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The thing about luck

16 Dec
My home away from home Friday-Thursday: Silver Creek Lodge in Silver Star

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve the experiences I’ve had, but I’m grateful. Now that the sentimentality’s out of the way, let me bring you up to speed on what amazing adventures I’ve had in the last few days.

It would make sense to do things in chronological order, but for the sake of grabbing your attention, let me tell you about what I did Thursday.

Silver Star on Thursday morning, with the sun shining on a few inches of powder

For my last morning in Silver Star, British Columbia, I’d planned to do a long ski. I had yet to connect the two nordic areas — Silver Star and Sovereign Lake — and I figured I could wake up early and manage the 2-hour loop.

A few things got in the way. For one, considering this is a working vacation, I had to do some work. By the time I wrapped up and stepped out on my — yep — balcony, I realized skiing any kind of long loop in time to check out would be tough. For the first time in several weeks, Silver Star had a powder day.

It was still snowing by the time I clicked into the only skis I brought, the good ol’ Madshus skate. And so I trekked out in four inches of snow, uphill of course, since I had to try that loop around the ski mountain.

The Paradise "green" trail at Silver Star, on the backside of the mountain

That loop started out on an easy green, which was straight up an ungroomed alpine traverse trail. Thirty minutes later, I found myself at the T-bar, which runs to the summit. I thought about it, but decided to skate on — stopping every few strides and every single hill to catch my breath at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level.

At 9 a.m., few downhillers were out enjoying the powder, and as my tracks proved, I was the only one doing nordic. I knew the further out I ventured, the less chance of grooming there would be, yet for some reason I refused to turn around. I had glanced at the trail map before heading out and decided I wanted to see the summit.

A day earlier, the chairlift brought me there on a pair of rented alpine skis. But now, I wanted to conquer this mountain on my own two feet. I didn’t realize the amount of strength it would take me to get up there.

With the clock ticking faster and faster, I realized I was covering less ground. My heartrate was out of control, my face beat red, and yet I refused to turn around (if you know anything about me, this is a common thread).

Finally, one cross-country skier came zooming down the trail — an older man, Scandinavian or something. “You’re getting quite a workout,” he said, looking at me like I was some kind of idiot for doing the route this way, in these conditions, on skate skis.

I was an idiot.

A blue nordic trail at Silver Star. Not recommended, especially in powder.

Scanning his tracks for an indication of some kind of break for me, I was slightly disappointed when I saw that they never broke from their parallel path. It wasn’t all that surprising, though, considering where I was headed.

At the top!

About an hour and 15 minutes after I started, I made it to the top of Silver Star Mountain at 6,280 feet. I snapped a quick photo of a tower to prove I was there (and the chairlift) and headed down. No time for nordic, I was going down the alpine side.

A bit tentative to begin with, I tucked in my shirt and hoped for the best. Despite heading down a green trail, it was pretty challenging carving on edgeless skinny skis. My thighs burned from several necessary snowplows, yet I only wiped out once.

A ski instructor looked at me as I narrowly avoided skiing off into the glades. I can only imagine what she was thinking. Within five minutes of reaching the summit, I was back to my home base and skied right up to my hotel. Breathing a sigh of relief for surviving in without eyewear in my thin tights and little nordic hat, I packed the skis away into the rental car.

Now I had done it all — or as least as much as I could fit in.

Silver Star chairlift at sunset (taken during an evening ski around the nordic trails)

***

The day before on Wednesday, I spent the morning and early afternoon alpine skiing, then joined a master’s program at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre.

View from the Christmas Bowl at Silver Star Mountain

A 25-year-old in a master’s program? Hey, don’t knock it until you try it, especially when there’s an Olympian giving you pointers.

The head club coach at Sovereign Lake, Darren Derochie, who competed for Canada in the 1992 Winter Games, led the program — which started at 6:30 p.m. under the lights at the nordic center’s stadium. This Wednesday was double-pole night. Perfect, I thought. Let’s work those triceps.

The Sovereign Lake staff graciously lent me some classic gear and I joined the group of about 20 adults of ranging abilities and goals. Derochie and two other Sovereign Lake coaches divided the group by interests — if you wanted to work on stride, go here. New to double pole? Here. And experienced and craving a double-pole workout/tuneup? Come with Darren.

