Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On getting quantifiably rad

If you're getting rad but no one sees you, are you really getting rad?
Apologies for the time lag between postings. Since there are only about three months of summer in Montana, you have to cram everything into a tiny amount of time. If you try to do everything you want, it isn’t long until you have a month’s worth of beard growth, several pieces of broken furniture braced with wood cut from pallets, approximately 7,000 pictures and a backlog of writing to do.

But enough diddling around. This blog is primarily about skiing once every month of the year, but when the spirit takes me, it’ll address some key aspects of skiing. This one tackles the age-old question of determining just how rad one gets on the mountain.

Ski long enough — hell, even hang out long enough in a bar near the ski hill — you’ll hear some conversation like this: “Then I hit this like 40 foot cliff with a pretty gnarly run out” or “nah man, we skied that peak outside the boundary, there were cracks shooting out from our skis on the way down, pretty wild!”  It’s a little part of the culture of one-upmanship that can spread throughout a ski town. At Seneca we think it’s pretty funny, though it’s also fringed with a bit of sadness because it can lead people into bad spots they might not be able to get out of.

 After making an Ego Claim (+500 GNAR points) the "best
skier on the mountain" makes his way off toward an Extreme
Brag (+1,000 GNAR points)
All that aside, figuring out how rad you got is a practical necessity in any ski area. Seneca’s founder, former ski racer and Freeskiing World Tour competitor Eric Newman (can’t talk about radness and not mention credentials!), and some buddies came up with one way to get around it: when talking about cliffs, just say if it was small, medium or large. It’s subjective, but it works. Others, like the legend Shane McConkey have taken on this formidable task, most notably Shane McConkey when he developed the game of G.N.A.R.

For the uninitiated, it stands for Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness. The system offers points for skiing tough lines and doing assorted rad things while skiing them. Points are accumulated over an entire season. An end of season tally determines who won the game of G.N.A.R. for that ski season. The game is an easy-to-follow way to resolve issues of radness over the course of a given season. 

We decided the question needed addressing once more, given all this crazy technology that’s come out since McConkey, the God Among Skiers, created his game. And because it’s always a good time to poke fun at that hardcore culture. Let’s get down to brass tacks.

G.N.A.R. is mostly for those who want to “just have fun” and “end the day satisfied with skiing no matter the conditions” and stuff like that. Save those platitudes for Sunday, bro. That kind of thing isn’t going to fly in a truly hardcore ski town. This entirely serious debate can only properly be solved by science, which boils down to hard numbers. Preferably ones that are already added up for you, thanks to technology.

My high school skiing friends and I did a little investigating into this during our annual ski trip this past March. We were, appropriately, in Squaw Valley and had recently come across a fine smartphone app called Ski Tracks that tallies up speed, total vertical, steepest slope angle and the number of runs completed in a given day, among other things.

It was incredibly important to get as rad as we possibly could on the first day, so we went out there and did work despite fairly terrible spring snow conditions. Our max speed was 61.8 mph; we covered nearly 18,000 vertical feet and more than 16 miles on 11 runs, the steepest of which was 42 degrees, despite the non-rad task of getting passes and such limiting us to a paltry five hours of skiing. Radness quantified!

Of course it was just a scientific one-day test run. None of this actually solved anything. Maybe next year’s ski trip will involve some sort of quantifiable radness competition, complete with a championship belt.

Quantifiable radness!

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