As I’m sure you know, if a Grundsau in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania sees his shadow, he’ll squint his eyes and burrow back to continue his long winter’s nap. If it’s cloudy, spring is on the way and we’d better ski as much as we can before the big melt.
Now I don’t know about you, but although I think groundhogs are kind of cute, I’m not sure how a random rodent in Pennsylvania can have a direct bearing on the snowpack in Colorado (heck, our marmots are still hibernating!).
Still, I love rituals and holidays. I think they add meaning to life, build community and just generally spice up our existence. It’s fun to celebrate, even in tiny ways. Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate this 18th Century ritual by skiing, on a couple of feet of new snow and, hopefully, in full sun.
Winter, keep on coming.
A few years ago, our friend Paul returned to Boise after living in Colorado. He skis at the local mountain, Bogus Basin, and pretty soon, we started hearing stories about trolls.
Apparently, in Idaho, if you let trolls into your car, they’ll bring you good luck. Here’s how it works: Driving up to Bogus Basin, cars pass over a cattle guard. At the moment your car goes over the guard, you open your door, trolls jump in and a great ski day is guaranteed. On your way down the mountain at the end of the day, you reverse the process. Open your door at the cattle guard and let the trolls out. I don’t know if it is bad luck to trap the trolls in your car, but I wouldn’t be messing with them.
Although I take Paul seriously, I wanted to check this out with the folks who run Bogus Basin. First I contacted their PR person. She begged off on the grounds that she’s new in the job and gave me the email for the mountain manager. He never responded.
Next, I posted an inquiry on the forum at The Ski Diva. With about 3,000 dedicated female skiers using the forum, I figured one of them might live in Boise and could confirm Paul’s story.
The first response I received, however, was priceless. And I quote:
I have so many questions about the logic of this. Like, why do you WANT trolls in your car? And do they just sit in your car while you ski?
Excellent questions. But still no word on Bogus Basin.
Finally, I went back to Paul and he provided me with this, from the book Building Bogus Basin, by Eve Chandler:
The folklore has evolved over the years regarding the proper protocol for the cattle guard. Drivers and passengers lift their feet, clap their hands, and slap the roof to ensure a good day of skiing. Some open the car door to let the trolls in on the way up and out on the way home to bring good luck and no injuries.
And you thought relying on a sleepy groundhog to predict the weather was odd.
Other Skiing Rituals
Although my friends at The Ski Diva couldn’t shed light on the trolls, they offered up plenty of other ski resort celebrations and rituals.
Here are some of the best the Divas (and one from a guy, too).
Whistler, BC: Every winter, Whistler invokes the favor of Ullr (the Norse god of snow) with a party where skis and boards are burnt in hopes of bringing an epic snowfall.
Sugarloaf, Maine: Sugarloaf has an annual “blessing of the skis.” The blessing is held mid-mountain during the early season to pray for a “safe ski season to all”. The chaplain is quite popular and celebrates a weekly Saturday afternoon mass at the base chapel. According to a local skier, the mass is always standing room only.
Loveland, Colorado: Loveland Ski Area has a Valentine’s Day celebration where people get married on the hill.
Big Sky, Montana: Big Sky has an early season “Pray for Snow” Party with a ski movie, giveaways and a massive bonfire, also fueled by skis and boards. This year the party resulted in a big snowfall, so it worked!
Stevens Pass, Washington: Skiers are encouraged to honk going through the tunnels on the way to the mountain in order to ensure abundant snow.
Sierra-at-Tahoe, California: For many years “Preacher Bob” would show up at Sierra on the first day of the season dressed in Monk’s robes. He would bless the mountain for the upcoming season and then ski the same front side, black diamond run year after year.
While 2008 was the last year for Preacher Bob, the Preacher’s Passion run is named for him and is a local’s favorite.
In addition to rituals, I also got a lot of stories about habits. It turns out skiers can be pretty superstitious, with their own personal rituals to ensure a great ski day.
This is my favorite story.
I always boot up in the same area of the lodge of our home mountain. Everyone knows to look for my bag hanging if they want to know if I’m there. I have found neighborhood kids sitting under my bag waiting for me to come back because they have forgotten their snack money.
A Bit More About Groundhogs (And Porcupines and Bears)
So here we are, back to groundhogs. As I wrote earlier, the Rocky Mountain equivalent is nowhere to be seen midwinter. Still, two seasons ago, Colorado had one of the biggest snowfalls ever, with an extended ski season.
When Aspen reopened in June. We take credit for this at our house. For in early February, my son got up close and personal with a porcupine while skiing at Snowmass. The sun was shining and the beast saw its shadow.
A few years earlier, warm winds arrived in late March, awakening slumbering mama bears a month or two early. The ski season at our local mountain ended abruptly when a hungry bear began wandering the runs in the beginner’s area.
Maybe there is something to that groundhog after all?
Thanks so much to Paul, Steve and the Ski Divas for contributing their stories to this post. If you’ve got stories to share, please do!
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