The Winter Dew Tour: The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had Battling Hypothermia
The alert reader may wonder why, given that when the thermometer displays 10 degrees, the description of the weather is never just “cold” – there’s always an adjective in front of it.
My motivation was simple: At the time it was 0 degrees, and I was going to be spending the bulk of the next day outdoors at the Winter Dew Tour’s Killington, Vermont stop. By comparison, 10 degrees would be a huge improvement. At 10, we’d be talking “excruciatingly painful” as opposed to the “potentially rushed to the hospital” I normally associate with 0.
I really needn’t have worried though. I had the Ski Diva on my side.
The Ski Diva started out as a self-professed Ski Chick, but her years of working in the ski business have undoubtedly earned her a promotion. And for her efforts on my behalf she’s now up for Ski Sainthood (assuming there is such a designation).
In preparation for the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Winter Swing, she had given me a checklist of clothing articles that I needed to think seriously about bringing along. None of which I actually owned, of course.
So in the weeks leading up to my eastbound departure, I cobbled together a serviceable wardrobe for a normal January day in New England. As the time for my trip drew near however, it became apparent that instead of “normal January day”, I was getting Temperature Armageddon. This was going to require underwear for my underwear.
Upon landing in the Northeast, I enlisted my friend JC to help with emergency shopping for extreme cold weather gear. But it turned out to be the frostbitten leading the frostbitten, so to speak. See, while JC is a lifelong veteran of winter, he’s always preferred to view it through a window. So as we stood in front of a veritable wall of insulated apparel at Dick’s Sporting Goods, the choices seemed endless. I needed a sign.
And from the middle of the “Insulated Pants” display it came. Duofold Originals…Merino Wool…2 Layer Construction…“Perfect for Sledding, Tobogganing and Spectating”. They actually made Spectating underwear. I bought out the rack.
Then on event day, the Ski Diva showed up with a small ski shop in the back of her SUV. Gloves the size of industrial oven mittens. Snow shoes (just in case). And a ski jacket that a family of five tumbled out of when she pulled it from the car. My fears of hypothermia evaporated, replaced by concerns about heat stroke.
With that behind me, the frigid conditions actually became an ally. It began in the shuttle bus parking lot, which despite its small size was only half full. There was no line for the waiting shuttle, and plenty of seats were available. And when we got to the event entrance it was a short, unimpeded stroll to the front lines of the action.
In short, only a fraction of the anticipated crowd of 10,000 had chosen to brave the elements, on a day that turned out to be brilliantly sunny – albeit lung-collapsing cold. And as a result, I was right “on the fence” all day, no matter which viewing angle I chose.
It was Finals day for all of the Dew Tour’s slopestyle events. For the uninitiated, slopestyle means that the competition takes place on a more traditional style ski-jumping course as opposed to within a half- or superpipe. Of course the word “traditional” is relative here, since we are talking about a sport that is in its infancy compared to alpine or Nordic skiing.
The top half of a slopestyle run consists of basically skateboarding on snow. The competitor chooses a line from amongst a variety of apparatus such as rails or boxes, and performs technical tricks upon them as they descend down a ski slope. Then, having negotiated their technical line, things get seriously airborne. Each athlete attempts a series of jumps off of a succession of steep ramps – taking the opportunity to put their mid-air chops on display in the process.
A slopestyle run is not timed, so there is no advantage to running the course any faster than the rest of the field. Style and degree of difficulty count for everything in these competitions. Avoiding wipeouts is also helpful. A theoretically perfect run would yield a score of 100, and anything that the judges deem to be worthy of 90 or better is usually “platform material”, i.e. likely to earn at least third place money.
At Killington, the slopestyle competition for the men was of two varieties – freeski and snowboard – with the women’s snowboard event sandwiched in between. Fueled by the energy of the sunshine that hadn’t been forecasted, we started to trudge all the way up to the top of the course. That’s when we met Colleen.
Colleen is a member of that special species of people that volunteer their time to help stage sports events. In return these folks get…well, typically not much. And on this day, she also drew the short straw on assignments. Her job was to stand halfway up the slope and inform those of us on a mission to the top that our intended destination was reserved solely for VIPs.
Topped out on altitude, we made the best of what I eventually termed the Wow Section of the course – the spot where the athletes would land after making their first jump. In general, the variety of aerial acrobatics incorporated into those jumps is almost limitless, so I never knew what would greet my eyes as I looked up at competitors who burst into visibility in mid-flight.
The focal point of the Men’s Ski Slopestyle Finals was Bobby Brown, a 19-year old Colorado native who has been a winter action sports fixture since before he was able to legally drive. If the word “heartthrob” is actually still in use, he’s pretty much cornered the market on it – at least during the winter months.
This particular day didn’t start out so well for Bobby Brown.
The competition consisted of each of the twelve finalists performing two runs, with only the best of the two counting for scoring purposes. So it definitely helped a skier to already have a good score in the bank when it came time for their second run. Unfortunately, Brown caught an edge when landing the first jump on his initial run, causing his skis to go in a direction not quite consistent with the rest of him. Thankfully he was not badly hurt, but he was about as visibly annoyed as a guy with no discernible pulse can be.
As the skiers progressed through their second runs, it began to appear as if the 91.75 score that Switzerland’s Elias Ambuhl had thrown at the field in his first run might hold up as a winner. When Brown dropped in to begin his second run though, the murmurs began. From our vantage point in the Wow Section, we could vaguely make out the audio broadcast of his technical run. So by the time he exploded into our view, we knew he had a good thing going. It was only a matter of how he landed and finished, which took place just out of our sight.
The vaguely thunderous sound of a thousand or so mittens clapping told the tale, and a few minutes later it was official. Bobby Brown had come all the way back to win with a score of 93.75. Hearts resumed their regularly scheduled throbbing.
As the day progressed, I started to wonder – just how do freeskiers and snowboarders come up with new tricks? What’s the thought process?
“Today I think I’ll hurtle down a slope, jump off a 15-foot ramp, do a couple of random, twisty somersaults in the air and land facing backwards. If I survive, this will be very cool.”
I asked the Ski Diva for her input, but since it was towards the end of a day that involved wrapping successive layers of scarves around my neck and face, the question came out sounding something like “Hroumfee fgghht ryfflim?” And before I could clarify, we had to go.
Apparently the family of five wanted to move back into their ski jacket.
Next Up: Alma Mater Basketball I – High School Hoops