While riding the chairlift the other day, a strange notion dawned on me. The season could be more than halfway over.
Impossible. It just started.
“Let’s think about this,” I thought. My brother-in-law, who’s fortunate enough to call one of the condos at the base of the hill home, and who makes a point of making at least a couple of runs every day, had 78 days in (that jerk). On my home hill, the lifts spin 112 days this year. Even subtracting the few-odd days when the lifts were closed and he hiked up, the math told a stark tale: Only one-third of the lift-served season remained.
Once again, full denial.
Searching for a truth more convincing than the abstractions of mathematics, I dove into the far reaches of my memory. On Dec. 5, a neighboring mountain had received enough snow to claim first-opening honors. After COVID-19 shut down the 2020/21 season early, I remember thinking that it seemed like a miracle to even be on the snow at all.
I guess that day seems like it might have happened a while ago. Sort of.
The early season is full of increasing excitement. Excitement for a procession of storms that slowly covers the brush in the middle of the runs. That slowly obscures stumps and saplings. That opens up new terrain and buries everything but the pines.
It’s constant anticipation for what the mountain can be as 20-lap groomer days bring back strength and confidence.
And then, at some hard-to-define point, it feels like the mountain is fully open. Sometimes it happens around New Year’s Day. Sometimes a little later. This year, with plentiful soft snow up top but slower accumulation down low, it was mid-February before I found myself smiling and knowing that I could ski nearly any creek drainage, or “gully” in the local parlance, on the hill.
Maybe that’s what had created the illusion that the season had only just begun. But that’s only part of it.
Peeling back the layers a little bit deeper reveals more than a little self-deception. I have to admit that I’m scared for the time when days spent feeling like a giant 5-year-old come to an end. Days spent scaring myself silly with friends old and new in an alpine world of adventure. Where a massive ecosystem of mountain staff – lifties, food service workers, instructors, patrollers, groomers and so many more roles and people that it boggles the mind to think of all them at once – are nothing but stoked to see smiles on patrons’ faces.
The joy is synergistic. And I’m far from alone in my dependence on that relationship.
The season is more than halfway over, but, as the great Shane McConkey said as the fat lady sang, “I’m not done yet.”
At my home mountain, there are 34 more days that lifts will spin. Looking at the NOAA page that I check at least five times every day, there is more snow on the way for at least the next 1½ weeks. Storms happening well into April and even May are not unheard of. And sunny spring days with their corn snow are a pleasure.
But summer inevitably comes. You readers who never tire of the sport know the vacancy that the end of the ski season leaves because there’s nothing remotely like it. Even at my slightly past-prime age and less-than-world-class ability, skiing is pure joy and thrill. It may be about as serious as “Crocodile Rock” and serve no constructive purpose, but that’s all the better.
There’s one-third of the season left, it’s still winter on the hill, and it’s time to get on it like it’s going out of style.
It may well be later than you realize.
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