Death of Seasons

From Rock to Ice

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Extreme Ski

Diamonds in the East

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Winter to the Max: Your Sport + Ice

This article by Bart Jackson as published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 18, 1998. All rights reserved.

Rapehua was already erupting. The morning’s pristine

powder was turning black with spewed ash and visibility was dwindling

to a squint. The geologist beside me who was shooting lasers to

measure

mountain movement remarked, "You got down just in time."

Then, a puff of wind parted the cloud and two snowboards piloted by

crazies tore into view. Number one swerved for a stone outcrop,

launched

off and swirled two full helicopters while dropping 25 feet into the

ashy mush. Number two followed with a full flip and merrily cascaded

along. Mt. Rapehua on New Zealand’s north island is a typical volcanic

cone and my scrabble up to the crater’s edge had demanded two

makeshift

axes and terrifying 60-degree steeps on the way up — and down.

But these tool-less clowns had scrambled up here so they could catch

beer-commercial-size jumps as the earth trembled beneath them.

We chatted as they tossed gear in and out of in their VW bus. The

geologist packed up his lasers, shook his head and left. The two

boarders

waved a cheery good bye as they started clambering up for a second

run. Amid the plaster of bumperstickers on the VW, one asked in large

letters "Snowboard – Die – What else is there?"

Winter has long passed from the season to huddle in, to the ultimate

stage for the extreme sports person. Sheer ice and steep snow have

become the new fields of challenge where the extreme athletes and

endorphin junkies get their fix. The pioneers push hard and the

farmers

trudge in not far behind. Runs and climbs that 20 years ago were

impossible,

10 years ago terrifying, are today ho-hum formulaic.

Even the staid Olympic Committee now grudgingly takes these new

hotdogging

athletes into its fold, legitimizing mogul in — this year —

adding snowboarding to its gold medal pursuits.

Top Of Page
Death of Seasons

Joggers bundle more on, hikers turn into snowshoers

and bikers go to Jay’s Cycle to special order double wide or studded

tires for those truly awesome runs. That wonderful essence in man

that just doesn’t know when to quit prods the hardy out weekend after

weekend. With a little adaptation, everything has become year round.

The phone rings January 12th. It’s Glenn Spellman, fanatic whitewater

paddler in Princeton. Ice has broken in the upper Hudson.

It would be a bit of a wade dragging the boats through the two-feet

of snow to the put-in, but what a run! Wanna come? Why quit paddling

just because it’s 10 degrees?

Princeton mountain bikers wait for the first few inches to dust over

Allaire State Park so they can add hidden ice and slick surfaces to

the normal trail runs. Interestingly, in all of this winter cavorting,

the athletes do not seek to tough out cold, or "take it like a

man." Leave the thrill of the chill to those ancient wool-wearers.

Today, the play alone’s the thing and comfort’s deemed a necessity.

Wick-away fabrics, comfort-zone layering, endlessly gadgeteered

equipment

and outerwear allow us to move the gymnasium outdoors.

Of course, the few bold ones see winter not as pesky, but as the

bringer

of new challenges. One top-end mountain biker I know totes both

snowboard

and bike to Blue Mountain ski area and when the action’s slow shushes

the slopes on his mountain bike. "Steeps" and moguls are fun,

but dodging the ski patrol adds just that extra flavor.

Top Of Page
From Rock to Ice

Hey,"’ came the invitation, "how about going

to a land that boasts the ultimate ice on the planet and the world’s

most beautiful women?"

"Seems like a very logical step," shrugs Anthony Lorenzoni.

I envision Lorenzoni a month from now sprawled on the 600-foot

Glymsgil

glacier in Iceland, ice axe in each hand, crampons kicked in, ropes

all dangling down, puzzling whether the ice screws will hold on this

absolutely horizontal overhang. Somehow his logic escapes me.

But if you live to rock climb and also run Lorenzoni Landscaping,

which gobbles up seven days a week during the spring and summer, your

climbs necessarily get transferred to winter’s icy faces.

Mountaineering has always demanded some ice climbing. Yet most

traditional

summit attempts entail routes that avoid the slick stuff in favor

if good solid stone. You’re scaling a more predictable surface, with

more solid anchor points, and, hey, it’s warmer. But as technical

rock climbing became a sport in itself, ice climbing followed as a

natural outcrop. Today ice climbing has soared in popularity with

estimates as high as 7 million participants and a half million avid

faithful. Some credit the lighter gear: boots, crampons and ice axes,

available in the last five years for this spurt. The more romantic

just see it as the next, newest thrill. Whatever the reason, "Rock

and Ice Magazine" recently found that at least 27 percent of its

readers are scaling the white in addition to rock.

