February 28, 2011

The Evolution of a Backcountry Skier

If you've had anything more than a passing interest in New England skiing or snowboarding in recent years, you've undoubtedly noticed the blossoming of the backcountry riding scene.  It seems that every internet ski forum has elegantly photographed homages to the skin track and the accompanying backcountry lifestyle, and such popular tomes as Goodman's guide provide the roadmap to the better known off-resort stashes in the North Country.  Now, I realize that the backcountry tradition is strong and longstanding in New England but there seems have been a definite larger-scale acceptance in ski circles of late.  I can only speculate as to the reasons why, but I suspect that outrageous lift ticket prices, crowds, and homogenized resort experiences are contributing to the backcountry migration.  I say "migration" with tongue-in-cheek because in all reality, the masses will continue to ride the resorts with a select enlightened few making the transition the backwoods, so we need not fret about our pristine mountain escapes being overrun by hordes of greenhorns seeking freedom from resort monotony.  I have some confidence in that statement since the average skier, in my estimation, finds his or her way into the backcountry after a long apprenticeship on the groomers and chairlift.  I'm not trying to sound elitist by saying that the backcountry folks are the creme de la creme, but they have almost always sharpened their teeth over years, if not decades, of plying the manicured slopes.  The progression to the backcountry, at least in my case, was the direct result of that apprenticeship.

What is it about Tuckerman Ravine that makes
shorts and long tights socially acceptable?
The ski history of the Woods Hippie began circa 1988 by all accounts, at the tender age of 7 or 8.  Hell, I can't remember that far back but my mother claims to have had me out on the slopes at that point, and who am I to question my mother?  I do remember Mom riding some vintage '70's gear, which wasn't really all that out of date at the time.  Anyways, by the early 1990's my brother was old enough to ski and the three of us graduated from our local slope in central Connecticut to Loon and Cannon in New Hampshire, where I continued my two-plank education in earnest.  As my father reinvigorated his interest in skiing and my cousins came of age, the entire family clan took up the ski cause on the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont.  Indeed, those pre-teen ski trips remain among my finest memories of youth.  As the 1990's progressed, my cousins and I, one by one, grew bored of skiing and made the switch to snowboarding, which is still my snow technology of choice!  At this point we were still shreddin' the ski areas but began exploring the gladed runs and all manner of trailside booters as if it were our job.  When I was a senior in high school, my parents treated my brother and me to a week-long ski trip to Utah where I was greeted with my first experience with deep...ridiculously deep...powder.  My brother, who was still on skis at that point, struggled in the deep pow while I figured out how to surf the shit on my snowboard.  He lives in Salt Lake now, so I guess he got the last laugh there...

Those crazy bastards sledded down Mansfield's Teardrop Trail!
(Photo by Marquis de Richmond)
The college years proved to be a hiatus of sorts from the scene; I would ride when the occasion presented itself but my passions were, understandably, consumed by the college lifestyle and all that entails.  The catalyst for making the hyperspace jump to a backcountry junkie came at an unlikely place - work.  Soon after joining the career world fresh out of college, I encountered two like-minded outdoorsmen in the company with predilections for the snowy season, and the rest is history.  With various backgrounds in snowboarding, alpine, and nordic skiing, we made an instant bonds and immediately began scheming up unforgettable adventures.  All of us had done some winter camping in various capacities (I hadn't since Boy Scouts a decade earlier), but our common interest sparked a fury of gear purchasing, and our individual campcraft congealed into a proficiency that allowed us to forge into the woods unencumbered by trepidation or inexperience.  Together, we pushed deep into the wilds of Vermont and New Hampshire, first on snowshoes with snowboards strapped to our packs, then on waxless backcountry nordic gear.  We made notably stupid descents of such classics as Teardrop and the Mt. Moosilauke Carriage Road on cross country skis, but we also killed it on snowboards at the Birthday Bowls at Smuggs and elsewhere in the Mansfield BC.  Each trip added to our catalogue of backcountry knowledge and ski ability.

