Sunday, June 5, 2016

My Journey to the 200 Day Ski Season

I still don't believe it.

Yesterday, just like any other day, I went skiing in the morning before work.
Only it wasn't like any other day, not even the littlest bit.  Not even at all.

As I sat in the drivers seat of my car and pushed the ignition, I noticed that my right hand was shaking.  Violently.  My left hand was shaking, too.  And in that moment I realized that my protein shake was not as settled in my stomach as I had first believed.  My heart was pounding and I was either going to vomit or burst into tears.  I did neither.  

A Perfect Day
Until I was driving up the Killington Road and saw the snow.
  
Then I lost it.

Dressed up for the Big Day
Not my breakfast, thank goodness, but any control I had over my emotions what so ever.  I let the tears fall, letting my chest heave violently up and down as I pulled into the parking lot at K1.  The sky was a stunning blue and the green mountains, only recently having popped, were showing off their sparkling plushness that seemed to come alive in the slight breeze.  It was an absolutely perfect day for earning my 200th day of skiing and I was going to let my soul take me on the adventure of a lifetime.  

4 June 2005: My Dad skiing the fast grass way before Candide 



This emotional roller coaster had started a little over a week before, when my mom discovered a collection of photographs hidden in my dad's desk from his first time skiing in the month of June.  He had been captivated by my tales of hiking up after the lifts had closed and skiing until naught but the tiniest patch remained.  The combined excitement of skiing with his dog and checking another month of skiing off his list was too great.  So, on 4 June 2005, my dad  & his golden retriever, Ripper, joined Vespi and I on his first (but definitely not his last) earned turned adventure.  He wore jeans.  I was on teles.  And the dogs were beyond stoked to finally get a chance to ski together.  

It was one of my best days of skiing ever. And I'm pretty sure it was dad's idea to ski the fast grass that first time - he joked about having to do some patchwork.  We theorized about leaving no patch un-skied and would walk back up to a little section if gravity pulled us past her, while the dogs ran and rolled and frolicked like dogs will do.  There is a sense of freedom in manipulating each little patch in an attempt to ski every square foot of available snow while the lifts hang quietly above us.

May 2013: Earning Turns in the Rain
This was the type of adventure we would repeat every spring, my dad and I.  If my dad was in Killington and there was snow, he wanted to ski.    It no longer mattered if the lifts were running; in fact, we often had more fun in spite of the closure.    There was snow to be skied and we had better ski it.  One year, we skied in the pouring rain at the end of May because that was the day he was able to make things work to be here.  So the raincoats went on.  And skiing we went.

Then I looked again at the date.  June 4th.  When my mom found the photos, I would have to ski every day I would get my 200th day on June 4th.  It was too much of a coincidence for my mom to randomly find these pictures, with this date with a little more than a week to go before my big day.  There was no longer any question about relaxing and letting the days come as they may.  It was now a done deal.  June 4th would be my day 200.  Only I wasn't sure that my mind and body would be prepared for the onslaught of memories that would haunt me on the ascent.  
It's safer with the bug net

The journey up to the top of Skye Peak was the hardest I have ever hiked.  It felt as though the weight of 37 years of ski memories were riding in my backpack, weighing me down more than my skis ever did.  Each step felt like what I imagine climbing the Himalayas without oxygen would be.  With no one or no dog beside me, my thoughts were at the mercy of my backpack, and the memories poured over my head whether I wanted them to or not.

But I was wrong.  It wasn't a haunting.  It was wonderful.  Every memory, from every era of my life, was filled with laughter and happiness on the slopes.  From the beginning with my great Uncle Jerry and his Billy the Kidd hat ... to ducking ropes at Vernon Valley with my dad ... to Thursday nights jumping off chairlifts at Sterling Forest ... to dyeing our hair green at the NE Championships championships for Deerfield ... to analyzing technique at ski school with the instructors (no matter if I was one of them or a student myself) ... to constantly skipping gate training to play in Echo Woods ... to being part of an extended family that loves skiing ... to spending days without poles but with a trail of Hopefuls or Ministars behind ... to convincing my bestie that ski bum life is the best life possible ... to grabbing the best pow in the best waterbars on the best day of the best worst winter ever ... to the first day my dad put his skis on again months after discovering he had cancer ... to finding that one person with whom I could spend the rest of my life making turns ... Skiing has brought me nothing but the most wonderful part of my life.  I have never spent a bad day skiing, even the day I wrecked my ACL or when the snow couldn't really be called snow.  I laughed on those days, too.