I floated among the groups, taking photos and videos and making mental notes about technique. I needed some work on my DP as well, and Derochie was eager to give it.

“Arms up even higher, Alex!” he shouted as I skied by him. “Don’t push the snow, flick it.”

For a session I had been up-in-the-air about attending, I was happy I joined Derochie and his master’s crew on the 20-degree evening. When I got cold, I double poled more, training the body and refreshing my memory on how to ski. Without a coach since high school, it helped.

***

How did I hear about this once-in-a-lifetime chance to ski with and get tips from an Olympian? Julie Melanson, Sovereign Lake’s communication director.

Julie Melanson, Sovereign Lake communications director showed me around the nordic center's trails

A professional mountain bike racer as well, she took me out for a recreational ski at Sovereign Lake on Tuesday. After venturing on the trails at Silver Star on my own on Monday (where it took me 10-minutes to go up one hill), I warned her to go easy on me at Sovereign Lake.

She did, helping me snap photos for FasterSkier along the way. We started on green, progressed to blue and ended with a short black — a perfect variety in about an hour or so of skiing. I tried to shoot some video, but the phone kept freezing up.

Julie said it was colder there than usual.

“We have a minus-10 rule,” she said.

That’s not negative 10-degrees Fahrenheit, but rather Celsius. Locals in Silver Star and Vernon don’t ski when it’s below 14 degrees Fahrenheit, she said. Why would you when the weather almost always around 30 degrees?

 

Skiing at Sovereign Lake

***

As I packed up to leave Silver Star, I felt a little pang of nostalgia, and I hadn’t even left yet. I’d be back, I resolved. There was more to ski, more powder to crush and more incredibly friendly locals to meet.

Driving down the Silver Star access road on Thursday

On the road, I found myself making good time to Kelowna. Despite the snow, the roads were dry the two cities outlying Silver Star — Vernon and the much-larger Kelowna. I was heading south, about five hours to Rossland, yet the drive involved me to go up into the mountains, away from the valley and its lakes and back into tough driving conditions.

It wasn’t horrible, you just had to be alert. It was a good thing I was, too, considering I saw a moose and two deer right off the side of the road in about a half hour. A little spooky to see at dusk, but I pushed on.

After a few hours, one of which I was stuck behind a large pickup going about half the the speed limit, I drove under the gate reading “Bonanza Pass.” Chains weren’t necessary, thank God, not sure what I would have done if they were. The road was decent, but as the incline increased, I wondered what was ahead of me.

As it turned out, another pass. About 30 kilometers — 18.6 miles — from Rossland (where Red Mountain and the second set of NorAm XC races are), I trekked up Strawberry Pass. (Bonanza Pass was also called Blueberry-Paulson, so these two made a pair).

After a slow and careful drive, I pulled into Rossland only to find that I had arrived well beyond the check-in time. I called the number listed, and they gave me the access code to a lock box.

Everything to that point had seemed like a little bit of an effort, yet from that moment on, it was gravy.

In the lock box, I found my registration material — four keys, all of which let me into a heated garage. There, I had a designated spot, and one elevator ride later, I was a few steps away from my home for the weekend.

As I opened the door to the rented condo unit at Red Mountain Resort, I held my breath. I knew it would be nice — I had been told it was a two-bedroom unit (completely unnecessary, but nice!). With one swipe of the key card, I was in, and the place nearly made me cry.

My Rossland digs!

It was unlike anything I had ever seen before — like something straight out of a magazine. Aside from the two bedrooms and two bathrooms, there was granite kitchen, a big screen above a large fireplace and a private hot tub, accessible by either the living room or the master bedroom.

My mind swirled. I was overwhelmed.

The shower doubled as a sauna for crying out loud.

Now lying on the couch with my feet up and a heated-up cookie at my side, I know how lucky I am. I’m just trying to figure out what I did to deserve it.

A few minutes ago, I spilled chocolate on my shirt, and I’m not upset. Go figure.

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First impressions

13 Dec

Driving north from Spokane in my rented Subaru Impreza (I got a free upgrade to this sweet all-wheel drive ride!)

One of the greatest things about coming to the new place is the endless list of firsts. Everything’s new, everyday is an exploration and you never know what’s coming next.