Currently Lorenzoni trains on ice up in Rieglesville, just across

the river from Frenchtown, in preparation for his Iceland expedition.

Looking at his lean, fairly solid 29-year-old frame, one somehow

expects

more from this level challenger. But little things give him away —

the strong fingers, the muscles on the forearm. Anthony’s got what

he needs.

As with so many outdoor fanatics Lorenzoni forges a patchwork of jobs

that all flex to his climbing career. When landscaping is not in

season,

Lorenzoni works as a salesman at Eastern Mountain Sports at

MarketFair.

There he encountered another ice-climber, James Battaglia. It was

Battaglia who proffered the ultimate ice of Iceland to Lorenzoni and

in accepting, Lorenzoni was clipping onto a truly renaissance

outdoorsman

who has done it all.

Battaglia’s resume would make Harrison Ford pause: River

raft guiding on Colorado’s Arkansas river; founder and co-owner of

Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center; exploration of Amazon basin in Brazil;

trainer in outdoor leadership seminars; Grand Canyon kayaker;

self-taught

rock climber in the early ’80s in Colorado’s Clear Creek Canyon; rock

and ice instructor on both coasts; work on a farm in Hawaii; financial

consulting in California — 46 years of doing it very much his

way.

If that’s not rugged enough, consider that Battaglia has continued

his passion for these endeavors despite a medical obstacle that might

have sidelined many others — he’s the recipient of a kidney

transplant

(see sidebar, page 45).

Like virtually all ice scalers, Battaglia and Lorenzoni came to the

sport through a strong background in technical rock climbing. Much

of the gear, basic strategies and techniques, and the teamwork remain

the same. But there it ends. Rock is as constant as a stone. Ice,

however — well you know what happened to Frosty the Snowman.

"The real trick," states Battaglia, "is that ice varies

constantly. The consistency changes from day to day, morning to

afternoon."

The route scampered up madly at 9 a.m. — the one that held each

ice screw solidly — may take the afternoon sun and grow too mushy

even for an axe to grab. On the other hand, if the temperature dips

too low, no tool can penetrate. Such temperature swings threaten

Glymsgil

particularly. Iceland verges on the Arctic Circle where north winds

collide with warm Gulf Stream waters. Premier climber Dougald

MacDonald

calls it a geographical stewpot.

Like life, victories won on an ice face stand precarious and

temporary.

Pressure makes ice melt, so best not to stand poised in your crampons

more than a few seconds. Axes will quickly refreeze solidly into the

ice sheet so best yank ’em out and move on while you can. And watch

out for windblown ice. Don’t be like my friend Ginny, who took a

platter-size

chunk to the cheek that was inadvertently cast off by the climber

up the line. And don’t even mind the fact that your fingers may get

a little cold.

Fear haunts the climber’s every move. It draws the few to the sport

and repels most from it. Veterans joke that ice climbing entails very

few injuries — except among the dead. For Lorenzoni, "it’s

really a matter of using the right protection." (The amazing host

of piton-like gadgets slung onto your belt such as ice screws,

nautilus-shaped

"friends," bird-beaked specters — and the usual stoppers

and chocks for encountering rock.) You can even toss a sling over

a cauliflower (ice outcrop) and wedge it in tight, and tie off.

"That’s what will save you," he tries to assure me.

"Therefore

if you fall, you’ll only drop the length of your rope, plus the

stretch.

Of course, on ice, the sharp shards and icicles can get rather

nasty."

For Battaglia, one would guess, fear’s a flickering concern. His is

the calculated risk born of long years and great trust. Upon arriving

in Reykjavik, Battaglia will be joining old friend and employer Jeff

Lowe — inventor of the internal frame pack. They will discuss

the routes. He has arranged for Iceland Alpine Club members to host

the team. Battaglia reads the ice expertly, absorbs the advice and

scopes out a strategy.

"Glymsgil is magnificent and offers the full range of ice from

moderate to ultimate. We’ll bite off as much as we can, but no

more."

Judging from Battaglia’s taste for serene beauty, for life and all

things spiritual, that should probably be a major mouthful.

Top Of Page
Snowboard Explosion

Last season 52 million visits were made to commercial

ski slopes by over 14 million "sliders" in the United States

— 10.5 million skiers; 3.7 million snowboarders. The sport has,

in the estimation of the National Sporting Goods Association, pretty

much plateaued. But within, major shifts toward the snowboards are

taking place. A new generation that has learned the moves on

surfboards

and skateboards finds two skis a cumbersome arrangement. Even some

of the extreme ski athletes sheepishly admit that if they had it to

do all over again, today, they’d hit the board.

