Tuesday, March 9, 2010

National Powder 8 Championships

Jill Dorken and kate howe prepare for the seeding run at the National Powder 8 Championships in Aspen, CO.

I had my first opportunity to ski in a competition! The US National Powder 8 Championships was at Aspen again this year, and I entered with my friend Jill Dorken from Canada.

To be quite honest, I was terrified until about a week before the competition. Okay, until about two days before the competition when I finally got in the bowl.

Powder skiing has not historically been my strong suit, and I was worried about being able to make round, rhythmic, predictable turns in the steepest part of the bowl in powder.

Lucky me, the bowl was all skied out and was full of rather rowdy, minimally bumped up chalk! This is the snow condition that I've trained on the most, perhaps, especially when I was going for the Level 3.

It was interesting, too, to talk to Megan and Cindy and Jill, all of whom told me individually that they were really nervous about the bowl to downright terrified of it. It was surprising to hear, and it made me feel like perhaps I'd just go and do the best that I could, and if I made funky, sharp, heavy on the bottom turns, well, that would be what I would do.

Jill was phenomenal during the proceeding weeks at getting me to believe that I'd be fine and she'd ski whatever turn I made right behind me. Finally I stopped worrying about her ability to cover me and just worked on my skiing.

Two days before the comp, I got to take a client up into the bowl, and we skied down the North Woods trees, g3, which were steep and wonderful. I felt that demonstrating in the trees was actually pretty good, and that perhaps I'd ski slower than I wanted to in the bowl, but that I was capable of making the turn I needed to make.

The day of the comp, we all signed in and got our National Powder 8 loot, which was wonderful, and headed up there chair at about 8:15. We had a few free runs before the seeding round, and Jill and I were clicking well. We were enjoying ourselves, rocking out to music together, and being generally silly.

My nerves were gone, and I felt happy to be competing, present, and tuned in to Jill, who was slowly amping out of her boots. We worked on it together, and it felt good.

Our first run wasn't our best, but in our second, we clicked, and we ended up coming in third place! This would be third out of five women's teams, and one spot above Cindy and Megan. I was blown away. I could have quit then and been quite happy. But even better than that, my mom and my friend Virginia had uploaded in their tennies to watch, and were sitting at the bottom of the run with the judges.

I can't tell you what it did to my heart to have my mom and my great friend sitting there, watching me do this ridiculous thing that meant so much to me. They jumped up and down and cheered and hugged me, they watched a total of about fifteen minutes of skiing, and downloaded again because of course, they can't watch the bowl run without hiking up it.

We took a quick food break and then headed up to the bowl. The hike was spectacular again, blue sky, sunny, warm, friends all around, and we gathered at the top and heard the results of the seeding round. I knew we were in trouble as soon as I saw Megan and Cindy's face. They are fierce competitors, and both are incredible skiers. They were going to step it up, and so I would also have to.

There was no more room for what if I can't ski this well, what if I can't make the right kind of turn, this was time for gold or explode, this was time for make the turn or eject trying to.

We headed out into G8, which was steep and rowdy and chalky, and I pulled out my iPod and cranked up some Led Zeppelin. As I was standing there, one ear bud in my ear, and one in Andy Docken's, I looked around at my fellow competitors. I knew most of them from the Demo Team, from Tryouts, from Academy... I've skied with them for three years, and have always been chasing the group. Welcome, and okay with being waaay out of their league, but chasing.

I looked around and I realized, standing in the sun there, that we'd come in third. That Megan and Cindy were going to line up next to us, we'd choose the lane because we were one up on them. I looked around at this strong field of skiers and realized that I belonged in this group. I have finally become a strong enough skier that I'm not chasing them down and hoping that I don't explode, but that I can actually ski with them.

I felt proud and calm in that moment, like I was sinking through my boots and into the snow. I was proud of myself for feeling good in that group before my feet could really reliably keep me there, and proud of myself for continuously working on my skiing until one day, I was in the ballpark. I have a ton of work to do on my skiing, and a long way to go. But things still change every day, every run I gain some understanding, and now, I'm moving from a different place.

I think a lot of this impetus came from Cindy being willing to tell me that I needed to stop apologizing for my history, my skiing, the length of time I've been in the sport, that I need to own that this is what I do and move on from there.