Setting camp near Sterling Pond, VT.
Ever on the path of personal growth as snow sliders, we quickly turned to telemark skiing, which gave us the ability to climb and descend on the same gear.  Tele blew the whole thing wide open.  With our discovery of the telemark turn, free-pivot bindings, and climbing skins, we were no longer held back by the technical limitations of nordic equipment or the weight of traveling with snowshoes and snowboards.  And there's no stopping here; no reason to be held fast by a dogmatic attachment to one style of turn (no offense, TTipsters).  Tele is fun as hell and I've finally nailed it after five years of getting schooled by sore quadriceps and wobbly rear skis, but the future is aglow with visions of alpine touring gear and...*behold*...splitboards!  Ah yes, nothing quickens my heart like the thought of ripping turns and wild powder wheelies on a board and then breakin' it down and skinning up to do it all over again.

Morning life at camp on a four-day outing.
Though telemark is here to stay in the Woods Hippie repertoire for the time being, the clan's preference in backcountry accommodations has changed drastically.  The tent, that fabric enclave which sheltered us on many an excursion, has fallen by the wayside in favor of our latest discovery, cabin camping!  Unbeknownst to many, there are numerous backcountry cabins and shelters in the North Country that are available for a nominal or nonexistent fee.  Our latest digs affords us the opportunity to sled in Coleman stoves, lanterns, mini-kegs, and pots of stew and relax in the radiance of a woodstove and some tasteful iPod selections after a sick day of backcountry adventure.  Other than those concessions to comfort, we still have to melt snow and poop in the woods while wearing skis, but the bitter endurance of below-zero nights and cooking on a Whisperlite in a tent vestibule is a thing of the past for now, but not forever!  Consider it a temporary transition from Type II fun to pure unadulterated Type I fun.  The New England backcountry is so diverse that before long, we will shoulder overnight packs once again and strike out in search of the untracked line somewhere just beyond that next ridgeline...

Whisperlite at night.
The rich backwoods traditions do not end with us, the current generation.  Though the apprenticeship never truly ends, the next round of greenhorns always comes up behind us, thirsting for adventure and an escape from the rigors of their complex lives.  My cousin, an experienced snowboarder in his own right, will join the clan this winter on his first backcountry expedition into the wilds of Vermont.  With any hope, the tribal knowledge will pass once again; those little tips such as how to keep warm at night by placing a Nalgene full of hot water at your feet or between your thighs (which, by the way, means you don't have to melt snow in the morning), or how to prime a white gas stove, or how to strip skins without taking off the skis, or how to pack down the snow with skis before pitching a tent, or how to use snowballs in lieu of toilet paper (yup), or how the slope aspect can be the key to a fresh powder stash, or any other of the infinite bits of wisdom that have been accumulated over the years.  To circle back, the great P-tex riding hordes will not move into the backcountry en masse, but there will always be those willing few who love cold nights, spruce-flavored meltwater, hair-raising descents on sketchy snow, and grand fun in the company of great friends.  And that, folks, is the spirit of the backcountry.

February 23, 2011

Aimless Goals for 2011

Tired of winter?  Just go to Hawaii, right now.
About once a year, whilst locked in mid-winter’s icy grasp, I find myself daydreaming about the indelible pleasures of the other seasons – warm breezes wafting through an open window, falling asleep on a mountaintop in the sun, and, most importantly, not having to put on all my clothing to poop the dog.  Now is the time when I lay out my grandiose plans for the upcoming year; few of which ever come to fruition but all of which look good on paper in February.  The promise of warmer days always seems to fill me with energy for tackling various summer projects, but even as I type this I realize that some of this stuff is just plain work.  And, I always seem to forget that a crucial eight hours of most days are filled with another type of work that is necessary to keep the grocery spigot flowing.  Oh well.  Without further ado, I present my perpetual list of goals that I commit myself to every winter and never seem to follow through on during the summer.