Virtually everyone admits that the snowboard is easier to master than

the longer skis which need be kept parallel. Granted the tumbles are

a bit rougher, but most new skiers favor its learning curve. "Not

only does the total novice learn faster on his first days out,"

says extreme skier Rich Konczyk, an engineering consultant by

profession,

"but it helps many folks make the jump from intermediate to

expert."

Top Of Page
Extreme Ski

Should you ever spy a refrigerator on skis hurtling

off a 25 foot rock cornice and cutting hard for the trees below, you

will probably be witnessing Larry Hartenstein. Pity the pine bough

this lad smacks. At age 22, Hartenstein breaks all the rules and skier

stereotypes. Extreme skiers are supposed to appear sylph-like in form,

balletic in grace. They train on bicycles, roller blades and

Nordic-tracks.

Hartenstein, a student at the College of New Jersey and a manager

at the Ski Barn on Route 1, primarily powerlifts, pumping his thighs

to the size of most cyclers’ chests. Football and soccer "help

the old wind" and keep him limber. The mountaineering just

enhances

his soul. "Five foot nine with a fighting weight of 210?"

gawked fellow expert Rich Konczyk. "Can’t believe he’s any

good."

But any man who joyfully squats 1,000 pounds and jumps any steep that

comes his way, is not a man to be argued with.

Now, 42-year-old Konczyk is more like it. The lean athletic build

moves lightly, with total control — fulfilling our visions of

the ultimate skier. And unlike burly Hartenstein, he does train on

bike and roller blades. With Princeton Freewheeler friends in the

steep-seeking Hillbillies group, Konczyk puts 4,000 miles annually

on his Cannondale. "So much of skiing is respiratory, I always

ask would-be fellow skiers what their other sports are."

Two dedicated athletes, each sculpting his frame drastically

differently,

towards a common sport. Not all rockets must look alike. Never judge

a skier by his frame — or headstone.

Hartenstein first stepped on skis at age seven and ever since his

early teens (when his brother got a license) spends 55 days a year

on the slopes — or past the back fence. Racing came early, and

today he typically gleans silver or gold both locally and out West.

But all that formal stuff is a mere sideline.

Spirit, lungs and risk expand out in the back bowls and off in the

trees. "Give me a tight, tight trail, silent through the woods,

with plenty of steeps and chutes. Love it." Hartenstein lapses

into swiftly shifting reminiscence about routes found out back in

Squaw Valley: 200 centimeter skis turning down a trail 190 centimeters

wide; tight narrow openings, fast jump turns of 120 to 150 degrees;

bypassing even the expert slopes in Crested Butte, Colorado —

trails with in-your-face names like Banana Nose and No Fat Chicks

— and hiking to the site of the Extreme Ski National Competitions.

Forty degree pitch is common — your shoulder scrapes the snow

and jumps of 25 feet . . .

I interrupt Hartenstein’s reverie with a question: Just how does one

deliberately run a 25-foot rock overhang that may drop another 10

feet before you hit snow again? "Well, on that one, I saw the

lip and a boulder about 45 feet downhill demanding a hard cut

immediately

afterward. I angled toward the edge, trying to gain as much

comfortable

speed as possible without losing control. Then it was a matter of

aiming for the lip — the highest notch in the boulder with enough

angle so you would land with a downhill ski ready for the cut to the

left." All so elementary.

Hartenstein rolls restlessly on the couch and flips back the afghan

revealing The Leg. Currently it holds a titanium rod: souvenir of

his recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Shucks, Mam, ’tweren’t

nothin.’

Just a fluke that came from a little five foot jump when his ski tip

shoveled too deep into the powder. "As the ski patrol sledded

me down to the hospital, I asked `When do my endorphins kick in?’

`They already have’ was the reply."

At this point, Hartenstein is very busy cramming four years into five

at College of New Jersey. He will graduate with a major in sociology

with minors in biology, psychology and oh, yes, women’s studies. Days

are spent with classes until 12:30 then a quick race to the Ski Barn

until 9 p.m. Then it’s back to the dorm and homework ’til the wee

hours. "There doesn’t seem to be much time for TV," he laughs.

In the future, Hartenstein seeks more northern exposure. His sophomore

year was spent as an exchange student in Calgary. "I let the

grades

slip to Bs," he admits, "and spent most of my time on

skis."

Then the call for new ski equipment drove him up to the little village

of Pelican on an island 70 miles west of Juneau. He started as just

another "Funigee" (f — -in’ new guy) at the crab plant but

soon parlayed his way up to manager.

