What is Fake-mark you ask? Read on and you will learn. But first: Platty-mark.
At other mountains you might see the odd telemark skier, but at Plattekill you’re guaranteed to see quite a few of them, often roaming in packs. Over the last four years Plattekill has become the tele Mecca of the Catskills, with gear rentals and lessons that you won’t find elsewhere. I’ve always thought that they look so elegant as they curtsy their way down the hill, so I thought I’d trade in my alpine boots for a day and free my heels. [Ed note: Remember David is British so the idea of a curtsy is in his blood. They have a royal family in the UK…]
I took a lesson with Snowsports’ School Director, Jeff Crane, who has been driving the tele-awakening at Plattekill. Our friend Cay Sophie, comes along too – she has swapped alpine for telemark for the whole season.
At the top of Sundown, Jeff gets me into the correct telemark position and takes my picture. I’m thinking that this is so that I can Photoshop myself onto something steeper later, but the point is so that I could feel the right position without going anywhere. Jeff takes us down Sundown and, with the help of some drills, start to free our heels, at least a little bit. The physics of tele is the same as alpine – face downhill, move across your skis to initiate a turn etc, however alpine skiers often end up doing some sort of halfway version of the stance, or “fake-mark” as Jeff calls it.
Cay Sophie and I head over to North Face where we can practice on something a bit steeper. We are far from expert but as she points out, beginners at telemark probably look much more elegant than beginners at alpine anyway. That’s where we find Matt Charles who runs the telemark Junior Development Program at Plattekill, and has been asked to tryout for the PSIA National Team. THIS IS A VERY BIG DEAL. Only six people from across the ENTIRE U S are asked, and only three are accepted, and this man, he skis, he teles, he teaches at Platty. And he is there working on my stance.
Matt has us jumping into a tele stance after every turn – there’s something about the jump that just makes you sink deeper into it. By the end of the day, I think I’m getting the hang of it. I tell Jeff that I’m not ready to go back to my alpine boots just yet. “Maybe you’ll never go back,” he says, with a glint in his eye.
If you want to try freeing your heels, Friday February 26th is Plattekill’s 4th Annual Telefest. Come and get free demos of the latest gear courtesy of Telemarkdown.com, a free clinic with Matt Charles, a chance to win a set of Black Diamond Traverse poles, and try Laszlo’s famous Hungarian goulash (made with local organic beef from Flaca Vaca farm). Afterwards cool your heels to live music from The Pine Hill Playboys in the Platty Lounge.
This is the season, this is the quote. This is from Macker. He is the master of snowmaking at Platty. Now this could be a conversation that includes phrases like “wet-bulb temperature” (relating to humidity) and “inversion” (warmth in the upper atmosphere) both of which have taken a toll on snowmaking across the Northeast. Or, there’s the more commonly bandied “El Nino” (which sounds to me about like an armed bandit right now).
But, at Platty there is snow. A mountain of it. And, trails. And, the reason is not those big words but the heroes on the hill, working in the middle of the night. This is Macker’s team. Normally they’d start in the evening and leave in the morning whales of snow in their wake, but this year because of the inversion, because of the wet-bulb temperature, because of El Nino, they’ve been beginning at times like 2 AM to catch that window when the temperature drops to freezing.
To return to Macker here (BTW he’s a man who says “I am happiest when I’m making snow and pushing it around,” – also to note he’s a man of few words, and those are generally bitten down and he relishes riding alone in a groomer with no one else around – “watching waves of people walking into the parking lot skis on their shoulder.”) So he has been worried and says it was so warm it felt like November, and that perhaps the world needs a leap month, that is how crazy the weather has been. He also says, “You can make snow at 32 degrees. You just get less of it. It’s not that it’s too warm, but you get way less production.”
He thinks not just about Platty but every other hill. (He is also not one to pick and choose his words carefully even for the mountain blog—eg he is hones and in his honestly talks about everywhere is suffering). “For every ski area Christmas is a third of the season, a third of the income…” His voice trails off and he talks of the impact on hills and employees and the snow. In Vermont Magic Mountain has only just opened this weekend, and Mad River Glen, whose die-hards are like Platty fanatics, did a video in December about “Skiing the Patch" (That is advertising skiing the 3 patches of snow on their hill).
Laszlo, Platty’s owner, walks in the office, talk of that year and talks of one year that was worse. 1995. He was not even 30 and it was his second year of ownership. Macker came to help out and the New York Times came to pay a call. The season before had record snowfall. That year Platty was the only ski area not afraid to talk on the record.
It was January 19, nothing was opened in the East. Back then, 21 years ago, the hill had 7 guns, and virtually no snowmaking. But they got a headling in the TIMES: "Ski Areas Suffer from an Endless Summer." Now Plattekill has a couple hundred guns plus the requisite blood, sweat and tears (and water pumped up of a less saline quality from ponds) to run them. Instead of standing on a grassy hill, Macker and Laz are here in mountains of snow. Thanks to a few heroes who are cheering on winter and giving it a helping hand.
- This map. It’s been settling arguments in the bar about length and descent since 1972. It’s beautiful. James Niehues eat your heart out.
- No lift lines. …and even if one does form, it’s so convivial that you’d hardly notice.
- Cheers. You wanna go to a place where everybody knows your name. It’s that “Norm!” moment when your ski buddies shout your name from the chairlift.
- It’s family run. If you don’t bump into Laszlo or Danielle in the lodge, you might see them on the slopes and they’ll be happy to ski with you. And now the next generation of Vajtays is stepping up to help out with snowmaking and snow tubing.
- This guy. Steve Supp – he keeps it real in his Carhartt overalls and thrift store skis (price sticker intact).
- Snow (outside). Plattekill is frequently blessed with the natural stuff, and even when it isn’t, Macker and his team do heroic things with a couple hundred snow guns.
- Snow (inside). The majestic bark creature that watches over the bar. Snow is actually a pretty good skier – look closely and you’ll see Snow favors some pretty old skool 2x4 skis.
- Free Heelers. Plattekill is the only hill where you’ll see more than one tele skier at a time, which is why we’ve coined a collective noun for them. It’s a “curtsy” of teleskiers.
- The Lodge Bar. What’s better after a big day skiing than one of those Polish beers with the funny name that only Laszlo can pronounce? Yeah, one of those please.
- The People. Which is really a thousand more reasons – the familiar faces we see only during ski season. This season has been a long time coming and we’ve been missing them. As someone put it today “whether there’s snow or not it’s good to see everyone again – it’s social”