|A skier jumps over a truck tire in Breckenridge, Colo., at one of many ski areas using junk to liven up the experience. (Aaron Dodds/Breckenridge Ski Resort)|
One’s junk is another’s pleasure
For those with a hankering for the hills, it’s shaping up as a long, warm, lonely winter around here. Temps consistently in the 40s and 50s don’t boost the jolly level of skiers and boarders. Mother Nature has a lot of winter warriors milling around New England ski area parking lots right now, lamenting over empty, still gondolas and grooming machines that look lonelier than a stockbroker at an Occupy demonstration.
“All we need is two or three nights in the 20s,’’ said an ever-optimistic Tom Meyers, director of marketing at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, some 55 miles west of Boston. “That’s all we need to make snow, and that’s really not asking for much . . . I think the forecast is improving.’’
Meyers got his wish Friday night, and snowmaking began.
But to a degree (pick your point on the Fahrenheit scale), it couldn’t get worse for the ski crowd. Winter is coming, its official return scheduled for Thursday, and so, too, should our wintry cover, natural or man-made, ideally well before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. But for now, we’re talking brown and browner, the colors that make downhill dullsville.
Meanwhile, the boarding crowd is seeing a substantial terrain change in some areas of the country. Junk is not only in, it’s absolutely joyful. There’s more trash being spread out there for the dash down the hill.
Ski area terrain parks, attempting to make life more interesting or challenging for their boarders and twin-tippers, are littering their hills with all manner of junk, much of it heavy metal, and often big and burly. If it’s junk, it’s good. If it’s big junk, even better. While General Motors isn’t making your old man’s Oldsmobile anymore, it could be that one of his rusted-out 88s or Cutlass Supremes is now parked on a ski area hillside, the hood over its gas-guzzling V-8 engine getting a total jibbing by some hip kid who arrived there in his tricked-out Scion iQ.
Hey, things change, dude. Trash happens. Even out there in the snow (when there’s enough around to trash it).
A recent Associated Press report, focusing on some of the eclectic goods that have been placed in ski resorts out west, noted the repurposing of such things as propane tanks, satellite dishes, cars (a Chevy Impala, to be precise), empty oil drums, even a gondola. One picture from the Breckenridge (Colo.) Ski Resort showed a skier in twin tips flying over a humongous tire that looked like it was stripped from an earth mover or maybe the set of a Mad Max movie.
“Without innovation,’’ Mike Schipani, manager of California’s Northstar terrain park, told the AP, “I think our sport would become stagnant.’’
Oh, the possibilities here. Personally, I’d be torn between ripping across my first car, a 1970 Ford Maverick that shedded parts like a Vegas stripper, or the dreaded No. 4 school bus that came heaving over the hill, Godzilla-like, to carry me off to first grade. Heck, I was 6, and had the whole world nailed down pretty tight ’n’ tidy until that groaning, stomach-turning school bus showed up. Left alone for an afternoon now, I bet I could grind the Maverick and the school bus so minutely that the dust would barely fill an empty Maxwell House coffee can.
According to Andy Bubnowicz, longtime manager of Eastern Boarder in Natick, the New England terrain scene is very strong and its skiers and boarders have continued to embrace new trends. Originally a skateboarder, the 44-year-old Bubnowicz remembers the days when snowboarders weren’t as welcomed on the ski hills as they are today. Truth be told, skiers and boarders still have their awkward moments of coexistence, even though they are bonded like boot in binding at the moment by their shared desire to get some snow in their lives.
“In my opinion, boarding saved a lot of ski areas that may have been losing ticket sales,’’ offered Bubnowicz. “Snowboarding was punk. It was a lot of kids who just didn’t feel like abiding by the rules. It may have seemed extremely obnoxious to many people at the time, but it was the best thing to happen to the snow industry. The growth is undeniable. The fun was forced into the ski areas and it’s thriving.’’
By Bubnowicz’s eye, the new-age junk that’s being spread about is in keeping with what he believes was the sport’s original unwritten mission, to bring the street to the snowy hillside.
“Back in the mid- to later-’90s,’’ he recalled, “Waterville even had the entire top of a school bus cut off and buried up to its windows in snow so we could slide over it. There was a great jump line, too, and riders flocked to it. Other areas had buried cars, soda machines, 50-gallon barrels, pipe posts, and whatever was available.’’
If that school bus was my ol’ No. 4, I am going to consider it the greatest missed sporting opportunity of my lifetime. I was there at 12:34 a.m., the morning Carlton Fisk’s homer rang off Fenway’s left-field foul pole in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. I’m sure jibbing across that yellow Bedford Public Schools bus would be my Pudge moment.
Meanwhile, Wachusett is summoning a tiny bit more of its inner junkyard dog in keeping with the times. When the snow finally begins to fly and Wachusett’s terrain area is ready for action, said Meyers, a repurposed 55-gallon drum will be planted alongside the rest of the longstanding paraphernalia.
“We would do more, but so much of this is determined by space,’’ mused Meyers. “It’s different out west, where they’ve got tons of room. We are what we are, and there’s not a lot of additional space.’’
Here in a long, warm, lonely winter,` I’ll bet that 55-gallon drum will prove to be all right, a little darlin’. For now, we wait, and it feels like it’s been years since the snow’s been here.