[Muckraker] A cautionary tale of the incompetent skipper.

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[Muckraker] A cautionary tale of the incompetent skipper.

WORDS — Alex Hunt

I threw my car into ‘Park’ and gently released a dangerous fart. Was the road closed up ahead? Why did I drink so much coffee? With the tightly packed line of resort-bound cars cemented in place beyond my windshield, I debated un-cementing my loosely packed innards with an emergency evacuation of my own. 

Finally I recognized some movement—not in my bowels, I’d get to that later—as the powder-covered snake of traffic crept up the snowy switchbacks towards the ski area. With the intensifying snowfall and diminishing visibility, it was hard to tell how far the convoy of red brake lights stretched up the canyon, but it didn’t take a briefing with the Secretary of Transportation to come to the realization that I wouldn’t be catching first chair. 

After an hour-plus of inching my way up the road, and a quick stop at an aptly placed porta-john, it became apparent what was causing the backup: an early 2000s white Ford pickup. It wasn’t the type of jacked-up 4WD monster truck you’d imagine blasting through a snowbank in an over-produced Instagram vid. No, no—it was the kind of single cab, rusted out, rear-wheel drive hooptie you’d see teetering sideways, halfway off the road. In fact, that’s exactly how it looked from my vantage point as I neared the veritable ruination of a perfect powder day, driving past the unprepared screwballs. 

What remained of each tire’s tread was, well, not much; they were as smooth as a slice of bologna and provided as much traction on the snow-packed asphalt as the soles of the First Mate’s Crocs. Tasked with the impossible feat of righting the wayward course of what I’ve named the S.S. Unprepared, this poor soul’s feeble attempts to nudge the land-skiff free resulted in nothing more than adding moisture to his already soaked hoodie sleeves, serving as makeshift mitts barely pressed against the truck’s tailgate.

Tire chains were nowhere to be found; there wasn’t a shovel on-scene, an ice scraper in the backseat or any other sort of useful apparatus anywhere in sight. And, it seemed as I crept passed, my neck craning to watch the scene unfold, the First Mate’s last remaining bit of common sense had clearly been abandoned in last year’s attempt at remote learning. By the sound of the engine revving and the speed of the spinning rear tires, it was clear the Captain of this stubborn vessel had the gas pedal Gorilla-glued to the floor. 

PHOTO: Lee Cohen
LOCATION: You don’t wanna know…

The driver gave the throttle a rest and hopped out to survey the scene for himself. Any competent Skipper should take time to evaluate his ship in a time crisis—what better way to do that than lighting up a Parliament and dropping a low-top pair of Vans into a foot of slush. After all, wet tube socks and a chronic, wheezing cough can fix just about anything… right? 

The Skipper dropped into a squatted position, scratching at his forehead while pinching the ciggy in his other hand; the First Mate looked on with equal uncertainty. All that wheel spinning had caused sheets of ice to form under the rear tires. Friction, heat, melt, refreeze—a highway experiment in thermodynamics. Eyeing the shipwreck, I crept along and onto the resort.

The thing is, I really don’t want to come off all high-and-mighty here. As it turns out, I’ve been in a similar situation—maybe not quite as unprepared—but I fully understand what it’s like to have a half-ton of steel uselessly taking up space on the side of a snowy road. And I’m sure most of you reading this have been ill-equipped for a wintry drive at some point along the way. Thankfully, though, I’ve never jammed my bumper into a snowbank and been the one to prevent powder junkies from getting their fix. That’s when you’ve hit a new low. 

What could the Skipper and his First Mate have done better? How could the S.S. Unprepared  have been… well… prepared? Here are a few things I’ve learned from years of chasing storms and navigating winding, snow-covered thoroughfares. First, good tires make all the difference. Second, it’s wise to keep a reliable shovel in the trunk to clear out snow from around all four tires before hitting the gas. And, third, knowing how to gently feather the accelerator with someone rocking the rig back-and-forth will get you out of most snow-versus-automobile related predicaments. That is my unsolicited advice. Do with it what you will.

But I digress… After one helluva day gobbling up leftovers from the morning’s pow feast, I loaded up and made my way out of the parking lot. As I prepared to merge onto the highway I saw it, tilted sideways like a weather-worn buoy, the S.S. Unprepared, parked haphazardly in the back of the lot. It was hard to comprehend how that jalopy eventually made its way up the road and somewhat terrifying to think about how it would get home; I was just glad I wouldn’t be anywhere near it when that happened. So, take note fellow shredders: Get your transportation situation dialed now. Shuck out a few extra bucks on snow tires before winter is in full swing. Grab your spade from the garden shed. And leave that pack of Parliaments at home. You don’t want to become the next speed bump on the Hershey Highway. 

This story originally appeared in FREESKIER Volume 25, Issue 02.
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