March Madness 1: Spring Skiing
It would seem axiomatic that in a winter where it had not snowed in any sort of recognizable quantity, the skiing would suck, and big time. Oddly enough, the conditions have been quite superb this year, at least at my favored mountains, Hunter and Plattekill. Why? Snowmaking, that’s why. Hunter Mountain pioneered the craft (in 1967, it became the first mountain in the world to feature base to summit snow-making and in 1980 the first to achieve 100% potential coverage) and still appears to be the market leader, judging by how it covered just about the entire mountain with the white stuff this winter, leading to the odd sensation of taking the lifts up over ridge of green grass and free-flowing streams yet with perfect snow-covered ski runs marked flowing between them.
Still there’s nothing quite like a powder dump, and on Feb 29, Leap Day, that’s what we finally got, creating a two-day school closure, and allowing my teenage son Campbell and myself to spring into March on Hunter with fresh natural powder under our feet, and our heads in a snowstorm. Never mind that our car spun 270 degrees on the drive through the aptly-named Devil’s Tombstone on the way there, narrowly avoiding the ditch, or that I broke a ski pole in the drifts, and that – and probably not coincidentally – I then took my first serious fall of the year (thank Goodness for helmets), or that my son ended up flat on his back, unable to move, truly exhausted from forcing his snowboard through so much powder… point is, we had the mountain almost entirely to ourselves, some great laughs along the way, and the bonding that doesn’t always come on busy weekend days when crowds get in the way of the fun.
Less than a week later, spring broke through in an equally massive way, with temperatures rising to 55 degrees at the TOP of the mountain – and that before lunchtime. I know as much because played hooky for half a day with the wife, in which the groomed snow from the previous week’s powder dump gradually turned to slush and the sensation of carving one’s way through it turned equally rapidly from pleasure to, if not pain then certainly endurance, and then back to pleasure again as pretty much everyone who had taken advantage of the unusually warm – and powerfully sunny – early March weather hung up their skis by lunchtime, and hit the outdoor deck for some serious sunbathing and libations. The mountains may have lost out on some custom this year, but on days like these, they earn back at the bar some of what they might not have made in ticket sales. A few more such warm days, and the snow will melt away – hopefully not before I get a couple more such fine mornings in on the mountain. I’ve ski’d barely half my usual total this year (finishing the Smiths book and my Boston Marathon training have had much to do with it) but every day has been a beauty. Go figure. Better yet, go visit your local mountain while it’s still open.