Since arriving in beautiful British Columbia four days ago, I haven’t stopped smiling. The people are nice, the experiences have been great and I feel so lucky to be here. I spent the greater part of the last three days working — with two 14-hour days of covering NorAm cross-country ski races this weekend and a Monday afternoon spent pouring over notes.

But it’s still a vacation. In my first of two weekends covering races in western Canada, I’ve been able to meet new people — Canadians and Americans alike, whom I deeply respect for their commitment, talent and knowledge of the sport. Aside from the skiers, I’ve had some neat encounters with locals in the village of Silver Star. Everyone I’ve met on this trip has been so friendly. It’s unbelievable how kindness snowballs and affects those who pass it on. (Part of it is that the Aussies are a big part of this town’s workforce. Their “no worries” attitude is contagious).

The view from my balcony at Silver Creek Lodge in Silver Star, B.C. One happy girl here!

Before I rave about Silver Star — which I’ll likely do later once I spend more time here — I wanted to reflect on my trip up here. Throughout Friday’s travel, which included six hours of flights, three hours of layovers and seven hours of driving, I made a few notes of first impressions that struck me as funny. That’s one way to stay sane when you’re traveling for 16 hours alone.

Step 1: Spokane-Bound

As we started our descent into Washington State, I finally drummed up the courage to talk to my seat mate.

Do you know what ski mountain that is? He didn’t. Are you from this area? No.

Then the man, who appeared in his 60s or so, must of realized I was trying. He started asking me what my deal was. He was a devoted sports fan of Michigan State and made the trip to watch its basketball team play Gonzaga. He had been there a couple times before.

What’s Spokane like? He thought about his answer, and when he finally found words, it was something like, “Eh.” For someone from the Midwest, someone who joined the Topeka Ski Club just for the social aspect (he didn’t ski), I didn’t think that was saying much. I decided not to let his opinion sway me.

As we touched down, out of the sun and into some foggy mess just above the ground, I saw what looked like snow. But no, the pancake-like landscape was covered in frost, and lots of it.

A resident across the aisle — one who made me think I should’ve worn my cowboy boots — said he should’ve listened to his wife and moved back to Arizona.

My seat mate wished me good luck, and I wished his team the same. “Don’t let the survivalists get you,” he said.

Great, I thought. What the heck am I headed for?

A few steps later in the manageable Spokane International airport, I was put at ease by a friendly woman behind the counter at Thrifty car rentals. As we wrapped up the conversation and she handed me the keys, she called me cute. Wow, I thought, people really are friendly out West.

Step 2: The Drive

Even the border patrol officer was. He said he was jealous of my job.

A few hours later, I finally succumbed to the fact that I needed to use a rest room. There had been plenty of opportunities to do so a few miles beyond the Canadian border, but I refused to stop. I was fine.

By Kettle Valley, B.C., I couldn’t hold it anymore. As I ran into a gas station, a drawing on the glass door pointed me to the outdoor facilities. It was a picture of a smiling outhouse. Real funny, I thought. In reality, it was a portal potty. I would have rather gone in the happy outhouse.

Unsure of where I was staying until about halfway through the drive, I inched closer, grew more tired, but kept my eyes on the prize. It didn’t matter where I was staying, as long as I could grab some decent grub and lay down as soon as I got there.

I wheeled into Silver Star, a village about a mile high and accessible by a gnarly 15-mile access road. Luckily, the roads were dry, but Canada’s lack of guardrails kept me on my toes.

At about 8:30 a.m. I parked the car and walked into what turned out to be an amazing lodge. My bosses had hooked me up with what was essentially a condo — with a kitchen, living area, queen bed, two bunk beds, fireplace and a balcony. This is too much, I thought.

Step 3: Food

Friday night takeout from The Bulldog Grand Cafe (Charlie's much cuter)

I dropped the bags and walked down a snowy path into the village. There were no cars, no plowed roads between buildings. You could walk or ski anywhere.

The place that called out to me had a huge cartoon bulldog as a sign. Yep, I thought about my lovable bullie, Charlie, and headed inside. I wasn’t going to have a beer (I was so dehydrated from the day), but I threw that out the window and sat down at the bar as I ordered chicken tenders to go.

Do you want honey mustard or plum sauce, the friendly bartender asked? I didn’t know what plum sauce was. Honey mustard, I said. No, better give me the plum sauce. When in Canada …

It was good! Pretty thick and sticky — like honey — but good. I found jam was the same way.

