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ON SKIING

Gearing up for season that's showing promise

Don't you always approach a new season of anything, not just with hope and expectation, but with a whole quiverful of resolve and promises aimed at making you a better whatever you think you want to be?

But of course, this is the real world. We are mortals. Lots of times, things just don't work out.

For instance, what is the single best exercise to get you ready for Alpine skiing? Well, if you can't do a lot of cross-training or the kinds of workouts you see diagrammed in the skiing journals, then the answer is biking. Nothing else within the realm of the ordinary works out those essential quads quite as well as a vigorous bike ride.

And if riding on a flat road is good, how much better is a mountain bike ride up and down the bumpy eskers and moraines in the back woods? Tried that one last week and may have put the start of my skiing on hold for a while. Going down a steep fall off a ridge -- too fast, naturally -- front tire meets wet rock submerged in a sea of oak leaves and in the next instant everything reverts to the natural state of the universe -- chaos -- and now the shoulder is so sore I can barely grip a pole let alone think of planting one.

So much for my attempt at getting in shape for the slopes.

But here are some other visions and prognostications all aimed at a new season on snow. At this point my heart is pure, my intentions honorable, even if there is a faint wry smile somewhere in my head.

This year I intend to stretch before every run, especially in extreme cold. The idea of riding for six minutes or so on a cold chairlift and getting right into a run is just a nutty thing to do to muscle and tendon. Just watch how ski racers kick and twist and swing their legs as they wait in the start house.

But see, it's just sort of goofy to get off the lift and go into some super earnest warmup regimen. Like you're an athlete or something. I mean, skiing is just another -- more expensive -- form of walking in the woods, isn't it? Who stretches before going walking in the woods? But this year I'm going to give it a try.

Promise.

Next week I'm headed for the Rockies for some World Cup coverage at Beaver Creek. When one travels from sea level to 2-mile heights, one is warned that drinking alcohol can heighten the effects of altitude sickness. And since I will be on duty for my publisher, I cannot afford to be less than a diligent reporter. Thus, no sour apple martini for me. No rocky snowball (don't ask). And only one glass of red wine at dinner.

Promise.

I once made a pledge to myself to ski as fast as my age at least once a year. I was in my 40s when I made this pledge. Piece of cake then. Into the 50s, well, not too bad early in the decade. But as your age goes up, requiring ever more speed, your, uh, skills are deteriorating and bones getting more brittle. So this is the year I give up that speed pledge.

Promise.

This is the year I will stop trying to show off in easy snow. Since lots of the people I ski with are way better than I am, I don't really know for whom I'm showing off. But then, you know how you get on ego snow and manageable terrain and sort of let it rip, your platonic vision of yourself ranging to, oh, Hermann Maier or somebody like that?

Well, whenever I'm tempted to lapse into that muse, I'll remember the afternoon at Sugarbush last season when I was skiing some runs with Doug Lewis, watching his back disappear in front of me down some steep and bumpy stuff as I tried vainly to -- well, not keep up, just keep him in sight so I'd know which fork in the trail he took. By the time I'd catch up to where he was waiting for me, he wasn't even breathing hard.

Ditto Chip Carey. Ditto Forest Carey. Ditto Skip King. Ditto Susan Duplessis. Ditto Christina Schleicher. Ditto Patty Peeples. Ditto a whole bunch of people I occasionally find myself on snow with. This season, when the going gets easy, I'll remember them all and humble myself.

Promise.

And I will stop blaming anything on my equipment, a bad habit that started to take form when I played tennis. Blow a shot, and first thing I'd do is look at my racket. Darn strings were probably loosening. Well, in skiing when you catch an edge and slip, it's probably a burr on the steel.

Not quite too smooth looking on that mogul? Well, obviously the skis are too long and stiff. Ditto in the tight trees. Slide around on the ice? The boards are unquestionably too soft.

No, this year it's all my fault. Every slip, every awkward turn, every mistimed mogul or skidded slick patch -- all my fault.

Promise.

And, finally, this is the year I'll take the plunge and learn to snowboard. I've put it off long enough. At first it was old-dog-new-tricks thinking. Then it was the culture thing. I mean, snowboarders smoked cigarettes, spit, swore, and had punkie goth clothes, right?

But that was about a decade ago, and now boarding is becoming really mainstream. Furthermore, I have a standing invitation from Jake Burton Carpenter for a lesson on a hill far from where a lot of people can watch mirthfully as I fall around a hundred times. The plan is to take that lesson with a photographer present to prove it happened, then to report it here on behalf of my publisher. So this is the year I swallow hard, step up to the plate (to really mix a metaphor), and become a full-fledged snowboarder.

Promise.

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