A few years later ... and dad's still in jeans
Photo Credit: Will Rizzuto
Throughout my life, I have struggled to "fit in" and find my place.  Probably because I was never mentally anywhere but Killington anyways.  My TPS yearbook listed my "Where Found" as Killington Resort, but it took me until my now long-time boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go skiing with him on my first day teaching at Ramshead to realized that this is where I belong.  And so here, in Killington, I stayed.

Over the past 15 years living in Killington, I finally felt at home and at peace and in a place that I could finally be myself.  Yes, my emotions still swing violently with the changes in weather.  For some reason, I still get extremely depressed in April as the snow begins to melt but am then reenergized when May rolls around and plenty of snow remains and the next bike & paddle & golf & hike begins.  But most everyone here does also.

Living the ski bum lifestyle in Killington, I have made some of the best friends and ski buddies from simple chairlift rides or the passing of a bowl or a flask of Jack.  I've learned that it doesn't matter who you are, where you are from, what age your are or what you do, as long as you love skiing (snowboarding or telemarking), you are okay by me.  Well, unless it's a powder day.  There is a common bond that mountain people share, a clear acceptance that a life connected to the mountains is a far more peaceful and wonderful way to live.

Life is simple.  If we cannot ski, what is the point?  If we should spend our days in search of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then we should ski.  And we should ski with the ones we love.  Over the past 37 years, I have skied some of the most disgusting and most amazing conditions with the best of friends, ski buddies and family.  I have never felt so happy as when I was making turns on the mountains with the ones that I love.  And so we make commitments to ski and to our ski family. Somewhere in the back of my head, is my dad's voice, asking me how the skiing was today ... and wishing he had been there, with me.  If he were here, he would be skiing. How could I let him down?  How could I not go out skiing and get today's ski report for him?  


On this day, even though I was completely alone, my soul sought to remind me as long as I am skiing, I will never be alone.  And so my subconscious released all the memories at once.  My mom sent me texts from her needlepoint shop all the way up: "Go, Mer, Go!"  Barb was up there somewhere, while a Stray Flake was hiking for his turns, an awesome couple of Beers greeted the conclusion of my grassy descent with a standing ovation from the U-Bars and I was greeted with so much love on social media.  As I continue to relive every amazing and stupid moment I have spent with all of you on the mountain, I am nothing but grateful.

This blogpost is my thank you note to everyone with whom I have ever made a turn, ridden a lift or been on a ski adventure.  Each one of you has taught me something about myself and skiing, have brought me a little closer to nirvana and exposed the depths of my soul.  If it wasn't for you, I would just be a crazy woman in the mountains.


As I finished my run, I screamed, bouncing up and down in joy, stopping shaking just long enough to click out of my bindings and then collapsed to the ground with pure mental and physical exhaustion.  My entire body was shaking and I felt as though I was gasping for air.  For a day that I have never really thought would come, Day 200 turned out to be way too intense for me. I have spent my whole life trying to squeeze more and more skiing out of every season, manipulating jobs and school to make it work.  I don't think my mom realized, all those many years ago, the effect that her writing our first initials on a calendar to mark a day on snow would have on my life.  

2016: My turn for some fast grass


I cried the entire hike up.
I cried for all those with whom I no longer have the honor of skiing: my Great Uncle Jerry, My Dad, Vespi, my sister, my Cousin Megan, and so many who have moved away or we have lost.
I cried because the vastness of the memories is overwhelming.  
I cried because I cannot believe how unbelievably fortunate I am to have such a wonderful life in the mountains and have a ski bum boyfriend to share it with.
I cried because I really am pretty much that crazy mountain woman you avoid on the street.
4 June 2005

Day 200: 4 June 2016
Photo Credit: Rick Beers





I cried for pretty much the whole damn day.


Except when I was skiing.


Then I couldn't stop that grin from taking over my face.








Thank you so much to everyone who has ever strapped skis on their feet and thrown themselves down a mountain with me.  You have taught me so much about both skiing and life.

