Yogi Berra once remarked about baseball, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains". With that short sentence he boiled down what appears to be an overly complex game; with it's huge stadiums, millions of fans, sponsorships, fame and bright lights, into something so simple a child could understand it. Skiing sometimes feels the same way. With all the weather forecasts, new skis, bindings, backcountry gear, layers of clothing, youtube videos, GoPros, and social media, it's easy to lose sight of what's really important; skiing.
Sometimes You Lose
I'm a teacher in the Boston public schools. When I woke up Sunday morning January 25th and saw the forecast for Winter Storm Juno, 24-36 inches of snow, I knew school would be canceled. Likely for a number of days. I had not planned on returning to skiing until mid-February due to an ankle injury I sustained in South America this past summer, however 3 feet of powder was enough to convince me to make an early comeback. I promised myself I would be careful and not repeat past mistakes with regard to injuries. I made a "Ulysses Contract" with myself to reduce the likelihood of injury: no closed runs, no tight trees, no moguls, if I feel any pain stop skiing immediately.
On Monday night I left Boston just as it started dumping snow. I drove up to Gunstock, NH to meet my friend Blake Keogh. I met Blake on my trip to Mt. Washington last February, and to say we are kindred spirits would be an understatement. Blake just finished a master's degree in snow science, is a middle school earth science teacher, and is just as crazy about the mountains as I am. Like me, he doesn't think twice about sleeping in his car to score some powder.
By the time I arrived in Gunstock I had driven straight out of the storm and into a very cold North wind. Blake and I were a little concerned that it wasn't snowing yet, but those concerns melted away after a couple of beers and several hours of great conversation about skiing, avalanches, backcountry travel, psychology, philosophy, and just about every single one of my favorite topics. By the time midnight rolled around I was fast asleep.
I awoke the next morning expecting to see knee to waist deep powder. Instead all that was on the ground were a few crummy inches of snow. I was a bit bummed as was Blake, but we made the most of it. After all it was my first day skiing in over six months and I was simply excited to get out there and make some turns. Blake and I skied all day and enjoyed ourselves despite the fact that there were only a few inches of snow. All in all by the end of the day it had snowed about 6 inches, most of which had been blow away by a vicious north wind.
Shortly after 2 PM we decided to call it quits. Blake drove back to Portland Maine to watch his beloved New York Rangers and I headed back towards Boston.
Sometimes You Win
I felt satisfied as I started my drive home. I had gotten out there for my first day of skiing and it was a success. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed that a three foot storm didn't deliver the goods. I had imagined myself skiing waist deep powder, hooting and hollering like a little kid. Instead I skied mediocre conditions on a really small mountain. So I pulled over to the side of the road and used my phone to research where the snow had fallen. Apparently central Massachusetts had received 30 inches and it was still coming down. That meant Wachusett mountain, which has a vertical drop of 1000 feet had received more snow than anywhere else. I checked their website and it turns out they had been closed all day because of a travel ban put in place by the Governor. I quickly considered my alternatives: Drive back to Boston and spend two hours digging out a parking spot for my car so I could sleep in a warm bed. Or drive to Wachusett, sleep in my car and wake up before dawn to skin up the mountain and ski 3 feet of blower powder. There wasn't really a decision to make. I programmed Wachusett into my GPS, and away I went.
The drive was white knuckle. I stayed off of major highways because of the travel ban which meant I was behind plows and cars on local roads for most of the trip. The snow was so light and fluffy that the vehicle in front looked more like a traveling cloud than an actual car. If I drove too close to the car in front of me the visibility would drop to zero. I had to channel my 14 years of snow driving experience just to make it there safely.
When I finally arrived at Wachusett it was after dark and surprisingly the entire parking lot had been plowed. There was one other car in the lot, but not a soul to be seen. Since it was only 6PM and I likely wouldn't fall asleep for a few more hours I decided to take a look at the conditions. I walked over to the base of the lift and was quickly sinking into snow up to my mid thighs. Whoaaa....this snow was deep. I ran back to my car, put on my boots, skins on my skis, water bottle filled, food in my pocket, headlamp on my head, extra layers in my backpack along with my goggles and helmet and I was off.
As I started skinning I could not believe the quality of the snow. There was over a foot of light dry Utah quality powder on top of a one to two foot deep wind slab that had been created over the course of the blizzard. And the best part: IT WAS STILL SNOWING HARD! The ascent was hard work, but it was joyous. With each step my skis sunk one to two feet into the snow, but it didn't feel like sinking, it felt like floating. My headlamp was the only source of light on the side of that lonely mountain in the pitch black. As I took step after step I realized: These are the moments I live for. The ones that are so far out of the realm of every day reality that I might as well be dreaming. But that dream is real. And I am the one that created it. We are all the dreamers of our own dreams and the creators of our own reality.
Sometimes You Ski
When I reached the top of the slope, I de-skinned and prepared for the descent. Before I pushed off I reflected on my day and all of the decisions, experiences and people that had brought me there. I thought about the weather forecasts, the new skis, bindings, backcountry gear, layers of clothing, youtube videos, GoPros, and social media. I also thought about the long line of people, without whom I would not have been standing on top of that mountain. I thought about my father's friend Bob who had bought me the pair of skis that changed my life, my cousin Murray who inspired me to ski no matter what, and even that silly zen master Yogi Berra. In that gratitude filled moment all of the complexity of life fell away and I dropped into a deep dream filled with powder, hoots and hollers.