The Old Days, And The New, Of Getting Seperated On The Mountain

Do you remember the old days of getting separated from your group on a ski day?

Depending on the group's plans, who drove, where the group happened to be that day, or a whole list of other things, the group being separated could be slightly inconvenient or a straight-up pain in the ass!

I was thinking about this again because I was thinking about a trip this past winter where I got separated from the group. It wasn’t that big of a deal. In fact, there were parts of the story that were kind of funny. However, thinking about that story got me thinking about what it was like to get separated in the old days…which is where this article began.

I remember a bunch of times, back in the day, the one or more folks in a ski group would get separated for various reasons. Perhaps one or two of the group needed to take a break where the others didn’t. Maybe some of the group didn’t have the skillset that the rest did, so they had to take a different way down. Maybe, just maybe, one or two of the boys decided to stop and talk to the cute snowboarder girls that were in the chair in front of the group. Also, there could be that time that someone didn’t put his goggles down over his eyes and had to stop to figure out why he couldn’t see going down the hill. That last one was me, but the point is that groups get separated for all sorts of reasons.

The size of the pain in the ass came with how hard it could be to get the group back together again. For example, say the group is skiing somewhere like Whaleback Mountain. All trails lead to the same place. Even if the group is separated for the rest of the day, the whole group will end up at the base lodge when the lifts close. That’s one of the beauties of skiing in a place like Whaleback.

But, what if your group is at a bigger place with multiple base lodges and parking lots? I’ll tell you a quick story about that, which isn’t the one from this past winter.

No, this story takes place at least 15 years ago or so at Stratton Mountain. We lost one of the members of our group at the end of the day. That’s the worst time to get separated, especially on that day. The rest of the group ended up where we parked, at the Sun Bowl Lodge. That lodge is about two miles up the road from the main base area, which isn’t such a big deal, provided one can drive it. I guess walking it wouldn’t be too bad either, though walking it in snowboard boots while carrying a snowboard could suck.

Our friend wouldn’t have had to walk, of course. We would have just loaded up the car and gone to the main base area to look for him. Not a big deal since all we were doing was going back to the house, anyway. But, still. If he had taken a wrong turn and not made it back on the lift to get back to the Sun Bowl area, we would have had to go looking for him on another part of the mountain.

Again, because the mountain wasn’t so big, that wouldn’t have been a big deal. But think about what it could have been like to get separated in a similar way at Killington Mountain. Let’s say that the group made it back to the Skyeship Base Lodge and the separated party ended up at Ramshead. That’s close to five miles out and can be a traffic nightmare depending on the way one takes to get from one to the other and the day of the week.

As a side note, I’m pretty sure there are shuttles that bounce between the lodges at the end of the day at both places. I could be wrong about that, but I’m pretty sure there are and were. This actually adds a little bit to the pain, believe it or not. The rest of the group now has to wait to see if the lost party made it to the shuttle before heading off to find the separated person or risk passing them.

So, as you can see, and I’m sure some can remember, it can turn into a mess pretty fast. I used Stratton and Killington as examples, but consider places that are even more spread out. They do exist. It really can be a pain in the backside.

Of course, there were ways to avoid all of that. The most obvious is to make a plan at the beginning of the day just in case folks got separated. Pick a time and place to meet up throughout the day or at the end of the day, or at least pay attention to where everyone parked and just head there at the end of the day.

But, that was then and this is now. Of course, a group can make the plan and all of that, but it really isn’t as necessary as it once was. Heck, I’m not totally sure that even when folks are separated these days that they are actually separated.

What do I mean by that? Well, this is where I tell you the story from this past season.

This past March, the PA contingent of Ski Rex Media fans were up here skiing around Vermont and New Hampshire. When they are up here I try to ski with them as much as I can. On this particular occasion, I met up with Kendall & Scooter from PA, as well as the Tully family from NH, at Jay Peak, Vermont.