I wish you all happiness in the only way I can gift it: I wish you all more days on snow than you had last year.

I love you all and cannot wait to ski with you again next season.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains
Within You,
Merisa

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tuckerman Ravine 2016



We made it to Tuckerman Ravine this year!

That's all I could think about as we hiked up the work road style trail with all our backcountry ski and camping gear strapped to our backs.  It's a long slog up the first part of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, but made even longer when the rubber on the YakTracks that I found lying on the trail out to Pico Pond several years ago finally decide they were going to snap.  So after hobbling up the icy sections for a while, the Boyfriend rigged the first, then the second and finally a third snap back together with the binding force of the universe: duct tape.  Our oaks weighed less than 50 pounds, but after virtually no skinning this past winter, my body felt completely out of shape.  Did this feel like the worst ascent ever?  Yes.  Did the boyfriend break his ascent record?  Yes.  And I say yes with a huge smile, after more than six years leaving with a traumatic brain injury, having him lead the ascent was a ginormous success!
A much less snowy Left Gully & Center of Tuckerman Ravine

But the real excitement, especially in this dirth of a snowfall year, was that there was enough natural snow for us to try and ski the ravine in the first place.  Since our own resort of Killington relied so heavily on snowmaking after receiving less than half of their worst snowfall record ever, we were extremely worried.  But - low and behold - we would not have to miss a ski season at Tuckerman Ravine.  Even if the entire right side was closed due to the dangers of falling ice and undermined snow, we would still get to experience the White Mountains and the mecca that is Tux.

So how much snow was there, really?  Well, I like to judge by the amount of snow surrounding the water pump at Hermit Lake.  Growing up playing with the pump at my camp, I find a strange peacefulness in having to pump the water through iron pipes and into my Nalgene.  Most years, the pump sits at the bottom of a 3-4 foot dug out hole.  This year: nothing.  There was a base, but instead of feet it was mere inches.  I could have filled an entire roll of film just comparing snow depths.  The cairn leading to the shelter was completely exposed, yet there was still frozen water on Hermit Lake itself.  While the summit had been free of snow for weeks before we arrived, we awoke our first morning to snow at the Chocolate Factory (our nickname for the summit towers).  As we ascended up the practically snowless entrance to Hillmans Highway, it was a lovely contrast to see the snow covered summit.

The Boyfriend arriving at the base of Hillmans Highway.  Mount Washington is the snowy mound in the distance.





But we were there, not to gawk at the snow, but to ski it.  And so we did.  Extremely carefully.  With so much undermined and rotting snow, it was essential to hike up the trail you were going to ski down in order to study what was around you.  And so, our ascent up Hillmans was filled with comments back and forth about this waterfall peeking through and that waterfall not quite showing yet, so lets not try and go that way on the descent kind of thing.  Luckily for us, one of the caretakers also decided to ski Hilllmans that morning, so we chose the safest descent route: hers.  It was definitely not one smooth run filled with whoops and hollers.  It was a pick your way, stay close but not too close, manipulative ascent.  The only goal was to ski safely.  It was an exhausting, mental exercise, but a successful one.  I was grateful for all the mountaineering we have done and the knowledge we have gained, but it also made us aware of how small we are in the real world.  The east coast might be small, but it packs a mighty punch.

I know this, because I forgot my big puffy jacket.  And I was freezing both nights.  Like hypothermic freezing.  Each night, as I was practically in tears from the cold, we discussed going down to the car and giving up on our Tuckerman Ravine experience this year.  It was a conversation we needed to have, but I would have stayed up all night doing jumping jacks and burpees if it meant we could stay.  Wonderfully, the boyfriend loaned me his extra warm puffy coat for the night and we snuggled to stay warm. There are indeed advantages of winter camping with your spouse.  It was yet another reminder to me that it is the simple act of consciousness in our activities and lives that make the small differences.  If we had paid close attention on Hillmans, we could have ended up downstream under the snow.  And I can bet you that I will never again forget my big puffy coat.  Watch me be extra cautious now and pack that coat for 50 degree nights canoe camping this summer.  Especially in the life and death situations of winter camping, attentiveness to the small details will have the biggest effect on the success of your mission.

