In what I can remember being one of the earliest openings of the year in the Mid West, Pine Knob (PK) opened its doors/hill o' snow on November 19th. But if I can, I would like to rewind to the very end of the 2008 Season. Why? Well you could call it the pre-pre 2008/2009 season or you could say it happened so late last year that it was actually post-script of me writing last year's recap. Call it what you will, I will call it a pretty damn funny story that I don't want to overlook, so I will begin there.
"...I looked up from the jump I was standing on and saw something at the top of the hill, it was Johnny...Law that is.
In late March 2008, PK was officially closed for the season yet, as always, there was still plenty of snow to be poached. I made a phone call to Matt Parker (aka Parkerdise City) and asked him if he was down for a post-season jib session. Of course he was and we then called the resident super instructor, Andy Brown, to see if he was up for hitting the park for a couple post season hours. Andy was down with it too and so we converged at our crafty parking spot behind the PK Mansion and just above the Timberline terrain park.
This is the secret parking spot to the park that no one can find.
It was the kind of day that seemed better in theory than in practice. In theory we would truly be the jib kings. The faithful ski instructors getting the last crack at the tabletops that were still so perfectly groomed. All while laughing in the sun to the delight of the local PK neighbors as they watched with amusement from their McMansions that border the terrain park cheering us on hit after hit.
Andy and Parker ready for some post season fun...nothing can stop us now...
Nothing could be further from the truth, it was a gloomy, cold, gray March morning with light as flat as Honda Prelude tires after sitting for 10 years. The jumps, though still there, were hard as, well snow sitting in a giant mound for a couple weeks. So, I busted out a rake and shovel to help chop up the lips and landings of the jumps, and this continued for almost an hour. After which we thought the jumps were hittable, there were a handful of runs made by Parker and Andy. About 15 minutes into our session, I looked up from the jump I was standing on and saw something at the top of the hill, it was Johnny...Law that is.
My first thoughts were, I can't believe at age 35 I am getting busted for skiing on a hill post-season. The second thought was that, man, I got jipped. I just spent all of this time "fixing" these jumps and I really did not even get to hit them.
The Sheriffs were nice enough (yes plural), they called in two just in case we got rowdy I guess. Apparently our friends in the over-priced McMansions did not take to kindly to a bunch of 30-something jib clowns just trying to milk the season for everything it was worth. As one of the Sheriffs said, their phone board was lighting up like a Christmas tree. Not much going on in Clarkston, MI on Sunday afternoons I guess.
Long story short, we explained our situations and the Sheriffs laughed and just told us to go home. So grabbed my shovel and rake and bid farewell to the hill till November.
Do you see what I see?
Goodbye Mr. Sheriff
In between this day in March and the first day of the ski season in November 2008. Another notable "ski event" took place. The coveted, Ohio Dreams Action Sports Camp trip. Ohio Dreams is like a Camp Woodward for kids but in Ohio. They offer BMX, skate, wake boarding activities and most importantly water jump ramps for snow skis and snowboards. One of the few in the country and there were many of us that were very excited to give this a whirl.
I personally had been wanting to jump into a pool on my skis since I had first seen in back in the early 80's for Olympic training. That desire even furthered when I spoke to Jerry O' and his experience of hitting water ramps when he went to jib camp in British Columbia back in 2000. For us to have access to one of the best facilities in the country, basically in our "backyard" was crazy. This seemed a like a no-brainer.
Gathering people for this though proved a bit difficult. Jerry and I were in, but others did not really like the idea of plummeting 20' out of the air and smacking down in a diving pool. When the time came to go, only one other person stepped forward; Tommy Coffee.
On a beautiful morning in early September, there were the three of us. Sitting in the parking lot of Ohio Dreams putting on our swimsuits, life preservers, helmets and ski boots. Strange was the only way to describe it. We paid for our passes, and made our way to the jumps. They were magnificent. We had seen pictures of them and watched Youtube videos of them, but in person they were impressive for sure. We could not wait to start launching off of these.
It started by walking up a long set of wooden stairs built into the side of a rather large grassy hill. My excitement and adrenaline were suppressing my fear as I clunked up the side of this giant hill in my Raichle Flexons. While in line, we would watch people come sliding by us and launching off the ramps into the pool. Some with stylie off axis spins and some with the some of the most awkward flight paths seen since phone books jettisoned out of the Excalibur Hotel window.
Finally, my time came and I was pretty scared but really could not back down now and again, there was no way that my adrenaline was going to let me out of this either. I mean, I had been wanting to hit one of these ramps for 20 years and if I didn't do it now, as Warren Miller says, "You are just going to be another year older when you do".
So that was it, I climbed up to the final perch at the very top of the ramp (in the above picture that is the little platform on the top left of the hill). There was barely enough room to click into your bindings and keep your balance. I stood waiting with my helmet, life jacket and skis (no poles) waiting for the 16-year-old kid running the session to give me the "All Clear".
There it was he pointed to me and somewhere in the back of my head I imagined him saying, "Yes you old dude, let's see what you got...sucka..." But whatever, away I went. Gave myself a little push down the top platform which is really steep for about 6 feet or so and then it must mellows out to a "blue like" grade. I had skied this type of mat before for 3 years of "dry land" instructor training at Boston Mills so the feeling of the unnatural plastic mat came back right away.
