It started from before I could remember, but I like to think of this scene: 1992. Mom in the blue one piece ski suit I’ve seen hanging in the storage closet, skiing with me between her knees. A wide-eyed little girl with curls of brown hair peeking wildly in tufts from under a too-big hat, small skis two straight lines as Mom holds me up, her skis jammed in a wedge (I know that hurts our knees now, so thank you for that). Tiny pink pony mittens hang on to Mom’s poles, which are held horizontally in font of both of us. Mom’s got each end of those poles in her own hands, creating a gate so her daughter won’t send herself careening down the trail. At three, we bounce.
Sometime between 8 and 12 were the glory days. One thing I can remember feeling was annoyance because my mom made me take a lesson while all my friends went off on their own (I should thank her for that now). I remember the families we came with brought walkie talkie radios. They’d set the channel (9? or 3?) for the weekend, us kids would keep them in our pockets and the dads would close answers to where-are-you calls with, “ten-four.”
I remember being terrified at the top of Stingray, the difficult ♦ sign looming, the edge and trees staring me down as the group of girls dropped in, screeching with joy below me, power “V” in full effect down the mountain. I had to keep up, forced to follow suit. The mountain was big then, and I didn’t want to get left behind.
Back at the condo, all cozy and warm, I would pour through the wooden photo album on the coffee table, depicting happy groups of friends as laughter from the same smiling faces jingled out from the kitchen. I looked through that thing every time I’d visit. After dinner, all of the kids piled into the loft for movies and gossip and drifted to sleep. Après at eleven. I loved those days.
Ski Club. The charter bus was filled with cute senior boys on Thursday nights after school. My friends and I would climb on in, giggling at their antics but would never dare talk to them. A group of us played around on the mountain each week through the winter, shouting and laughing, completely forgetting about the boys until we got back on the bus.
We were required to take a lesson the first night of the school program every season. The club supervisor just so happened to be an instructor, and a group including myself went with him. I remember skiing in the dark while he explained that I should keep my shins glued to the front of my boot and to think about the distribution of weight in my feet as I made a turn, like a pendulum on a grandfather clock. I had never thought of skiing like that before. In fact, until then I don’t remember thinking about the actual act of skiing much at all! This is where my technical abilities started to change. He also suggested I become an instructor so I could get a season pass next year. Done and done.
I finished my first ski season instructing and decided I needed my own equipment. At eighteen, I finally received my own pair of skis and boots. This is essentially life-altering the first time you ski on something that’s for you and not rental equipment. Now with my own equipment, and continuing as an instructor, I had never been a better skier than I was when I was taking clinics and teaching lessons. The way I thought about skiing and how to get down the mountain changed forever.
College came and I lost myself for a while, but then a trip to Killington fell in my lap sophomore year. I just rekindled a friendship with the girl I was going with a few weeks prior, but I couldn’t turn down a trip to Vermont! I ended up making 10 best friends for the weekend. Riders I thought were exponentially better than me agreed over drinks and burnt pizza, “you’re a good skier.” I always tend to think down upon myself, but at that point, I realized: I was a skier. And I could definitely hold my own.
Junior year, I moved to a larger university and followed my heart, teaching at the small mountain nearby. I met some friends that I eventually lost to the west coast, but some of them continue to change the course of my relationship with snow.
Graduated. Full time job. Singles line. I met a boy on a chairlift, as cliché as that sounds. I know I talk about this ex before, and while I hate to dig up old flames, the fire was squelched long-ago. So friends, don’t fret, I hope to say we’re both eight years of over-it. This relationship, however, contributed significantly to my ski life and I did enjoy the people that were around at this point. Rewind the tape and I was back in a cabin on the mountain, just like I was ten again. Except this time, 90% of movie nights were filled with beer, DiGiorno and a shuttle bus ride to the bar. Sometimes we’d let ourselves melt into the couch with lots of wine, but most nights we were out. And every day we would ski and ride that entire mountain like it was the last thing we did on this earth. Sunday night rolled around and we’d go home to work as only a means of survival until Friday. We were living for the weekend. For two seasons, that dream lasted.
Mid-twenties is no-mans-land for skiers and riders that aren’t living in a mountain town. Your friends will have too many things to do, have big items they need to spend money on, and will start to have smaller humans to take care of. But you could find me on the road, sidekick and friend either driving or telling me to get out of the car in the middle of the snow-covered winding roads of Appalachia so he could.
Snowpeople, we called ourselves. Unshaven, unshowered, unfed. We’ll stop at a gas station on the way. He was transitioning back from dry, fluffy champagne powder and I was transitioning out of a one-mountain season pass. So broke and still blowing money, I skied around the mid-Atlantic, visiting every mountain I could get to by first chair. The epitome of not a care in the world… Other than where the next snow storm was going to hit, of course.
Snowshoe, Wisp, Canaan Valley, Timberline, Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, Blue Knob, Whitetail, Holiday Valley… I was everywhere at least twice and found myself continuing to live the ski dream I thought I left behind at twenty-two. Making friends out of strangers, all the two of us needed was good conversation and good bartenders. And the bartenders turned into friends, too. Those were the days that inspired me to start this blog.
Sure, there’s new friends to be had on the mountain, but this season, I think I am just surfacing the the light in the dark ages of skiing alone. I’ve been fighting my own demons as I’ve grown. As more responsibilities pile on, anxiety rears it’s ugly head and ebbs and flows with the seasons. But I’ve had some almost religious experiences riding by myself. A good playlist in my ear, no thoughts in my head and that feeling when you get it all right.
It lasts only for a fleeting second. Just a moment when your weight shifts from one edge to the other, throwing pressure into your carve and before the shock absorbers in your legs throw you into the next turn. I don’t even know if I’m explaining this right, but you might know where I’m getting at. If you don’t, please take a lesson and work on getting there. When you connect these moments all together, it feels like you are floating down the hill. It’s unearthly, heavenly, and combined with some of the most beautiful scenes you can get, you know that there’s a higher power in it all, however you believe that to be.