We spent the remainder of the trip enjoying the mountains, spending our first nights - of what will hopefully be at least 31 - outside for the year and playing in the bowl partially filled with snow.  There is something to be said for just taking some time to sit in the ravine and soak in the entire experience.  We watched the ski-mo crew run laps around the young boy without crampons struggling to make his first ascent ever up Left Gully, while the mom tried to avoid the creepy guys while she waited for her husband and daughter to make a second run without her.  Killington Mountain School showed up with the entire school.  And then there was us, quietly ascending and descending, just celebrating another wonderful ski season spent in the mountains.



May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,
Merisa


Friday, May 13, 2016

The Three Saranac Lakes: Canoe Tripping Early Season in the Adirondacks

The off-season in any resort town is wonderful.  The pace of business slows down and residents have more energy to spend on their own adventures.  For the boyfriend and I, this means ski trips to Tuckerman Ravine and canoe tripping in the Adirondacks.  While the trips to Tux are exciting and exhausting, they are certainly not as relaxing as camping on an island in the middle of a lake in the middle of nowhere.

With temps last week scheduled to be in the 70s, we packed up our dry bags and set off to paddle the big water of the Adirondacks.  For us, the "big water" is the trio of Saranac Lakes, where motorboats and jet skis rule the waters during the summer.  But off-season, before the trees have filled in and the kids are out of school, the Saranac Lakes are more of a quiet backcountry adventure than a constant Fourth of July celebration.  The waters are calm and you can hear the various bird calls, see the bald eagles fly overhead and watch the frogs playing frogger as you paddle the Saranac River.
For this trip, we decided to set up camp on one of our favorite island on Middle Saranac, a quick 3 hour paddle upstream and through the Upper Locks.  This would give us the opportunity to make a huge day trip on Wednesday with almost 3 miles of portaging.  Weight makes a difference - and the last time we had done these portages we definitely had the wrong boats!  The boyfriend ended up with bruises on his biceps from carrying his 60 pound kayak, while I had a massive headache from my solo canoe bouncing on the top of my head for miles.  I remember feeling that no one must ever do these carry routes because our first experience was so horrible.  Not this time.  This time, with our 38 pound Northstar Northwind 16, these two seemingly long portages were so easy it was laughable.  Don't get me wrong, 1.5 miles portages are nothing to laugh about - especially when one is up and over an Adirondack hill - but the experience was so exponentially better it was amazing!  It just goes to show how far our canoe tripping skills have come ... and how much we still have to learn!
The Northwind seems to be a great canoe for us - finally!  The short length gives us maneuverability in the tight portages of the Adirondacks while the shape of the hull gives us increased stability in the often white capped waters.This time, with our 38 pound Northstar Northwind 16, these two seemingly long portages were so easy it was laughable.  Don't get me wrong, 1.5 miles portages are nothing to laugh about - especially when one is up and over an Adirondack hill - but the experience was so exponentially better it was amazing!  It just goes to show how much we still have to learn!  But the Northwind 16 seems to be a great canoe for us - finally!
The short length gives us excellent
maneuverability in the tight portages of the Adirondacks while the shape of the hull gives us increased stability in the often white capped waters.  The view from our island was simply stunning.  One of the few islands in the Adirodacks that is simply a tall mound.  The kind of mound that your bear cache will simply roll down from the top straight into the water if you don't figure out a flat enough space.  I am pretty sure this is the campsite where I sorrowfully watched one of my dry bags full of dry clothes roll down the island into the water.  I was NOT making that mistake again!  That damned slippery Bear Cache was not going anywhere!
While paddling a marathon over three days is always a great excitement, our favorite part is always just sitting on the shoreline at our campsite, staring out at the water while we relax and recover from life and paddling.  It is the many colors of the slowly sinking sunset that we watch as we sip on hot toddies and chocolate, nibbling on whatever weird concoction we were eating that night.  My favorite is still the couscous with coconut flakes, dried pineapple pieces, a little dried milk, nuts and lots of curry!




May You Find 
the Spirit of the Mountains 
Within You 




One must take time to listen 
or one will never hear 
what the mountain has to say.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Celebrating the Shittiest Ever Ski Year





I wake up this April morning
Finally, the ground sprinkled with white
I pull the covers over my head
trying to block out the brightness of the light

This has not been the season I wanted
This has not been the season of snow
This has not been the season I needed
So many times I wanted not to go.

