First Decents- Part 3: Hotel Hill // Ski Stories
It’s funny the things you remember. I recall some years ago there was a car advertisement that ran in all the ski rags. Maybe it was for Audi or maybe it was for Subaru, but for some peculiar reason it latched on to some dimly lit part of my brain. The car in the ad was seen driving along a snowy alpine setting, fantasizing like a skier about making a smeary turn or two on the appetizing embankment next to the road. I think the tag line was something like, “Yeah, we see it too.”
Much like the car in that ad, I’ve been driving the roads around the greater Rochester area considering many different steep embankments, knolls, other road side attractions that careen down from the myriad junctions of overpasses, underpasses and on and off ramps. Occasionally I convince myself that some of these short spots would be worth the effort for 4 turns before deciding against it. Plus there’s the whole question of how I’d even access it.
Sometimes I try to squint at these slopes and try to block out all of the sky above and streets below; imagining it magnified as the shoulder of a massive alpine cirque out West. But then I snap back to reality and have a laugh at myself. Any of these spots would be more of a tease than a satiating endeavor. That is, until I found one particular roadside attraction that looked to be worth the effort. I call it, “Hotel Hill.”
Perched up on one of the tallest heights of land around Rochester, with some of the biggest views of the city skyline, sits a high-class hotel. Beneath the hotel is a broad and, by my new standards, steep slope that runs a couple hundred feet down to the main road for busy commuters.
I began scouting the area over the summer as I’d drive past the slope. To the looker’s right there’s a ramp that drifts across the fall line ever so slightly. To the looker’s left, everything falls straight down to the busy expressway. To me, it looks as though the ramp section could be prime for turns with as little as 6” of snow. The fall line gut of the slope was a different story. It features distinct small rain –runnel like gullies that would need quite a bit more coverage.
Fortunately, it’s been a cold and snowy winter and we’ve had good snow depths covering the ground for almost two months now. This isn’t always the case. I can count on one hand how many days there was snow on the ground during my first winter here. It was bleak.
Luckily, this year has been much different. With the current 30-inch snowpack on the ground, it now looked like “Hotel Hill” would be Decent enough to make the effort to farm it out- with each run offering a dozen turns. Plus, with this deeper snowpack, these half dozen micro gullies looked like they would make some nice roll-overs or drifts to add a bit of flavor to the run.
Like I mentioned before, sometimes the biggest challenge to earning these “First Decents,” is figuring out how to access the area. To get to “Hotel Hill”, I needed to travel a distance that started at a hiking area to the North. From the trailhead I meandered across the trails before bushwhacking and eventually sliding over a trampled section of fence. From there, I traversed for another 20 minutes to reach the base of the slope. From the bottom I noticed a shoulder of the slope, lookers left, offered a nice ascent with opportunities to look across and eye up the center gut of the slope.
On my ascent, I stopped several times to gaze out at the short, steep and almost fluted (if you will) section where below the snow sat those many little rain gullies that I noticed in the summer. The terrain looked ready to support turns right down the center gut, so I visualized my line and made note of a couple landmarks.
For my first run I wanted to end up skiing just to the left of that “scrubby bush thing” and right in line with that “tall pine” below in order to crest over onto the best looking pillow. After two turns on the initial steep pitch, it looked like I’d need to open it up for a moment to carry speed across a small bench to make it to the bottom half of the pitch.
And that’s exactly how it went. I came over the steep part and screamed down through the bench, carrying speed across to the last pitch where I earned another 6 turns before reaching the bottom. Upon looking back up at my track, I realized I was actually quite a bit right of the landmarks I was trying for. Thus I was eager to get back up top and hit it for sure this time.
Despite missing the mark on my first run, I couldn’t help feeling elated that I had just made some pretty nice turns on a decent slope in unfettered snow. Aside from the brevity of the run, I was beaming with that feeling I so embraced all those years ago.
All in all I made 5 runs total before calling it a day and traversing back another 20 minutes to the car. Now that I’d had my fun, I had to be an adult again and go pick up the kids from daycare. Upon finally arriving home, I checked the weather and noticed that there was more snow forecasted for the next couple days, as well as a little wind to help fill in my tracks. That night I was restless with anticipation, hoping that it would snow again, allowing me to get back for another session while the getting is Decent!
Brent Buckman is a jonser that used to log 100+ days a year skiing the Green Mountains of Vermont before moving to Rochester, NY to pursue other dreams. He still keeps it real in the suburbs on any embankment, golf course or school yard hill he can find. To read Bren’t full story and other posts click here.
Written by Brent Buckman on 4/07/15