One of the more successful garden years.
My wife and I have kept a garden pretty much every year since we bought our house, with varying results.  As with most things in life, the success of a garden is directly proportionate to the amount of effort invested.  I’ve learned that just throwing seeds in the ground once the last frost passes is not a great way to ensure a bountiful crop; I really need to focus on starting seeds indoors while simultaneously prepping the beds with compost and other amendments, and then keeping that focus to keep the garden watered and free of weeds.  This all sounds relatively straightforward, which it is, but these early spring tasks coincide with the spring skiing season in the North Country, arguably the most enjoyable time to be on a ski hill.  Also, the warming temperatures in southern New England signal the return of two of my other favorite distractions, bicycling and motorcycling.  Anyway, I want to devote some more time to the garden this year as I want to try canning vegetables.  That seems silly since commercially-canned produce is available at a fraction of the cost of what I’m going to lay out for a pressure canner and supplies, but there is something aesthetically-pleasing and anti-establishmentarian about producing my own food that tickles my anarchist sensibilities.


The Woods Hippie on a Vineyard striper mission with Hoagie.
I have a veritable sporting goods store in my basement, including a practically unused 5-weight fly rod, two ultralight spinning setups, and a formerly well-utilized inshore saltwater spinning setup.  All have spent the last few years doing little more than putting out the fishing “vibe” around the house.  I live fifteen minutes from one of the finest trout streams in New England, and I could easily cast a few flies every day before work, but then again maybe I should be pulling weeds from the garden.  I also dream about rigging up a way to transport rods via motorcycle or bicycle because adding another sport just makes everything tastier.  The fishing aspirations may be the first ones to be realized, because Mrs. Hippie always expresses a mild interest in casting a line, so any opportunity to get her out in the woods or streams is a bonus.


Mrs. Hippie ain't afraid to handle some iron, either.
I have always enjoyed wing-shooting and small game hunting but have not devoted much time to these pursuits in recent years, mostly because I've been obsessed with bicycling and trail running during the onset of hunting season.  I've already purchased my hunting license for this year and submitted my bid for Connecticut's lottery for shotgun deer season.  I have never killed a deer but I am excited to spend some good time in the pre-season scoping out terrain.  Most importantly, I'm hopeful for a freezer full of venison steaks and stew meat to carry me through the next winter.  I have a slew of delicious venison recipes that I've perfected on other people's deer meat, this year it's my turn!

Home Improvement

Yeah right.

Enjoy the rest of the winter folks, spring is coming fast.

February 18, 2011

Urgent - Help Protect Clean Waters

I just received this urgent message from the good folks at the Connecticut River Watershed Council.  If you're reading this blog, there is a good chance you care about the protection of natural resources in the United States.  I'll repost their message here in hope of your support.  Thanks - Woods Hippie

U.S. House actions threaten Connecticut River water quality and our nation’s ecosystems!
We don’t make this request often, but we need you to call your U.S. Representative right NOW and urge them to vote NO on H.R. 1 and on all anti-environmental amendments!  We have been told the House is expected to vote either late tonight or early tomorrow on Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) to fund the federal government through September. Your calls right now are vitally important. The current CR expires on March 4. House lawmakers have been debating and considering nearly 600 amendments to the 359-page measure.

In its proposed form, this Continuing Resolution (CR) bill slashes critical funding for water and other environmental protections.  According to a House Appropriations Committee summary sheet, the proposed CR cuts $3 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget, which is 29% below fiscal year 2010.  It also cuts 1.4 billion from the Department of Interior, including $532 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and $5.2 billion from the Department of Agriculture, including $190 million from the Farm Services Agency and $173 million from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In addition to these dramatic budget cuts to critical environmental programs, the House CR includes two provisions - one that would prohibit EPA from taking administrative action to clarify the definition of "waters of the U.S." and another that would prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  These provisions have nothing to do with saving money and don't belong in a spending bill.  They are simply brutal attacks aimed at preventing EPA from doing its job, which is to protect public health and the environment.
More information, including text of the two provisions and information about additional amendments, can be found from our friends at Clean Water Network:  http://www.cleanwaternetwork.org/.