Everyone is a little scared on the extreme runs, unless they’re a

damn fool. "Well, I guess, I’m a damn fool. I’ve yet to see

something

I wouldn’t run. On the other hand I’ve never been to Valdez, Alaska.

One thing for sure, there’s a whole other level above me that I’ve

just encountered and that’s where I’m striving."

I look at the leg: skin graft gouges, quarter-size stitches

reminiscent

of a Transylvanian seamstress. "The doctor says four months total

recovery. I may not get total dorsal motion (foot lifting) and

everyone

says for gawd’s sake you’re out this season. But I’ll be on skis again

this year. If I waited a year, I might grow scared. I’ve got to go

— just enough to put fear in its place." The hat says "Ski

Like Hell."

Top Of Page
Diamonds in the East

Extreme skiers don’t exist in the East, some people

claim, certainly not along Route 1 in New Jersey. Tell that it to

the Outer Circle Ski Club of Plainsboro. "Actually," counters

Rich Konczyk, "you check your list of top racers — you’ll

find a strong majority started out in the East: ice makes folks

fast."

And, he claims, the reaction time demanded helps in the bigger steeps

out West and abroad. Our Eastern ice, after all, has set West

Milford’s

Donna Weinbrecht tearing up the Olympic moguls course at Nganago.

He should know. When the group heads for the back fence and looks

down a totally unrun chute, they invariably choose Konczyk as the

probe — (that sucker making the first run. If he dies, probably

best to bypass this one.) For the past dozen years, Konczyk has led

groups of up to 75 all over the world and found for himself mastering

the most difficult routes the mountains can offer.

It all began about age 30, he had been round the world twice, raced

motorcycles and blended his thrills happily with his engineering jobs.

Then one day he was called upon to play golf. "They all had pot

bellies, cigars, and were talking about retirement funds. Even the

young guys gabbled about nothing but business. I said to myself, `I’m

not old enough to play this sport.’"

With that watershed, he put his clubs in the basement and began

sculpting

his life around the realm of the physical. Today he runs Control

Technology,

a one-man engineering consulting firm from his Hillsborough home.

His specialty of plant start-ups has the occasional emergency

demanding

a 36-hour straight work binge, but mostly it’s a straight 40 hours.

"And my clients know better than to call me on weekends."

The rest of life is sport — 45 days a year are spent on the

slopes,

including at least two major expeditions. "Three years ago in

Chamonix, France" he recalls, "powder up to your neck; then

over your head. You ski blind and keep your mouth closed so you won’t

choke. Only occasionally could your head pop above the snow line

enough

to see some obstacle." Then it’s a quick slide, plant pole and

jump — and pray you have jumped that ski high enough so it won’t

catch the rock.

Fear seems to play little part in Konczyk’s strategies. "I’ve

always figured that I wouldn’t have gotten to this mountain top if

I weren’t good enough to run it." Like Anthony Lorenzoni’s, his

logic also escapes me, but I guess it works for him. He’ll jump and

grab 25 feet of big air without a thought.

Konczyk also draws strength from the group. He always runs in groups

with a clearly defined probe and pole (a sweep skier who follows to

‘pick up remains.’ "Obviously, skiing is individual, but being

with a group affords you a trust and support to try new things you

never would alone."

But despite all the calculation of risks, the teamwork, the thousands

of hours training the body, the injuries come, of course. They are

a given for the top end. Konczyk refused to have a broken knee cap

wrapped and chose to hit the Colorado’s slopes with pain-killing drugs

as his only protection. How long can this go on; I mean you’re not

22 any more. "Oh I don’t know. It worries me from time to time,

so I figure I’d better grab what I can while I can still walk. After

that — maybe then it’ll be time for golf and an ocean cruise."

Few common chords bind extreme athletes Lorenzoni, Battaglia

Hartenstein

and Konczyk. Each one explodes the myth that success demands being

focused on a single activity. But perhaps more important is the

willingness

to take the big risk — not the risk of the jump or grabbing big

air, but the risk of marching to a different drummer. We have armored

our world today safe, cozy and totally adventure free. Contemporary

Achilles and Odysseus must seek out their own voyages and battles.

For all who aren’t, these extremists are "crazies." We delight

in their broken limbs, and often frequent poverty. "Just

desserts."

Extremists like Rockefeller, Trump and other robber barons we can

understand. Their greed is comfortable, perhaps because their track

is well trod and their goals tangible. Maybe, however, we should

rethink

and not condemn our loved ones to "have a safe trip." But

instead wish them a joyous galavant through life. After all, risk,

excitement, death — what else is there?


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