How to survive the white ribbon of death.

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 11/10/21 •  3 min read

(Photo credit: Killington)

Good news, everyone! Ski season ’21/’22 is officially underway!

As of this past weekend, seven ski resorts in the US were open: Arapahoe Basin (CO), Keystone (CO), Mammoth (CA), Boreal Mountain (CA), Loveland (CO), Wolf Creek (CO),  and Killington (VT) . In Canada, there were two more: Norquay Banff (AB, Canada), and Lake Louise (AB, Canada).

Open-ish  is more like it. Because while they’re technically open, there’s not much terrain to ski on. So anyone who’s out there skiing — and there’s a lot of pent up demand — is funneling onto just a few runs.

In skiing parlance, this is known as skiing the White Ribbon of Death, or the WROD. This is the narrow strip of artificial snow that 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 situation that’s far from ideal. You pretty much take your life in your hands — 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 skis you’re using, be sure to check your bindings before you head out just to be sure they release properly. It’d be pretty awful to take a fall and be sidelined 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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