Stand up against this needless assault on public health and the environment!  Please call your Representative NOW and urge them to vote NO on these anti-environment amendments and NO on the CR bill (H.R. 1).  To find out who your U.S. Representative is, go to http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.htmlTo be connected to your U.S. Representative's office, call the Capitol Hill switchboard at 202-224-3121.

We appreciate your help in blocking Congress’s attempts to dismantle recent progress made on clean water and the environment.

February 17, 2011

Sustainable Fishing

Captain Rob's creations, circa 2003.
Every so often, the Outdoor Blogger Network puts up a topic that member bloggers can discuss on their respective webpages.  It's a cool idea and generates some interesting writing on topics that most of us wouldn't normally include in our blogs.  This week's topic has to do with the following questions.  What does sustainable fishing mean to you? What fishing practices do you engage in that help fisheries? Any other thoughts you might have on this subject?

This blog entry is my submission for the GreenFish and Outdoor Blogger Network Writing Prompt Giveaway

Hmm, so what does sustainable fishing mean to me?  Well, harkening back to my undergraduate days as a biology major, my first response is that sustainable fishing is harvesting an appropriate number of fish of the desired age and size so as not to affect the ability of the remaining fish to reproduce and maintain the current population.  If the fish had a say regarding sustainability, I suppose this definition would be their stance.  As I think deeper, however, the concept of sustainability varies according to the end user and is ultimately selfish in that each user’s definition of sustainability serves to enhance their chosen pursuit.  I’m thinking in black and white terms here, which is not the reality of the situation, but bear with me.  Let's look from the standpoint of the devil's advocate at the examples of two user groups who are heavily interested in sustainable fishing.

Savage lands a whopper.
Okay, so the sport fisherman wants rivers and oceans teeming with healthy native fish.  That is great for the fish populations and fun for us, too.  The gold standard would be to eliminate commercial fishing to ensure these populations are allowed to flourish.  But let’s be honest here, for most of us, sport fishing is basically a leisure pursuit that we enjoy on our free time.  Is it fair to shut people out of their jobs as commercial fisherman so that we can enjoy a nice weekend of angling?  No.

The commercial fisherman wants every net to be full of fish so that he can pay the loan on the vessel, fill the tanks with diesel, and send his children to school.  However, filling every net means that sooner rather than later, the native fish stocks will be depleted to the point of economic extinction, and no user group will have any opportunity.

Devil’s advocacy aside now, the goals of the sport and commercial fisherman are seemingly at odds, and that is why state and federal agencies have stepped in to (ideally) make science-based decisions to balance the needs of all user groups while ultimately protecting the reproductive viability of any given fish population.  I think they’ve done a fair job, though there is always room for improvement.

Woods Hippie lands a whopper.
So, how do we as sport fisherman go about sustainable fishing?  There are many approaches, but I am going to go with education and participation.  We must educate ourselves as to the biology of the fish so that we may understand their behavior in the wild and the effects our tackle has on their bodies.  We must understand the sampling methods by which the agencies determine the size and health of the populations to promulgate sport and commercial regulations so that we may intelligently comment on their actions.  We must understand the needs of other user groups and realize that the overall goal should be the well being of the fish populations, not our individual needs, and all groups must be willing to compromise.  Further, we must participate in the process, whether that involves joining an advocacy group, attending agency hearings, or simply making friendly talk with a commercial fisherman on the water. 

February 16, 2011

Ski Ascent of Ascutney

My partner in ski-crime, Marquis de Richmond, and I tackled a mid-winter ascent of Vermont’s Mt. Ascutney on Saturday amid challenging conditions that would be best described as “skill building”.  The following is strictly a written narrative of our adventure since, in an oversight unbecoming of a blogger, I forgot my camera.

The original plan was to skin up the east side of the mountain via the Windsor Trail, traverse to the ski area trails to scope out the conditions, then bag the summit.  The Windsor Trail follows the north side of a steep drainage, and we immediately encountered icy conditions that we suspected was a nasty sun crust, seeing as how the north side of the drainage has a southern aspect.  After 500 yards, we realized that the icy ascent of the narrow snowshoe path would amount to little more than a death-defying luge run on the descent, so we retreated to the car and decided to evaluate conditions on the northeast side of the mountain via the Brownsville Trail.

