Joel Reichenberger: A toast to the mapless
March 4, 2013
It should come prefaced by The Most Interesting Man in the World raising his glass.
"To those who don't follow maps!"
What's more American, right?
Hey, I like maps, especially ski trail maps. I store old Steamboat maps like a pack rat. I have no idea what I'll ever do with them, but deep down I'm convinced some day they'll be priceless mementos.
But, I don't use them anymore.
Not needing to consult a map is one of the marks of a Steamboat regular — not a "local," just a regular. Fast groomer? Loose trees? Powdery stashes? Yeah, I can take you there, and via the hardest or easiest way possible.
I know where I'm going.
I thought that was the key, but after spending the middle of last week chasing my girlfriend's family around a trio of Summit County resorts, I discovered both the joys and follies of a different approach.
Flying without a map is half the fun for some skiers and snowboarders.
This was somewhat of an important weekend in the relationship. Things are serious, or so she, Jacki Brazill, has insisted since I talked her into moving to Steamboat Springs from Philadelphia last year.
Just kidding. Things are serious.
I've meet much of the family, mostly only at mass-meeting events, however — a wedding and a few other gatherings that featured dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins.
Given the great distance that defined most of our relationship and now defines her relationship with her family, we haven't all spent much time together.
So, despite having already gotten through the meet-the-parents jitters, I felt going into the week I was still on a bit of a trial.
But they were all coming to Colorado for a week at a Frisco timeshare. What a great opportunity, right? I can ski. I'm not great, but I don't fall down and can get down anything.
I live five minutes from a world-class ski resort and here we are, skiing with her family. I was destined to look cool.
Then I followed cousin Kevin and almost-brother-in-law Dan down the first trail on the first day.
The plan wasn't to find a double-black run to open the day. We rode up Breckenridge's Peak 8 confident of a good ski down. "There are a bunch of blues down from here," someone assured.
We didn’t check a map and I guessed we missed those turns. Our group of about 10 quickly ended up just far enough down a double-black to make retreat impossible. A few in the group were left to bail out, trying to cut through the trees to easier runs at our flanks.
I decided to stick it out and charge ahead with the guys. And I was fine. I can get down anything, remember? I don't fall down.
Still, within moments of beginning this key vacation, I was huffing and puffing and trying to keep up with a handful of map-resistant bombers from the East Coast.
Turns out, that's how the Brazill family of New Jersey — at least some of them — roll.
It's a way to attack an unfamiliar mountain I'd never really considered.
They don't make it to the mountains often, and they didn't waste the opportunity. They skied or rode whatever they came across, usually between dips through trees thick and thin. And even though I'm the one who lives here, I was left trying to keep up.
Green, blue, double-black? It didn't much matter, really. Whatever looked fun we went after.
And it was great. I cheated plenty, checking maps to keep some vague sense where we were, but the best runs came when the point wasn't so much where we were going, but that we were going.
That's not a bad way to approach things.
My efforts to impress on the slopes may have fallen flat, but the experience was worth a raise of the glass — "To those who don't follow maps."