In one of the favorite bakery/cafes in town, I grabbed breakfast two days later. It was in the 6 a.m. range, I had just gone out for a run in the dark (and straight up a seemingly endless hill, by accident), and I needed some coffee. I wasn’t sure what would be open but this place, Bugaboos, was.

The owner smiled as I walked in the door. They didn’t have a ton of baked goods on display, so I grabbed a menu. Do you have scones? Let me look out back, he replied.

They did. He asked me if I wanted butter and jam.

Jam, please.

Not butter as well?

No… (why would I need both?). Well, as I discovered, because Canadian jam is sticky. Really sticky.

I asked Mr. Bugaboos owner when they opened each morning. “7:30.” I was there nearly an hour before. I apologized for walking in and ordering, but the man assured me it was fine. “I was here at 5 o’clock,” he said.

That set the tone for the weekend. Everyone was accommodating from the staff and officials at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre to the wait staff in town.

This was going to be a good trip, I thought. It had been one already.

I celebrated my 25th birthday Sunday night with a couple drinks and a long night of writing, but it was fine. I curled up with a heated-up peanut butter cup, the biggest I’d ever seen: a half-pound Reeses. Silver Star and peanut butter = Heaven.

Best birthday treat, a 1/2-lb peanut butter cup! Oh, Canada.

Stepping it up as the season winds down

12 Oct
Strength circuit with Craftsbury GRP

No, that's not me, but I was recently in Craftsbury with a few members of its Green Racing Program, an elite cross-country ski team based out of northern Vermont. These 20-something-year-old women inspired me during a strength circuit. They did six rounds. I struggled with two.

I had an exercise epiphany earlier this month. Of course, in the average Joe’s world, that means I was feeling a little bit chubby and a whole lot of pain.

After beating myself up mentally on a slow and awkward run, I decided to do something about it. No, this time I wasn’t going to resolve not to eat for the rest of the day (I always end up scoffing down a brownie or cookie a few hours later), cut down calories, or give up anything not organic or “whole” altogether (in my world, that just doesn’t work).

I needed to set some goals and find satisfaction from my workouts rather than disappointment.

For many avid athletes, autumn is a time to wind down. After a summer full of races, they’re tired.

Not me. I had done a couple Spartan/Warrior runs, a few short-distance races, but nothing serious — or nothing I specifically trained for (with the exception of the Spartan Beast … I did plenty of trail running in nervous preparation).

I needed a longer race, something I could put on a calendar and look forward to — maybe. At least I knew it would jumpstart my training.

A few weeks later, I’m feeling much better. Enough with moral victories; I’m really not that sappy of a person. I’m feeling good because I’m fitter.

The race I’m planning on — the 15k Stockade-athon in Schenectady — is still about a month away, but that’s a good thing. I’m getting faster, runs are getting easier and less time on the bike (a sport I love) is forcing me to propel myself on my own two feet.

Running is simple. So why is it so hard? I think because many of us don’t do it enough. Even if we’re pretty active, we do many other things — biking, swimming, hiking, weight lifting — all of which can bring on sore, tired muscles. Then we hit the road on foot and it flat-out hurts.

Maybe nobody else in the world feels like I do. But if you do, consider signing up for something this fall. If you’re not into distance training, how about setting a desired time for a Turkey Trot 5k run? Something is better than nothing, and if you register now, you’ll probably get a T-shirt.

Thinking about Vermont

5 Sep

A week after Irene swept the eastern coast, communities throughout the country are picking up the pieces.

While many of us remember holding our breaths as the storm touched our hometowns, it’s easy to forget about the effects once it’s long gone. Unless you’re living in Vermont.

Hurricane and Tropical Storm Irene devastated states, destroyed towns and left many without power for days. In central Vermont, and in other severely affected communities, some people are still without a way out. Roads remain closed indefinitely and the looming threat of flash floods with more rain makes it hard to be hopeful they’ll be open soon.

I read an article in yesterday’s Rutland Herald, “Life in isolated towns settling into new (ab) normal,” about the Pittsfield and Stockbridge, Vt. Pittsfield’s emergency management coordinator,Peter Borden, has three cell phones to field calls. The town clerk greeted a caller with the typical: “Hello, Town of Pittsfield,” followed by, “I’m sorry, the town is in a state of emergency. Can you call back in two weeks?”