We jumped on Brownsville by and, to our great dismay, discovered that the thick crust was evident on the northeasterly aspects and was probably the result last weekend’s rain.  We pushed through the traverse to Norcross Quarry and reached the ski slopes on the northwest side of the mountain.  The ski slopes were our ace in the hole, our last hope for a shady powder stash but alas, the crust was even more evil here.  Dispirited, we discussed and dismissed the option of summiting via Brownsville for the same reasons we bailed on Windsor.  With the clock pushing , we made the ultimate decision to ascend via the Toll Road, which had been tracked by snow machines based on an early morning reconnaissance.  First, though, we patronized the local general store to procure a can or two of celebratory brew in anticipation of a successful summit bid.

The ubiquitous crust did not relent on the Toll Road, but the snow machine tracks eased our upward passage and the wide road eased our minds for the ski down.  The 3.7 miles to the upper parking lot in the col between the mountain’s two summits passed relatively quickly, but our stamina waned in the last miles as our morning forays began to exact their revenge.  Tired, we skinned to the parking lot kiosk and groaned inwardly at the trail sign that indicated an additional 0.7 miles to the true summit.  Having come too far to turn back now, we pushed on and made the summit via the Slot route.  Marquis was fortunate to have full climbing skins and dispatched the Slot, a narrow snow-choked gap in the granite ledges circling the summit, with relative ease, but I was sporting kicker skins and was forced to sidestep with the aid of handholds on the rock.  With our legs thoroughly shelled at this point, we donned layers of clothing, climbed the observation tower, and savored the view of the Connecticut River valley to our east and the rolling tableau of farm and forest to the north, west, and south.  The views further west towards Okemo and the spine of the Green Mountains were obscured by a rapidly advancing snow squall. 

Cooled off by the brisk summit winds and bitter temperatures, we retreated to the cover of the conifer forest beneath the observation tower and cracked our celebratory beers and shared some pepperoni and cheese.  Yeah, yeah, I know, cold beers don’t help much in cold conditions, but we earned them.  Invigorated, we skied off the summit just as the squall struck Ascutney.  The effect was surreal; snow pounded down with vigor and the visibility dropped to nil as we stripped skins and battened hatches for the descent on the Toll Road.  The ride down was fairly enjoyable once we learned to keep both skis evenly weighted; any bias towards one side would result in that ski breaking through the crust and a spectacular crash was nearly always the result.  The squall added enough fluff to the surface so that we enjoyed a few good telemark turns here and there during the 40 minutes or so it took to descend the mountain.  Arriving at the car, we collapsed in a heap of skis and sweaty polypropylene, cranked some Yonder Mountain String Band, and began the migration home.

The day was a prime example of what we jokingly call the Dynamic Decision Matrix (DDM).  The lesson, as always, is that any plan, no matter how well laid, is subject to change based on conditions, and the outdoorsman is wise to heed those conditions.  Though we didn’t get to ski the closed trails at the resort, we did stand atop the summit and gathered valuable beta on gladed lines all over the mountain, the locations of which I will not reveal here.  Go out and recon them yourself…I guarantee you'll find the goods and have a blast in the process.

February 9, 2011

The Magic of...Magic

Every outdoorsman has his secret stash; a hidden riffle that always holds trout, a stretch of singletrack untread by other mountain bikers, or a stand of oaks too far from the road for the casual deer hunter.  Each stash is a testament to hours of diligent reconnaissance, success after repeated failures, or just plain dumb luck.  Powderhounds are no different.  The hardcore riders at any given mountain will quietly slide away from the lift and disappear into the trees only to be seen some time later in the lift line completely dusted with snow, twigs protruding from their helmets, and ear-to-ear grins plastered across their faces.  The powder connoisseur may spend a lifetime accruing knowledge of which groomers will soften first in the morning sun, which tree lines will go untracked for days after a dump, and which lifts will be empty when others are crowded.  When experienced riders flock with birds of a feather, the conversation inevitably turns to the goods that each mountain has to offer, and the result is a strategic mental map of the best snowboard beta around – unwritten tribal knowledge of the most refined caliber that no Internet forum or ski area marketing campaign can hope to match.