Now, Jay Peak isn’t the largest mountain ski area in the east, but it is big enough that getting separated could cause some issues. In fact, the mountain does have two separated base areas. Not far, but one would probably not want to walk between them in ski or snowboard boots while carrying their gear if they missed the last lift or last shuttle.

During the day, the rest of the group wanted to do a tree run, which I skipped. I don’t feel as if my skills are up to a tree run these days. Anyway, I decided to take a different way down, but we did say that would meet at the Tramside. Well, it didn’t work out that way. We got totally separated and stayed that way for the rest of the day.

You see, while they were on their tree run, they took a wrong turn and ended up back on the Stateside. Not a big deal, though. I can be patient. I headed into the lodge I was at, used the restroom, got some water, and just took a break. However, they were taking longer than I anticipated. Instead of waiting any longer, I decided to take some runs. Short ones so that I could get back to the lodge to meet up with them quickly, but I was still skiing.

Well, it turns out that they did it again. They got turned around and ended up on the other side of the resort. That was fine, once again, since I was still taking runs. I even found a beginner tree run and tried that out. I did well, though I still don’t think that I am up for a full tree run yet. I’ll have to work on that this season.

Here’s the thing…as I tell this story, one could assume that I learned what had happened to the rest of the group at the end of the day. But that isn’t how it went down. I knew what was going on with them, and they with me, the whole time. How? Isn’t it obvious? We all had our cell phones.

Yes, each one of us had a cell phone with us. Well, I don’t know if the kids had their own phones, but all of the adults did. So, when we first got separated, I texted them to see where they were, which is how I found out they got turned around. That’s how it went for a while after we got separated.

In fact, I thought I could use that to my advantage. I knew they kept getting turned around and heading to the other side of the mountain. I checked a trail map to see if I could get there quickly, which I could. If I timed it right, I would meet them at the bottom of that side. Did I time it right?

The answer is no, I did not time it right. Just as I was coming to the bottom of the lifts on the Stateside, I heard my text notification and I knew it was from them saying they were on the Tramside. I was right, of course.

In the end, we didn’t meet back up for the rest of the day. I think we were separated for a couple of hours in total. But, because we all had phones, we knew exactly where to meet up at the end of the day. That made it a ton easier to not only find each other but to plan the rest of our day accordingly.

That’s what being separated at the ski hill is in modern times. Though the group might be separated physically, they are just one text or call away from each other. Granted, if folks aren’t carrying cell phones, it’ll be more like the old days, but let’s be honest. I’m pretty sure that most people are carrying phones these days. I think we are all pretty sure of that.

With that said, even in the worst-case scenario of ski resort separation, it’s so much easier to deal with. Let’s take my Stratton and Killington examples from the beginning of the article. Even if the group is separated by a car ride, everyone will know to stay put or that those closest to the car are going to pick up the others, or at least tell the group near the car just to wait while the other or others take the shuttle back to that area.

Now that I think about it, and this is a bit of a side note, there have been walkie-talkies for a long time, too. Those had some serious limitations, though. Most notably the range of such devices and picking up the conversations of people not in the group. If a group gets separated and is out of range or jammed up by others, they become useless.

Cell phone towers, on the other hand, are fairly often found at the top of ski mountain…you know…because it’s a mountain. The top of a mountain is one of the best places to put a cell tower. I’m sure there are those ski mountains with little or no reception out there still. Though, here in Vermont, the ski mountains are the only areas where service is guaranteed or close to guaranteed.

To continue that though, those who are more gadget or tech savvy could step up to satellite communication gear or something like a personal LoRa network, though I don’t know much about either of those. In fact, I have only started to read into LoRa and what it can do. I would just stick with the old cell phone.

Just so it’s said, I also know that we get sent right back to the 90s with ski group separation if even one person’s battery is not charged or their phone is off or in the car. I get that, so it’s still good to be prepared for that eventuality. However, I think the old days of ski group separation and the pain in the ass that it can be are behind us. Take as many friends as you want. It’s likely that even if you get split up, you’ll be together sooner rather than later.


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