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Ask Josh – November 1999

Ask Dr. Flake

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Dear Josh,
Do lift cables come in one endless loop from the factory, or are they woven at the ski area when they’re installed? How do they get them through the pulleys?Jeff Siewert
Monkton, Vermont

Lift cables come in spools and are, as you so quaintly put it, “woven” (the technical term is “spliced”) at the ski area. These cables (haul ropes) are way the heck too heavy-nearly three pounds per foot at an inch-and-a-quarter diameter-to lift directly onto the pulleys (sheaves) and so are fed through with a smaller, lighter cable (sand line).

Here’s how it works: From a spool at the top of the mountain, sand lines are lifted manually onto the sheaves and pulled downhill on both sides of the lift. Then, back at the top, the sand lines are spliced. At the bottom, one end of the sand line is attached to the haul rope, the other to a winch. The haul rope is then winched up, and then down, the mountain. Finally, the two ends of the haul rope are spliced together. It’s quite a labor-intensive process, and one that would perhaps not be undertaken at all if its undertakers considered that the only reason to do it in the first place is to save the sorry, sagging tushes of slobs like you and me from walking up the mountain as God no doubt intended when He invented rucksacks.

Do you have any idea how many skiers there are in the U.S. and what they contribute to the economy?Jay Dinette
via the Internet

The problem is that I have only ideas and not reliable numbers. No one has reliable numbers. No one can even agree what a skier is. Are you asking how many Americans went skiing in the 1998-1999 season? Or are you asking how many people define themselves as skiers-even if they didn’t go skiing last year for whatever reason? The ski industry estimates that 9.1 million Alpine skiers, 3.6 million snowboarders, and 2.6 million Nordic skiers hit the snow last year (extrapolated from a survey of 35,000 Americans). But of those 12.7 million putative skiers and snowboarders, how many are true schneehunts? Some studies suggest that maybe three million ski eight or more days every year, and that the balance ski occasionally.

As for their economic impact, SnowSports Industries America estimates it to be in the $13-billion range, which includes equipment, lift tickets, hotels, air travel, ski clothing, food, and ski-area real estate. It does not include the SUVs skiers buy so they can get to the mountain, the Saabs they buy so they have somewhere to put their Connecticut license plates, or the surgeons’ fees generated by the endless parade of torn ACLs.

My father and I disagree: Do you turn to control speed or to change direction? My father argues that you turn only to change direction, and that if you think you turn to control speed, you must be skidding. I argue that you turn to both slow down and change direction.Tyson McGinty
Sugarbush, Vermont

Far be it from me to get in the middle of a father-son battle. But I’m with you on this one, and not just because of our shared youth. I think your father is splitting semantic and technical hairs and is being McGintransigent. Of course, one could argue that one only turns to change direction, because that is what turning does: It changes your direction. But that would be only a partial truth. One has to dig deeper (as you have done) and ask why one changes direction in the first place. The most obvious reason is so we don’t plough into that fir tree at 30 miles an hour. But the other is that changing direction, or more precisely, steering out of the fall line, controls our speed.

This is not to say that there aren’t millions of skiers who skid like curling stones every time they turn. But come on! I turn because changing directions slows me down. Intentionally. If your father still isn’t with us here, go purchase a small rubber mallet and try punctuating your explanation bonk! with light taps bonk! on the foremost portion bonk! of his skid-hatinng cranium bonk! (Left out of this discussion is the main reason we turn: because it’s bloody fun. After all, we don’t have to learn how to use gravity, only to defy it.)