The snow has been nonexistent 
The trails filled primarily with ice
My soul has taken a beating
Mother Nature has been very much less than nice

My soul has been on a roller coaster,
and it hasn't liked the ride
The joy of skiing comes from within,
to convince myself I have tried.

And tried.  And Cried.  And tried again.
A jedi master I am not.
the only thing I've ve got from this winter
Is a runny nose filled with gooey gross snot.

This season has been exhausting
Everyday trying to find the fun
Then talking to others on the east coast
Only to find out their seasons are done.



Sure there have been good days.
I can count them: there have been 4
Even one "over the head" power day
but we were all asking for more.

I can't count how many times 
I've skied in the god damn rain
Or when my snowboard slipped on ice
and I walked away with shooting pain

My Soul is linked to winter,
My happiness comes from snow,
I'm a ski bum completely off balance
Searching for my lost inner glow

I have laughed a lot this winter,
that much is certain.
When the skiing sucks this bad,
Even I can't wait for the final curtain.

And then I remember -

There is so much more to winter
than skiing and snow
There's the lifestyle and the people
that make the season go 


So don't give up on winter,
or the ski season just yet,
the best part is coming
or did you forget?

Spring Parties are Coming!!
mogul challenge with lots of beer
It's time to celebrate the final moments
Of the shittiest ever ski year. 

Let's get out the Shot Skis
and Raise them up High
So that all through next winter,
Snow will fall from the sky.

Let's drink toasts to 
Snow Meiser, Jack Frost and Ullr, 
Let's celebrate Krom, Mother Nature, 
and even cranky Old Man Winter.

Toast them with vodka,
tequila, whiskey and rum
Be careful now, 
you wouldn't want to miss a single one.


Get your ass up here,
to the mountains of ice,
show winter that we still love her
so that next year she will be nice.

Come to Vermont and celebrate!
You don't have to make a single turn
Let's celebrate the end of this stupid season
and the snow for which we yearn.

I will Snow Dance with you in the parking lot,
And take a few spring bump runs on the hill,
I'll raise a shot ski for winter
And Pray for Snow until ......

The Shittiest Ever Ski Year will be over,
Thank goodness that will soon be true.
And we shall tell our great-grandchildren:
it was our love of skiing that got us through.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains,
Merisa
Photo Credit: SnowGunJunkie




Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Skiing is Skiing, No Matter How Much Snow

There's not a lot of snow, they say.
In fact, it hasn't snowed at all, they say.
There isn't that much open, they say.
The Skiing is Boring, they say.

WHAT?!
I'm Sorry, What did you say?!

The skiing is boring?
You have to be wrong!
There isn't snow everywhere ...
well let me explain with a song:

Skiing is Skiing,
no matter how much snow
We turn left and we turn right,
it doesn't matter how far we go.

Every DAY it is different
Every TRAIL its own way
Every TURN's a new challenge
Every DAY you get to play

I am having a sweet time,
my ski buddies and I,
we are laughing and skiing
and sometimes I even cry.

We make our own fun,
as we play in the snow,
we don't need steeps or powder
we can go fast or even slow.

All we need is snowmakers and lifties,
just to make everything go.
And groomers, ski patrol, & park crew
to help us play in the snow.

Skiing is Skiing,
no matter how much snow
We turn left and we turn right,
it doesn't matter how far we go.

We ride the poma, the gondi 
and the really slow chair
And on the way down,
we feel the wind in our hair.

There is no reason for stopping,
unless you can't feel your legs.
We not moping in the house,
with the doldrums and dregs.

We are the ones out skiing
and having a blast.
As long as there is some manmade
and we can go really fast

My friends and I will be on the mountain,
having a hell of a time,
We'll be laughing and screaming,
and feeling wicked fine.

Because Skiing is Skiing,
no matter how much snow.
We turn left and we turn right,
It doesn't matter how far we go.

So when you're sitting at home
complaining of the weather,
just remember you could be skiing
Floating down the mountain light as a feather.


May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,
Merisa





Thanks for Reading!!

and thanks for all the great comments :)