The Art of Skiing Alone

It’s the middle of winter and I live in the middle of nowhere. I’ve moved around too many times to build relationships with other skiers and snowboarders as an adult. Sure, I had a crew at 12 and another at 22, but relationships ebb and flow. People get scared once they realize they can break bones, people get married, buy a house, have babies… all contributing factors that stop Sunday Fundays and end frivolous spending. Even my husband doesn’t ski, so it’s just me.

the night before

Late Friday night, I obsessively check the weather in the dark to make sure the roads will be OK. I’m not a great driver but the Subaru saves me enough. Rain Thursday mixing to snow, which ends by 10 pm. We won’t even get an inch of white stuff, and the roads will be bad regardless. There’s enough time for a plow to go through, though, and it’s all snow at the mountain when you take away 10 degrees. The sun icon on my weather app is steady from Saturday morning into Sunday evening and my timing is perfect. I’ll be able to snake down the road in the early morning and head to the mountains before dawn on the first day of the weekend. I set my alarm and roll over to sleep.

I dream of skiing midweek.

5 am blares into my ears, and my dreams are short lived. I lay there, wondering why I do this to myself. In dim light I rake a comb through my hair. I attempt two braids a few times–ok maybe just one braid, then–so I won’t have knots by Sunday. My favorite socks and base layers go on like an extension of my pajamas. Hat on now. Season pass around my neck. Snow pants and mid-layer on later. I make sure I have extra socks and layers in the Rubbermaid storage bin with my helmet and gloves.

My luggage is packed.

There’s no way I’m cooking breakfast right now, because my eyes are still half-closed. I’ll stop at Sheetz, maybe get a coffee. It’ll be an hour or so before I see one. I fill up the largest water bottle I can find. I make a sandwich with what lunchmeat is left in the fridge and search for snacks and a piece of fruit. I stick 3 cheap beer cans in the bottom of my oversized cooler lunchbox, telling myself they’ll work like ice packs, and stick the sandwich on top. An apple. An almost empty bag of Doritos. This’ll do. In the garage I put down a back seat so my skis can be a passenger. It’s 6 in the morning and if I leave now, I’ll park just in time to get my boots and helmet on for first chair at 9 am.

the drive

Everything’s in the car–wait, no. I forgot my phone. I have to pee.

I don’t have to get first chair. Well, first run because Snowshoe “starts at the top.” The place shows off one of the best sunrises I’ve ever seen, and I’ll bask in its glory Sunday morning. The car starts. I drive for miles with the radio cackling. The sun peaks over ridges as the winding roads present perfectly old barns set in valleys and foothills. Sheep. Cows. Brilliant pinks and oranges against a grey barn with a broken door. I always consider pulling over to take a photo, but what if they’re looking?

I’m driving too fast. I hit rumble strips as I stare out the window.

the mountain: saturday

A little more than 2 hours pass. Finally the sign with the white rabbit hops into view. Turn left and drive up, back and forth on switchbacks and coast through the resort. I’m finally parked at the “Top of the World” and hop out with gusto but regret it. I wince as the bitter, frozen wind hits me and scramble for my winter coat. I didn’t account for this. I balance on one foot as I take off a shoe and trade it for Ski Boot #1. Repeat the same for #2. I’m almost there. My hands are frozen as I maneuver layers on and thunk a helmet onto my head, goggles attached. Mask up, mittens on, I’m ready.

The snow, groomed into lines of corduroy, sparkle in the sun. I’m warm again.

A powder day is rare in the Mid-Atlantic. It’s too south for feet of snow, but north enough for the rain to freeze. Here, it’s a celebration when there’s no ice to skid over. And today, there’s no ice to skid over. I laugh. I whoop out loud to myself as pieces of hair whip around my helmet. That braid didn’t do much. First run and I’m flying with every transition of a turn. People should express themselves like this, I think.

But I’m the annoying neighbor. Yeeeeeeew!!!

In another year, I ride the lift and talk to people. If I read them right, I make fast friends and lose them even faster. We laugh and joke, and talk about how nice of a day it is. Go through the Where Are You Froms and How Far Is Thats. Oh, you bought a place here and fixed it up? Oh, the kids are skiing with your wife today? Oh, you’ve been coming here since the 70’s? Nice beard! Enjoy your day! You too.

Lunch is a tailgate in the parking lot. I sit in the car to de-thaw and eat my sandwich. The kids next to me have a cooler out and a leftover pizza box. Music from bluetooth speakers, here, there, a few rows down. Someone offers me a beer. Thanks.

We high-five, and then I’m back out.

après-ski

The slopes close at 4 as the sun begins to dip below the mountains, and I drive down a back road through an antique company logging town, whitewashed until you get to the train tracks. It’s only 15 minutes away. I’m not renting an Air BnB with friends. I’m not splitting a lodge on the mountain four ways. I’m being efficient, even if I have to check for bedbugs. There’s none. This place is the cheapest, cleanest room around. And they’ve got good pizza in the gift shop.

I found a review before I booked.

The cook stands at the table with me while my pizza order goes through the oven. He tells me about his oil and gas job. He mentions that his dog’s in the car. He asks where I’m from and if I want to eat my pizza here or to-go. To-go, please. I’ve got… people back in the room. I head to my room with my pizza box and he’s put a ridiculous amount of cheese on the pie and quite frankly I’m very happy about it. I can’t turn the TV on. There’s almost no wifi left to share. I hear the occupants in the neighboring room complain when they can’t watch videos on their phone.

Candy Crush offline it is. I fall asleep at 8.

the mountain: sunday

6 am wakes me up without an alarm. “Sun rises at 7, Christina, let’s go.” I rush, which is nothing new in the mornings. I don’t really have to do much as it was cold in the room and I slept in my base layers. With no one around, what’s the point of changing? I do put on new socks, though–that is a necessity. I go to the bottom of the mountain for breakfast on Route 66. A family sits at one table and 3 grey-haired men in snow pants sit at the other. I order egg, bacon, cheese on a bagel and sausage gravy slathered over a biscuit, all under $10. I paid $109 for the same thing and 3 screwdrivers in Aspen. I’ll take these prices any day.

I ski laps again.

This morning my legs groan because I was having too much fun the day before. My music lasted almost the whole day and I took my time riding each slope and memorizing chairlift locations for when I come back next time. Today, I’ll head home early before the snowstorm hits. The weather app changed the start time to 1. I’ll be stuck here, although I wouldn’t mind it. It’s 10 am, I’ll leave around 11. I refuse to call, “last run,” especially alone.

The sun beats down on me in the lift line, cutting out the cold wind from yesterday.

A woman asks if she could ride up with me. We talk about how she’s been coming here with friends for years, and her trips out west with family. We laugh about how it can be hard to find lodging, and she once booked a studio cabin with an outhouse just to be here. We part ways at the top only to find each other again at the bottom. We ski the same speed. My blue jacket must stick out. We ride together once more and talk about West Virginia, how beautiful and under appreciated it is. I think about skiing with her again, but it’s time to go.

We part ways for good this time. I’m tired.

the drive home

I drive home through the same ridges and past the same old barns and even stop again at a Sheetz to gas up. My dog and my husband are waiting at home. I’ll make dinner. It’s a good weekend, I think to myself. I found new places to stay, good food, and great conversation. I can’t wait to go back.

And I was never really alone.

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