I tried to get in touch with Spartan Race founder and Pittsfield resident Joe Desena, who runs a bed & breakfast at Riverside Farm. He was quick to get back with me with photos, but we weren’t able to catch each other by phone. On his end, it’s understandable why.

Courtesy Joe Desena -- Three children in Pittsfield, Vt., sit on road washed out by Tropical Storm Irene.

When Irene hit, Desena and his wife, Courtney, made their hilltop B&B into a rescue and relief center. One man was there with a wedding party from New Jersey and recalled the town’s collective efforts in a story on Minyanville.com:

On the first night after the storm, the US marshals came into our bed & breakfast and rounded up any males from the wedding party who felt able to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts. Town members from all walks—lawyers, doctors, the butcher the and even the shepherd quickly put everything aside to ensure the safety of those most affected.

On Thursday, Desena was assisting with cleanup, driving a backhoe with ruined carpet to an oversize trash container in town, the Rutland Herald reported.

For people in areas like this, it’s a long haul ahead. We should keep these people in our thoughts and lend a hand in any way possible.

***

The Red Cross needs monetary donations.

Vermont has a hotline: 1-800-Vermont.

Killington is another area, just a few miles south of Pittsfield, that’s also in distress. (For a comprehensive map on Vermont flooding, closures and emergency info, click here.)

***

I spoke to chat several residents for a recent FasterSkier story on the state of cross-country ski areas in the east following Irene. Most said they’ll be fine by the time winter rolls around, but more rain won’t help. We can’t control the weather, but let’s help our neighbors out.

Take a Hike! Putnam Pond and Treadway

13 Aug

Ever been to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area near Ticonderoga, or wanted to but were unsure where to start?

Where do we start?

My dad, Dave Matthews, and his pup, Archie, recently explored an 11-mile loop from Putnam Pond, one of the main starting points into the region, and hiked Treadway Mountain.

***

Here’s his recap and some photos:

The Putnam Pond area offers a wealth of moderate hiking loops connecting several wilderness ponds: Clear, Grizzle Ocean, Lily, Putnam, Rock, and others.

Looking out to Pharaoh Lake

It feels remote, since it’s north of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness (which can also be accessed from the trail heads which begin at Putnam Pond Campground (DEC operated) off Rt. 74 between Schroon Lake and Ticonderoga.

As to the little mountain there – Treadway – it lies west of Putnam Pond and is a 7.5 mile round trip from the campground.

At around 2300′ elevation, it’s not the highest or grandest in the Adirondacks, but the top is mostly open rock and offers 360 degree views – the High Peaks, the Green Mountains in Vermont.

Looking up at Treadway's summit

This is the perfect destination hike for the beginning hiker, looking to get the feel of the vastness of NY’s High Peaks. Not many people, secluded, and also a trail runner’s paradise…gently rolling terrain. Archie loved it!

Taking a break at the top

***

For more on the Putnam Pond area, check out the DEC’s description on its website. 

Submit your own recreational recaps and photos to alex@fasterskier.com or on the Anything Active Facebook page.

Take a walk in Schuylerville

31 Jul

With an 87-degree day weighing down my walking plans, I decided to take my dog to the water. We live close to the Hudson River so I headed to Schuylerville. Instead of starting at Hardy Park, I turned into the Lock 5 parking lot, crossed the bridge and parked near the garden.

What a find! If you have kids, stay here. The natural and interactive playground is a little overgrown, but could provide hours of entertainment for little ones. (Between the hillside ship, the teepee tunnel and several slides, I wanted to stay and play!)

Beyond the swings, there’s a little dock that I believe you can launch kayaks off and head north of the lock on the Hudson. We headed south toward the Canal Tow Path, which stretches for a mile and a half down into Schuylerville. While it’s tough to access the Hudson at the north end of the path, the canal is right there if your dog needs a drink (and you’re not too grossed out about stagnant water).

Either way, the trail is a great place to walk, run or explore. Just stay on the trail; the adjacent property on the north end is private.

More information and a map can be found on the Schuyler Yacht Basin’s website:

http://www.schuyleryachtbasin.com/attractions.php

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