And like the fisherman or deer hunter, the powderhound is wise to keep his mouth shut about his favorite stash unless in the company of trusted companions…loose lips may not sink ships in Vermont but will result in burned-out glades a la Jay Peak.  Therefore, it is with understandable trepidation that I am about to reveal not just a favorite tree run, but an entire ski mountain.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of southern Vermont,  just past Okemo but not quite as far west as Stratton, lies a timeless nugget of ski-dom, a throwback to a better era of low-key lodges, slow-as-molasses chairlifts, bare-bones bars with good beer on tap, and flat-out challenging terrain.  A skier's mountain that refuses to bow to the pampered needs of the ski glitterati.  A place where folks clad in duct-taped snowboard pants, neon CB parkas, greasy Carhartts, or pre-"parabolic" skis are more likely to share a ride on the Red Chair than someone decked out in the latest waterproof/breathable threads with late-model, crud-busting, vibration-dampening, toe-warming, torsionally-rigid yet laterally-compliant (?), ego-inflating gear.  The initiated will instantly recognize my description of Magic Mountain in Londonderry, Vermont, and the uninitiated would do well to take notice especially if they have grown weary of the relentlessly-groomed low angle boulevards that the neighboring mega-mountains pass off as ski trails. 

Here's the deal.  Magic is the ski experience stripped of all the bullshit.  You buy a ticket at a price that most ski areas blew past a decade ago, you ride a slow double chair to the top (the only lift option), and then you shred narrow, winding trails that test your mettle run after run.  Snowmaking covers only a fraction of the mountain so you are forced to develop your skills to maneuver on mixed conditions.  Magic has one functional groomer, so many trails are allowed to mogul up giving the hardcore an on-piste playground.  The payback for your testicular fortitude is a powder day.  The mountain is basically closed during weekdays unless a snowfall of 6 inches or more occurs.  So, you can show up on a Saturday after a Wednesday dump and ride fresh pow if you know where to look.  Even if there is a weekend crowd, the lift capacity is so minimal that the goods take a long time to get tracked out.

The true hardcore will get off the lift, close their eyes, and point to any patch of the woods on the mountain and will be guaranteed a sick tree line if they have enough sack to bash though eye-gouging pines, schwack through stands of striped maple saplings, and drop the occasional cliff.  Most other mountains would sanitize such tree lines so that even the greenest greenhorn  might take a run with little hesitation.  Magic leaves the woods as woods should be and they don't give a shit if you don't have the ability to ski them.  You must raise your game to ski Magic, because the mountain will not lower the bar to cater to your self-inflated "skillz".  Oh, and if you're looking for a "terrain park", keep driving.  If you want to ride some the steepest in-bounds REAL terrain in SoVT that is guaranteed to pucker your sphincter, park your car and come on in.  The snow is great.

If by some chance you desire to take a break from all this madness at lunch, feel free to kick back in the parking lot with a few beers from your own cooler...no one will bat an eye.  Don't feel like buying their meager offerings of horseburger and fries?  Bring your own sandwich and belly up to the bar with a cold pint of Switchback Ale.  Or Longtrail.  Or Magic Hat.  Or any number of other fantastic Vermont brews.  Watch a replay of the last UVM Catamounts game (pick a sport) while discussing the snow conditions with the nearest flannel-clad bearded brewhound.  Only then may you fully enjoy your afternoon, fully fed and hydrated.

Inevitably, the afternoon will slide past like a dropped Telemark ski without a tether, though your legs will be well aware of every passing foot of vert preceding the witching hour of 4:00 that signals the last ride on the Red Chair.  High-fiving like the teenage boys that you still are inside the adult shells, you and your buddies retire to the car and begin the trek home, wherever that may be.  Unlike Okemo or Stratton, you will not be encumbered by ski traffic exiting the mountain.  The Connecticut-bound travelers would be wise to stop at exit 2 in Brattleboro and grab a pulled pork sandwich at the Vermont Country Deli and eat it at McNeil's Pub with a pint of Dark Angel Imperial Stout.  Or, stop at the Scottish pub in Chester just past the gas station on Route 11 and have yourself a sit-down with all the atmosphere that the "apres-ski" scene at a bigger mountain couldn't hope to touch.