Suddenly, it was our turn, and we chose the skiers left lane, across from Megan and Cindy. I was in front, with Megan, and Jill was in back, across from Cindy. I remember looking across at Megan and thinking to myself, this is happening. I am lined up across from Megan and I am going to ski against her in the bowl. She can light it up and ski me into the ground, but somehow the parameters of the Powder 8s made it possible that we could contend for a top spot against my mentor and friends.

Racers ready, GO! We took off and immediately, the first two turns I'm tossed into the back seat, rolling up the windows, its much rowdier in here than I thought, and the next thought that came into my mind as Megan came arcing back toward me was, I'm on sync with Megan. She hasn't taken it down the hill more than me. This speed is okay, and I can ski this speed, and I can ski it better than I am.

I'm not looking at the snow in front of me, I'm just trying to absorb everything and let the skis turn. I pulled it together and made probably my best turns ever in the bowl. Unfortunately, I hit the same knuckle that had tossed everyone else, and had quite a bobble in there, and Jill was slowly left up hill of me. Megan and I stayed on sync to the end, crossing the finish line at the same time, and it was over, I'd done it, and Jill and I had fulfilled our motto, "TEAM UPRIGHT!"

The whole field was invited onto the Cat the next day, and we skied down to await the results. We were sooo sad to hear that we had placed terribly, and weren't really sure why that had happened, but we weren't too concerned about it, happy personally with our performance in the bowl, and excited to go cat skiing.

The next day dawned extremely serious, I was up till two in the morning having some super serious conversations and contemplating all manner of things that made it difficult to concentrate on the fact that I was entering the second day of the national championships.

We got up there early and loaded the cats, heading out to the little Annie's hill, on three inches of breakable crust over bottomless rotten sugar. I've never skied snow like this before, and I wasn't quite sure how to handle it. everyone got extremely nervous as we hiked up a little hill to test out the snow. I was alarmed to discover that i couldn't turn at all in it. I wasn't sure how I was going to handle that, but I figured, well, if worst comes to worst, I'll just stem Christie my way down it.

Jill and I were to go first, the fourth place team against the new third place team, and we lined up while they set the start. Finally, I'd decided on my tactics and was pretty psyched to get going, and they decided to bring the men in first to do their first run and break up the snow, so that it would be easier for us to ski.

We watched the men ski down and it looked relatively easy. We got a snow report back that they hadn't punched through till the bottom, and we lined up again, Jill and I overlapping the lane that Schanzy and Docken had just taken. We took off, me covering Jill, and our first four turns were dead on. We were clicking, skiing well, and it felt good.

I moved across and in, edged my skis on this cardboard box we were skiing in, and my outside ski fell in a hole that they boys had made when they'd punched through much higher than I'd expected. Suddenly, i was on the ground. Instantly. It hadn't occur ed to me that I might fall, after not falling in the bowl, i thought I might ski poorly, but the thought of a fall was foreign.

I was on the ground instantly, whipping my neck pretty good and sitting there, stunned and watching Jill ski away from me. I got up and packed out the huge hole I'd made in the snow, still high enough up to have conversations with people at the start. I skied down, burning with disappointment, I wanted to know where we'd have placed had we continued skiing like that.

Everyone was very kind at the bottom, and I sat and watched the rest of the competition. As I watched, it occurred to me that I would have fallen on turn three or six or eleven anyway, because this was phenomenally challenging snow, and I didn't know how to ski it.

After the comp was over, and Cindy and Megan had taken first place (YEAH!), we ate lunch and had the opportunity to be towed to the top again on the snowmobiles. I cornered Jonathan Ballou and Kevin Jordan and had them explain to me what their thoughts were on skiing it.

Finally, I had Kevin show me with his hands, while describing the things he was feeling while going through the turn. Eight laps later, I had it. Breakable crust, Buttery retraction turn.

The day was a complete and total success and win, my skiing changed dramatically, and by the last lap, i was skiing with the speed and confidence and technique that I would have needed to actually contend in the first lap where I crashed.

Huge congratulations to all the competitors for skiing SO well in such challenging snow, and to Megan and Cindy for crushing it in the Bowl and on the backside! Thanks to Schanzy for putting this amazing event together, it changed my skiing and helped prepare me for tryouts! I can't wait to get after it again next year!

1 comment:

Judy T. said...

We call that "Eastern Powder"
congrats!! you did well