How many years with my husband are enough? How much money is enough? How much love is enough? How much vacation is enough?
Or, the question that is haunting my every waking moment now and for the last week: How much skiing is enough?
The end is here. It’s all over but the crying. I may be able to ski on Monday, maybe on Tuesday, but that’s it. The week of 60+ degree temperatures and the rain have completely trashed the mountain. There are huge bare patches on every run. Last night it got cool enough for the hill to set up and harden. Today the forecast promised clear skies. What we received was something entirely different, and something no one had anticipated. Unfortunately, it was not a snowstorm.
What we had was an overcast sky at the base, and a dense fog – again – settling on the middle of the mountain. After the hair-raising experience of skiing utterly blind down the mountain yesterday, I was cautious and took a mid-mountain lift up for my first run. As it lofted us into the boiling mist, my lift-buddy and I chatted about the rapidly deteriorating surface and what it meant for the Season. And we cursed the fog. But, he said, have you been to the summit today?
No, I said, I didn’t want to deal with another blind descent.
Oh, no, he said, you really need to go to the top. Do it right away.
How could I resist this? Of course, I skied down the run, cursing the fog with every turn, and headed for the summit lift. The line there was buzzing in a way it usually isn’t. Have you been to the summit? It’s amazing. No, but I heard it was incredible. Oh, yes, if you have a camera, take it. This conversation played out like Brownian motion – every word you could hear spoken by anyone in the lift line belonged to it, somewhere.
This was a first for me. The usual lift-chatter is “Has anyone been down X run? What are the conditions?” or – this year – “This weather is terrible, but aren’t the snow-makers and groomers doing an amazing job?” It’s not vague, cryptic stuff from the season pass-holders like “Oh my God, you have to go to the summit” in the same tones one usually associates with Munchkins speaking of the Emerald City.
I was positively burning with curiosity by the time I boarded the lift. No one would attempt to explain just what was so astonishing about the summit. They just said they couldn’t possibly describe it. “Take your camera” they said.
I curse myself that I did not have my helmet cam today so that I can share what I found there with everyone. I am certain that I lack the powers of description necessary to take you there. But I will try.
The lift, first, lofted us into the same pea-soup boiling fog we had yesterday. At some point, unnoticed, the fog gave way to clouds. And then the clouds gave way to a sparkling clear blue sky…and they did so at once. There was no more transition from cloud to blue sky than there is when you turn a page in a book. One moment we were in it, the next we were out.
Where do the angels on Jacob’s ladder cross into eternity? Where is the line between love and hate? Where is the line between heaven and earth?
For us, it was it was 200 feet below the summit. Beyond that line was the peak of the mountain, covered with glittering white snow, standing in sharp relief against a sky blue enough to drown in and a warm yellow sunshine pouring down and lighting everything up. And as I skied off the lift, I could only stand in awestruck amazement at what I saw. The clouds formed a completely level plain, spreading out in all directions, for miles and miles. They were thick, they were white, and they looked solid enough to step right off the mountain and walk away on them. In the distance, we could see rounded hummocks of other mountain summits rising above the field of clouds like islands in Casco Bay. And over it all, the singing blue welkin, the bottomless sky.
I shared this moment of awestruck wonder – and I mean “struck with awe” in the most literal sense possible – with dozens of other seasoned, hardened New England skiers, all of whom were also standing in slack-jawed amazement at the scene. Many of them attempting to capture it with camera phones and helmet cams, but most – like me – simply trying to capture it with memory, or possibly with words.
The only way to get this experience was either to stand about on the summit for endless hours, in ski or snowboard gear, or to stand about, and then plunge down and into the wall of clouds, and ski back to the base and make the loop all over again. Regrettably, the skiing was every bit as bad and dangerous as it was yesterday, with very low visibilities and very poor snow conditions for most of the run.
So the question became, inevitably, how much gazing in fascination, was enough?
I spent long enough at it that the vision is burned into my memory, and I hope it shall never be overwritten. You don’t get many opportunities like this, not as a living human. I’m not sure what the opportunities are outside of life, but if there’s any heaven at all, it surely will have things like this.
The vision, that is. Not the incredibly bad skiing conditions. For me, this was a two-run-and-done day. And I did that wondering if it would be my last ski day of the season, and hating that thought. I still hate that thought. I hated it after a beer, and I really hated it when Roy succumbed to the Evil Inclination and pointed out that I thought it was bad last year when it was only eight months to go, whereas this season is ending a month early, so I will be waiting nine months.
Say what you like about the man, he’s not afraid of death when it’s sitting right next to him.
This all made me think – hoping, as I said, that I will be able to go on Monday and Tuesday, or what use could Spring Break possibly be – about the season. And what stands out to me most about the season is how short it feels. I don’t just mean because it’s ending early. I suspect it would feel short even if it were ending in mid-April like it did last year.
No. What I mean is that, sitting at the bar in the base lodge, I could close my eyes and immediately be transported back to the moment I clicked into my bindings for the first time this season, and what an incredible rush of sensation came along with that. It didn’t happen three months ago. It happened yesterday, possibly last week – not more than that. It was only last that I was taking my first run with one of the hill’s ambassadors, and he was giving me some tips about the timing of my pole plants. It was only a day or two ago that I larked off to the North Face and took a black diamond as my second run of the day. It was ten minutes ago that I was ripping the packed powder on a caffeine buzz and feeling like a god at Jiminy Peak. It was no more than a breath ago that I was quaking in my boots on the icy black diamond on the powder skis.
How could it possibly have been three months? Three months seems like such a long time. And right now, it feels like nothing at all. I’m not ready. I haven’t had enough. I don’t know if I ever shall.
I really need to resist the temptation to torment myself by watching my ski videos. Then again, what deeper, more profound experience of what it means to have a human body can you have than pouring salt into a paper cut while squeezing a lemon? No. I can’t be having that. Into the box it must go, and there it must stay until it is time to ski again. Tuesday is the day, the time shall be Tuesday.
What I do know is that I’d better figure out what it was I did last year that sealed the ski season up in an airtight leak-proof vault in my mind between my last run in April and my first run in December. I can’t face the prospect of being haunted by skiing in my dreams. I think that beer will help, probably quite a lot of it. The regularly scheduled Wake for the Season is the first weekend of April, and there won’t be any snow left on the mountain worth having by that time. I can’t wait. I’ll have to just hold my own.
It won’t be enough, but it will have to do.