Magic is struggling to stay alive as a viable ski area.  This is the type of place where, when you hand over your $58 for a ticket, you can envision the clerk handing the cash to a groomer operator so he can fill the machine with diesel for the next day.  The lift needs constant maintenance and the lodge is in sore need of a spruce up.  The only way to fill these needs is with increased skier visits, and it is this very reason that I am willing to share my secret stash.  The alternative would be for this gem to go bankrupt and close down.  Any true New England rider will instantly recognize the travesty of this fate in the current age of corporate resorts that cater to a tax bracket far above my means.  So my friends, take the ride to Magic.  Love it or leave it, it's the real deal.

February 8, 2011

New Toy

Simmons scope on a Marlin 25N .22 rimfire rifle.

This weekend I picked up a Simmons .22 Mag riflescope for my trusty .22 rimfire rifle.  I've been shooting the rifle with the stock open sights for the last 15 years so I figured it was time for an optics upgrade.  The scope is relatively inexpensive, less than $50, and comes with mounting rings.  I was impressed with the quality of the metal construction of the scope body, and the coated optics will be sufficient at the yardages afforded by the .22 long rifle round.  The magnification is adjustable between 3x and 9x, and the optics feature a quick focus to fine tune the image to the shooter's eye.  The friendly staff at Dick's Sporting Goods mounted and boresighted the scope.  OK, the staff was friendly because he happens to be my cousin and I would tell his mother if he behaved otherwise.

First shots with the boresighted scope are to the right of the quarter

I dropped by the local indoor range to dial in the scope.  The first seven shots landed about two inches wide and a half inch tall of the target at 25 yards (the maximum distance at the range), but this isn't bad considering some scopes won't even land lead on the paper at first.  I fired off another dozen rounds or so while incrementally adjusting the windage and elevation on the scope.  I quickly moved the shot group exactly where I wanted it and ended up with half-inch groups dead center on the target.  Coincidentally, the orange target is roughly the same size as a squirrel's head, so hopefully Mrs. Woods Hippie can look forward to a tasty pot of squirrel stew since Connecticut's small game season runs through February.  Perhaps Savage can post up a good squirrel recipe to go along with his venison creations... 

The end result.  7 shots in a half inch group.

The true test, of course, will be a moving target in the field without the advantage of a climate-controlled bench rest.  I shot several rounds free-hand at the range and let's just say that the game will have a sporting chance.

Do you trust this man?

February 1, 2011

The Armchair Philosopher: Winter

A quiet spot on the Riga Plateau.
Once more, I sit to write as snow falls and continues to add to Connecticut's already impressive snowpack.  This may be the first time I have used "Connecticut" and "snowpack" in the same sentence; a pairing normally reserved for discussions of Vermont or the Rockies shared over a frothy stout at a ski area bar, anywhere.  A co-worker observed today that she finds it hard to concentrate at work during a snowstorm, a mindset to which I most definitely relate.  Even though we're at work, it still feels like a "snow day".  I postulate that that response to snow is hard-wired into our brains as young children, when we eagerly anticipated the news of a school cancellation during a good storm.  While every school child undoubtedly loves the day off, it's fair to say than only a percentage of children (and adults) actually enjoy a good snowfall.  What differentiates the snow lovers from the snow haters?  Does the root of our snow affection (or affliction) lie solely in youthful experience, or can our feelings towards the cold white stuff change as we age?  Today's post will explore the myriad of feelings we experience with regard to the "dark months" on the calendar.

