How to Survive the White Ribbon of Death

Photo: Chandler Burgess

Photo: Chandler Burgess

Whether your season’s already started (I’m looking at you, Killington and Sunday River) or you’re planning to ski as soon as your mountain opens, there’s a good chance you’re going to encounter something scarier than a zombie apocalypse (hey, Halloween’s coming. Go with it).

Yes, I mean the dreaded White Ribbon of Death.


Don’t run away screaming. I know it’s frightening, but there are ways to ski it and live to tell the tale. It just takes courage, fortitude, and a little bit of knowledge.

In case you don’t know, the White Ribbon of Death (aka WROD) is the narrow strip of artificial snow ski areas put down early in the season so they can open before Mother Nature cooperates. Generally, it’s populated by about a zillion people, all hopped up because they haven’t skied in a loooong, looooong time. Add in not-so-great conditions, and you’ve got a scary situation. You pretty much take your life in your hands when you ski it — not that that keeps anyone (including me) away.

So what should you do?

• Keep it in perspective. Sure, you’re loaded with excitement. After all, it’s been a long, long summer. But you’re not the only one who feels this way. SO — don’t expect to be all alone out there. It’s going to be really, really crowded. And don’t think it’s going to be knee deep powder, either.  Face facts: The conditions are usually pretty marginal. Just know what you’re in for before you show up.

• Make the necessary adjustments. Whatever you’re skiing on, make sure to check your bindings to be sure they release properly. It’d be pretty awful to take a fall and be out for the rest of the season.

• Use ’em if you’ve got ’em. Old skis, that is. There isn’t that much of a base and you’ll probably encounter a rock or two. So if you want to preserve your good skis, keep them for when conditions improve.

• Don’t dress for the polar vortex. It’s very early season. There’s plenty of cold weather to come. You can leave your heavy stuff at home. Layers help, so you can shed or add as needed.

• It might not be a long day.  You may only get a few runs in before the crowds or conditions get to you. That’s okay. The whole purpose of skiing the WROD is just to get out there. In fact, you may want to bag the whole first tracks thing and start a bit later, when everyone else is fed up with the crowds and long lines and has quit for the day.

• Relax and have fun. Remember, it’s not the only time you’re going to ski this season. There’s plenty more to come. So if you only get a few runs, think about the whole long season stretching out before you. And smile.

• If you do ski the WROD, report back. Share your story. Let us know how if you skied it — and lived.

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3 Responses to How to Survive the White Ribbon of Death

  1. Darcy October 23, 2015 at 10:03 am #

    I was lucky enough to get to Killington on Wedneday Oct. 21…22 weeks after ACL replacement. Conditions were SUPERB…the mountain had gotten some rain after they made the snow, which softened it enough go make it feel like a good spring day. Being midweek there weren’t a ton of folks out…watching the boys jump and flip was an absolute joy. Broke though my mental issues and am totally stoked for Sugarbush to open. See ya out there!!!!

  2. Wendy October 23, 2015 at 10:10 am #

    Sounds great, Darcy! I’m stoked, too! And congrats on your recovery. Here’s hoping for a terrific season ahead.

  3. RJ Ledger October 23, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    Could not resist taking a shot on the WROD at Sunday River last Monday.

    Even though we started out using the mid-station as a reload point, the crowd was not too bad. It only took a (single) look/run by many to realize this was NOT a green groomed deal – it was black diamond, un-groomed, and GREAT bumps! By noon patrol opened it up all the way to the bottom.

    Looking forward to the next mountain to get an early run on. Bretton Woods?? Wildcat??

    Warning – the snow is slippery and you just might have some early season fun!

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