festival is coming to town!

Actually, the festival’s worker bees have been in Telluride for weeks now, setting up for the 40th “SHOW.”

Ellen and I had just moved to Telluride in August 1976 when the third TFF raised its curtain, with tributes to Bugs Bunny creator Chuck Jones, the original King Kong, and director King Vidor. That year we met Bill and Stella Pence, festival founders along with James Card and Tom Luddy. The Pences will be in town this week to help celebrate the 40th.

All of this sends me back to a time when our two families, ours and the Pence’s, got together at a place we fondly referred to as the Ridgway Bijou. (more…)

The Need for Speed

Posted in Ski history, Ski racing, Watch columns by pshelton on August 8, 2013

[In honor of the recent speed skiing exhibit at the Telluride Historical Museum, I found this article in my files, written for Diversions magazine, back in 1982.]

Marti Martin Kuntz hops down out of the helicopter and unhooks her skis from the struts. They are not powder skis, though the chutes and bowls here in Colorado Basin above Silverton sparkle with 18 inches of fresh powder snow. These skis are 235 cm long, almost seven feet, nine inches, straight and slick and heavy.

Marti’s ski suit is like a second rubberized skin stretched white over her body. Slashes of red identify the manufacturer, Snofox, and Marti’s sponsor, the Telluride Ski Resort. She’s carrying a teardrop-shaped helmet under her arm and has turbulence-cutting, Styrofoam fins, called fairings, sweeping back from her calves. She wears yellow kitchen gloves, and her poles have so many curves built into them they could represent a traditional ski descent.

But Marti’s not going to be making even a single turn on the snow. The Telluride ski instructor is going down straight, trying for a new women’s speed skiing record. (more…)

Old Bailey, Yard Ornament

Posted in Personal History, Road Trips West, Watch columns by pshelton on August 1, 2013

One of the last times I drove Bailey, our 1977 Jeep pickup, I headed up Buckhorn Road to scout for oak firewood. I hadn’t gone two miles though, when I noticed wisps of smoke emanating from beneath the hood. I pulled over and popped the latch to find a squirrel’s nest, made up mostly of stripped juniper bark, blazing away atop the engine block. (more…)

This Sporting Life

Posted in More Sport, Watch columns by pshelton on July 25, 2013

Sebastien Chaigneau, the Frenchman who won last weekend’s Hardrock 100 endurance run, sounds like an interesting fellow. He set a new record for the counterclockwise race direction at just over 24 hours, 25 minutes. But in post-race interviews he said it was not the winning that mattered, or the record, but “the spirit of the trail.” He said he runs “without objective.” (more…)

Tales of the Monsoon

Posted in Watch columns, Weather & Climate by pshelton on July 19, 2013

Denny Hogan, Colorado boy and former snow ranger at Silverton Mountain, was reassigned by the Forest Service to California’s Lake Tahoe region a couple of years ago. He can’t get over the cloudless summers there. (more…)

Into the Mystic

Posted in Road Trips West, Watch columns, Weather & Climate by pshelton on July 11, 2013

Ironically, or prophetically, Randy Udall wrote a column a couple of years ago for the Aspen Times in which he described the disappearance of a much-loved local carpenter. (more…)

The Cowboy and the Mountain Biker

Posted in How the West was Lost, More Sport, Watch columns by pshelton on July 5, 2013

I was riding the double-track alongside the South Canal, just north of Kinikin Road, when a man ran out of his home and yelled something at the top of his voice. (more…)

A Home in 30,000 Pieces, Delivered

Posted in Road Trips West by pshelton on June 29, 2013

Sears, Roebuck and Company “Modern Homes” get most of the ink. But Montgomery Ward, Sears’ Chicago-based competitor and predecessor, actually, in the mail-order catalogue business, sold kit homes, too, something like 25,000 of them between the years 1909 and 1932.

I found one a couple of miles out the Dry Creek Valley east of Ridgway, a four-gable, white clapboard place at the edge of the irrigated hay fields. (more…)