John and Jack on Mt. Washington.
When I was a grade-schooler, my circle of friends and family of a similar age greeted each snow day with a phalanx of cheap plastic sleds and toboggans; we constructed forts from the mounds of snow deposited by the neighborhood snowblowers; and we defended our forts and pre-pubescent honor with fusillades of snowballs and jests and valiant charges across the snowy battlefields.  Living on a steep hill, we blazed the fresh-fallen powder with our sleds and painstakingly constructed slalom turns and jumps along a course that snaked between houses and unplowed streets, and we raced the course despite the stern admonishments of our parents to stay out of the roads!  We hurled jeers and the occasional snowball at the unlucky snow plow drivers who cleared our luge route and, in our minds, blazed a navigable path directly to the school parking lot.  

The Woods Hippie on Mt. Moosilauke.
Lunch provided the only respite from the fury, a pause that allowed us to throw our soaked clothing into the dryer while we sipped hot chocolate and tuned to the Weather Channel in hopes of hearing the forecast that could lead to yet another day off.  Later years saw an advancement of technology and parental expenditure as we made the leap from sleds and toboggans to skis and snowboards, honing our skills during much-loved night sessions at the local ski hill.  Weeknight sessions eventually evolved into weekend ski trips with the family, then school-sponsored ski club trips, then ski-tinged collegiate parties, and then continent-wide journeys for steep lines, tight trees, and deep pow.  What comes next?  Personally, I can only hope to breed the madness into next generation of powder hounds.

Winter 2011 at the Hippie Homestead.
As the years progressed, it became apparent that not all shared our enthusiasm for winter.  The first clues manifested themselves in lunchroom conversations following a snow day.

Me (in early '90s speak), "Dude, wasn't that a rad snow day?"

Dude, "I don't know, played some SEGA NHL Hockey '93 or whatever."

Me, "You didn't go sledding?"

Dude, "Nah, man.  It was like, cold out and shit."

What?  Indoors on a snow day? Blasphemy!  The point hit especially hard in the teenage years when, to my chagrin, I found that the girls were likely to take an interest in me despite the fact that I was a skier...a paradigm shift for my snow- and hormone-addled ego.  What could explain the difference in attitude?  We were all born and raised in the same central Connecticut town and experienced the same precipitation, yet some of us had some sort of predisposition to the cold environs.  Now, sitting here on the precipice of 30 years of age, I see adults with the same attitude as my schoolyard peers (indeed, some of those adults are my former schoolyard peers, but time inexorably creeps on...).  

Marquis on Mt. Mansfield.  To those inquiring minds,
that is a crampon strap, not something illegal.
And so I now realize, much like religion and political affiliation, fondness for winter is a trait passed from one generation to the next.  The evidence in favor of my case is solid; I have great-grandparents who sailed in ice-boats designed and piloted by none other than the famed Herreshoff brothers of Rhode Island, a grandfather who reveled in several crossings of the Arctic Circle aboard a Liberty Ship in World War II, and parents, aunts, and uncles who skied the mountains of New England and the Midwest years before my time.  The genetic pattern repeats itself almost invariably among my snow-loving cohorts, with few exceptions.  For example, I have one ski buddy of Southern breeding who, in a triumph of good taste over geography, took an interest in and mastered the dark arts of Nordic and Telemark skiing despite the reluctance of his parents to even acknowledge that the thermometer has the ability to dip below 32 degrees.  The Force is strong in those who experience the "awakening".

You'll have to hike to find this Eden of the Snows.
Does the love for winter ever fade?  I asked myself this just yesterday as I straddled the roof of my house, shoveling off a month's worth of accumulation in anticipation of another round of snow, sleet, and ice.  My answer?  Hell no.  My inner New Englander, born of the hard Puritan winters of our ancestry, is only strengthened by the onslaught of winter's finest.  When the ebullience of skiing and snowboarding fades into sore muscles and  cherished memories, all that remains is the stark cold that bites into your cheeks and burns your lungs in a deep breath, the blanket of hoarfrost that sparkles in the crisp glow of a full moon, and the mournful howl of a Nor'easter wind that flies unmolested through the bare forests.  

If that doesn't quicken your pulse, then there is no converting the non-believers.