Friday, December 27, 2013

Skiing – the First Rockies Year

West Slope - Sandia Montains
In the Fall of 1973 I moved to the Rocky Mountains.  I’d been wanting to move to ski country, someplace with a big mountain, for a long time (I wrote about my first five years of skiing here).  I’d skied in Vermont and Colorado and enjoyed both.  I was thinking that I would go somewhere in New England, since Mom’s family was around Boston and it was closer to Ohio than the Rockies.  While Vermont was the only state in New England where I'd actually skied, I had been in all the others in the summer.  I really loved my Uncle Tom's place on an island in a lake near Augusta, Maine

So, early in my planning I was really leaning towards moving to Sugarloaf Ski Area in Maine.  I had a college friend who'd skied there and spoke highly of it.  From the research I’d done (although to this day I have not skied there), there were a lot of things I liked about it.  It is a big mountain with long runs and a lot of skiable terrain.  I liked the lake and forest terrain of Maine.  I liked that it wasn’t too far from the ocean.  I liked the fact that it wasn't too far from some family.

I did love Colorado and there were a lot of things that attracted me to it, but all things considered I had chosen Sugarloaf.

Then why, in 1973 was I moving to New Mexico in the southern Rockies instead of either of my top two choices?  Because for the previous two winters I had often skied with an older couple Bob & Kay, who moved to New Mexico in the Spring of 1973.

Bob was an Air Force Lt. Col. who had been stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB around 1971-73.  Then he received a new assignment as the commander of Manzano AFB, near Albuquerque.  They knew that I was planning a move to ski country and offered me assistance if I was interested in New Mexico.  I visited them in June 1973, looked at the local ski area, Sandia Peak, and decided to enroll in the University of New Mexico (which was pretty close to their home) beginning in the Fall semester.

So in August I left Delco-Moraine and became a fulltime student at UNM (Go Lobos!) working part-time as a bus boy at a small but fancy restaurant several evenings a week.  My heart really wasn't in school though as I couldn't wait for snow and a chance to get a ski instructor job at the local ski area - Sandia Peak
Sandia Peak Base Lodge - site of Closing Party

While I was hoping to be just offered an instructor job, this didn't happen.  I had to go to through a tryout, but I was eventually offered a job.  A few days later I finished up my UNM finals and became a fulltime ski instructor.  I did keep my evening bus boy job as well.

I really enjoyed Sandia Peak.  I have never lived among friendlier people.  I got to know so many people at the ski area, the University, various businesses around town.  You were treated like family, always welcomed into homes and invited to events.

Lange "Comp"
I don't know how many total days I skied that winter, I'd guess close to 100, including a stretch of 75 days in a row.  During that time, in addition to Sandia, I skied at Taos, Santa Fe, Red River, Purgatory, Ajax, Vail and Sunlight.  I remember the day in late March or early April when I woke up at a friend's home in Durango, Colorado, knowing that I wouldn't ski that day -- the streak was over.

Lange "SuperComp"
When I came to New Mexico I had two pairs of Lange ski boats, my original "Comps" and the "Super-Comps" that I'd gotten in Ohio.  I also had two pairs of K2 Comps with Look bindings.

73-74 was not a winter of heavy snow in central New Mexico.  Many rocks were exposed at Sandia and I ended up pulling sections of the metal edges out of all my skis.  Here is another example of the friendliness and generosity of New Mexicans.  Sandia's Ski School Director, Tom Long, offered me the use of a pair of Spaulding "Numero Uno" skis, a local ski shop that I took my K2s to for repairs gave me a pair of Hexcel "Comps" free of charge.  For several weeks after my K2s had become unusable various friends and
Exhibition run at Sandia
acquaintances continued to offer me the use of skis.  I think that at one time I had five or six pairs of loaned skis at my home.

So I had an opportunity to ski many different skis over the course of that winter,  The only other equipment change I made was to trade both pairs of my Lange boots for a pair of used Tecnicas.  These were among the lightest ski boots on the market at the time and I was very happy with them.  Skiing with these boots and the Hexcels which were probably the lightest "competition-grade" skis available, made turning notably easier and quicker.

The other significant thing about my winter at Sandia Peak was that I met a number of people who worked for the Forest Service during the summer.  They encouraged me to apply.  I was offered a firefighter job with them only a few weeks after the ski season had ended.  Thus began my 30-year Ranger career.

And of course there was the closing day party.