Once I had my balance, I just kept focusing on the task at hand...hit the ramp and don't scrub any speed. You basically could not scrub speed, if you did it would almost guarantee you were going to fall before the ramp and really mess yourself up as we saw several people do that day.
It was basically like a 100 foot run in, no turns to the biggest jump of your life. It did not seem right at all and I had to counter every instinct I had to scrub, until suddenly I hit the lip of the jump and there was that brief silence. Just me flying through the air after just being launched off the biggest kicker I have ever hit. It was all good until I made contact with the water and it was a little harsher than I thought it would be.
But I did it; it was done. The task was complete, one big straight air. Next came a couple mute grabs and one of my biggest goals a 20' high 360. Something that I am afraid to do a couple feet off the ground on real snow I did a couple times that day. Dr. Jib, Jerry O, of course threw down some stylie 3's as well as a couple really nice back flips. Lastly Crape Dawg, Tommy Coffee, was rolling down the windows higher than I had ever seen anyone do.
Mobily and Tommy after a couple jumps
The only crux of the whole day was the way that the bubbler system was set up. The bubbler system was basically this intricate system that Ohio Dreams constructed of a giant compressor system that would rapidly release a large amount of air into the bottom of the pool in the landing area of whatever ramp you were going down. In a perfect world you would hit this turbulent plain of bubbles instead of smacking flat water upon impact.
The issue was that the system was run by a couple 16 year old kids who basically had the difference between a tolerable (albeit abrupt) landing when it was working properly vs. “a world of pain” when not working properly. The best part being that you would never actually know if you would have bubbles or not for your landing until you were already flying through the air.
There was a whole science to when they released the surge of air to create the bubbles and you really could not tell until you were looking down at the pool from 20' above. Or if you were spinning, not until that pleasant smack of flat water upon reaching full rotation.
Note the chunky kid with green shorts.
In this picture above, Tommy is giving the thumbs up to the pale chubby kid with the green shorts. This kid, had our well-being in his hands. It was like a nightmare, we wanted to tackle this kid. He had a little remote to release the bubbles and it seemed to be working about half the time at best. After too many kids were landing on flat water including one of Jerry's back flips.
The kids pretty much called the session off. We could not believe it. We had driven hours to do this, there were other kids from Kentucky and New York and no one at Ohio Dreams really seemed to care. They told us you could jump if you wanted but the air system was broke and just kind of wandered off.
"Good thing I brought a cooler full of beer for Tommy to pour into his beak while he ran the session."
This left about 30 of us that had come down for the day sitting in amazement. No one in their right mind wanted to willingly jump and smack that flat water without even a chance of bubbles. Jerry, Tommy and I went to work, we got a hold of the remote aquatinted ourselves with the plumbing of the system as it came out of the pump station routed to the ramps and figured out which levers made which ramp landing bubble. It was literally and figuratively a crash course in this complex system. But after a few botched timings with bubbles and people hitting flat water, all was good.
In fact, Tommy volunteered to be the bubble-meister for that afternoon. Good thing I brought a cooler full of beer for Tommy to pour into his beak while he ran the session. The funny thing is that drunk Tommy was running a super sketchy bubble system for a pretty sketchy jump. It was like a textbook lawsuit for Ohio Dreams but no one seemed to care, as I don't think there was a soul from Ohio Dreams present. No harm, no foul. The day ended up being fantastic and thank goodness too, for I literally was in pain for the next two weeks after.
I remember talking to Jerry on the phone a couple days after, we just talked about the day and how fun it was. He then asked, “Dude are you sore at all?”
I said, “Dude I can barely get in and out of my car everyday.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Good, me too.”
Jerry, Mobily and Tommy (note the magic remote in Tommy's drunk hands)...thanks Crape Dawg.
Mobily- mute grab.
Jerry- back flip (note the bubbles on the landing)
Tommy aka Bubblemeister
Now to talk about the actual 2008/2009 ski season, it was absolutely fantastic. Like mentioned previously, it started as early as I can remember a season starting in the Mid West and had pretty epic conditions throughout the season. Below is a series of shots including the shots from the PKSS (Pine Knob Super Session) that went down this past March with Jerry O, Matt "Parkerdise City" Parker and myself.
That day was truly the best day of the season and as always proves to be the biggest double edge sword known in the ski world. The best days of the season are usually the last couple sunny days of the year in March when the snow is soft the jumps have marshmallow takeoffs and landings. Yet these days are fleeting and once they are gone it is all done and you have to put away your muddy ski boots till next year...
This is Andy Brown (aka Super Instructor) shown here getting ready to influence some young kids. He is bascially ALWAYS at PK. If you look directly above his helmet, between the blue fence and the snow gun, that is Andy's little 3' wide gap he shoots through and down the wall easily flying 40-50' to almost flat. Pay attention kids.
I like this pic, because this was a super flat-light Sunday morning and there is a PK worker out painting lines on the lips and landings. Don't get much better than that.
Here is a random shot of Parkerdise doing his best "Blue Steel" late one week night after all of the kids go home and leave the park.
Parker-double tail grab
Jerry-Big 3 reverse angle
Jerry and Mobily-tandem mute grabs
Jerry-grabbing over the PK Gap Jump. This was one of my favorite jumps of the season. Notice the 10' gap between the lip and where Jerry is heading. Super fun jump that inspired me to write a song called "The Year of the Gap" (not cat)
End of a long day at the PKSS, great wrap of the season!