On Skis

The Malcolms have been in New Hampshire scooting around in calf-high hard plastic boots with slick one-by-fours snapped onto the bottom.  Some of us point them down the mountain and ski.  Personally, I traverse across the mountain and brake.  If the run is gentle, I straighten them out a bit, aim downhill, and work on that parallel sway I see others doing on the steep bits. 

But generally, I grip the side of the mountain with the sharp edges of my skis.  If the pace quickens too rapidly, I turn harder and carve lines into the snow pack with the edges of my skis and conquer the mountain by stopping.  With this maneuver, I imagine I leave giant fans imprinted on the snow behind me, like the tail of a fancy goldfish. 

Daily the view changes.  One day was full of blue sky and sun.  Another, day-long huge snowflakes fell against the evergreens making it feel like I was skiing in a snow globe.  Another, high clouds and strong winds left me not looking around but rather head down into the wind as I worked my way down the mountain.  Yesterday, at the 3,064-foot summit of Loon Mountain, I looked down into the soft, hazy clouds hovering in the space between the mountains.  I looked down into the clouds.

For a flat-lander who grew up at around 500-foot elevation, the thoughts of a being atop a mountain summit, skiing down the side of a mountain, and looking down into clouds… well, I’m intermittently rattled and awed.  On every run, I pull over to the side of the ski trails a half dozen times to look at the mountainous horizon.  From the lower half of Loon Mountain, I see tract buildings on the side of a mountain below and in front of me.  It’s a bit unsettling, for they look like they are pitched forward, about to fall into the valley.    

The ski trails are crowded here with skiers like us on February break from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. Wisely, New Hampshire and Vermont hold off their schools’ winter break until next week.  Then they can have the mountains to themselves mid-week.  The skiers rather than the mountain have been my biggest challenge this week.  The skier with the right-of-way is the one downhill; logical as we don’t have rearview mirrors.  This is a fine rule for adept skiers who can pick a line through and around those in front of them.  I generally don’t need to worry about passing other skiers, until I come up on a new skier.  My muscles stiffen when I see a skier making unpredictable, wide traverses, and slow turns.  I’m not sure where to pass them, so instead, I stalk them down the trail until it widens enough for me to comfortably make a move.  I’m the same obstacle to those behind me.

From the summit of Loon Mountain, white capped, 6,288-foot high Mt. Washington in the distance. Mt. Washington’s conditions today: 8 degrees F with 53 mph wind. Not gusting… solid 53 mph wind speed.

From the summit of Loon Mountain, white capped, 6,288-foot high Mt. Washington in the distance. Mt. Washington’s conditions today: 8 degrees F with 53 mph wind. Not gusting… solid 53 mph wind speed.

The longest green trail I skied this trip runs from the summit all the way to the bottom of the mountain.  Green trails, being the easiest and just above the bunny hill, is where relatively new skiers and no-thrill skiers such as myself practice our craft.  Plus, the snowboarders.  I can’t move beyond thinking that people with both legs attached to a wide surfboard on the snow have much less control than those of us attached to two skinny sticks.  The sound of a snowboarder behind me is unnerving.  Boarders have only two edges to carve and do so by manipulating their full body weight between the two.  Often, they travel in groups – this sounds like a grinding stampede coming down the mountain. 

Skiers and snowboarders in New England are more skilled with edges than people who learn to ski out west, for we have ice.  Skiing out west feels like a nonstop trip on marshmallows.  New Englanders are used to the feel and to the sound of grinding edges on patches of ice.  I asked Liam what he thought that scrape sounded like.  “Coffee grinder?”  A good analogy.  As for me, fingernails on a chalkboard.  I end each ice grinding of my skis with a little shudder.  Assuming I see the ice before I hit it, I run my skis across the mountain, dig in the edges, and scrape-slide down until I hit snow.  When a snowboarder hits ice behind me, it sounds like a Mac truck with an engaged snow plow sliding down a giant chalk board.  I grit my teeth and wait for impact.  I narrow my traverse trying to leave as much free trail as possible for this runaway semi.

While I often stop to the side of the trail to admire the view, I do the same to let traffic – boarders and skiers – go by me.  Much like getting onto a busy highway, I watch for a gap, preferably re-entering when the uphill trail is absolutely clear.  I like to have the mountain to myself.  To practice clinging to the side of it and building thunder thighs while doing so. 

By the end of the week, my thighs are my superpower and a hot bath soothes the pain.