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