And so now it can be said, felt, acknowledged and celebrated: Winter. It finally is here.
But that doesn’t mean that many of us are approaching the fresh snow of this most glorious of seasons from a standing start. Not at all. We’ve been in a ski crouch — able to absorb imaginary bumps, ready for quick turns on a sharp incline — for months now.
And it didn’t require the six inches of snow that fell across northern Vermont and southern Quebec in mid-November to stoke our ski instincts. Never fully dormant, those instincts and impulses had been baking for months, under the sunshine of July, the cool nights of August, the autumn breezes of September, the creeping chill of October.
For while skiing is a sport of action, it also is one of anticipation. And in skiing as in love, the anticipation is a sentiment of great poignance — and great power.
Take it from Carly Simon, whose song “Anticipation’’ might be adapted by all of us sunshine schussers. “We can never know about the days to come,’’ she sang, “but we think about them anyway.’’ The magnificent Ms. Simon, after all, also has her own rendition of one of our favorite songs, written by the lyricist Sammy Cahn and the composer Jule Styne and made famous by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. She’s brought some corn for popping, as the 1945 ballad goes, a song that winds up in its reprise line with three repetitions of our favorite incantation: “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.’’
I’ve been waiting for this new ski season since, well, the old ski season ended. That’s part of the beauty of our winter sport. It is a sport for all seasons, even the ones when the seasonable weather offers no feasible opportunity to ski.
I know I am not alone. I see it — that unmistakable ache of anticipation — in the faces of the people who go to late-autumn ski swaps. I see it in those who wander into summertime ski tent sales. I see it in those who, in shorts and baseball caps, crowd into the new branch of the New England Ski Museum in the old community center in North Conway, N.H., right across the way from the ballfield that soon will be transformed into an outdoor skating rink with formidable ice bumps and, at night, fortifying polar breezes.
And I see it in the people who poke around ski shops in summertime, when the new equipment begins to come in, when the old models are discounted, and when the familiar confines are filled with patio furniture or mountain bikes. Those latter are just placeholders. The shiny new skis and boots will occupy that space before long.
Last autumn I visited my two favorite ski villages, one in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the other in Quebec’s Laurentians. The Granite State was gearing up for its first-in-the-nation presidential primary (set for February 2020), Quebec was awash in political signs for its 41-day federal election. But though the two villages were scenic backdrops for politics — one Quebec candidate even boasted a poster with little more than a mountain landscape and his name, perhaps more effective than the usual fare — the feeling was the same. The hills behind the politicking were for skiing, and soon they would be employed that way.
That was especially so at Mont Habitant, the tiny Quebec ski area that had been transformed, only temporarily, into a polling place. I mused to myself: I cannot be alone in knowing why, in English, they call it a polling place. For last winter I did a substantial amount of polling there myself, and gave no thought to politics, or even to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, himself a onetime snowboard instructor.
Each summer I have a ritual that involves a long drive (10 hours) and a long ski overture (five months). I take my skis from my Pennsylvania home and drive them to New Hampshire, to get a good waxing as part of a sharp tune-up. It’s part of the anticipation game: Get the gear ready, have it prepped for the first snowfall and first tracks.
Every fall I have a separate set of rituals: watching the mail for the ski magazines, then devouring them, reading about resorts I’ll never visit (in high-altitude Italy, for example) and those I know well (in lower-altitude New England, for sure); examining the newest in skis and boots (knowing I will buy neither this year, nor next); and pondering why anyone would buy the new ski fashions (mine are so fashionably out of fashion that they are firmly retro and now possess an appeal all their own, not that my kids and wife recognize the magic they hold).
And in early winter — a season that doesn’t have to start with the solstice on Dec. 21 — I await the first flake. Mine actually came in late October, in Montreal, where alighting from the Metro at the Atwater station I saw the first drop of snow fall slowly but gracefully from leaden Canadian skies. It was a tonic for the eyes and the spirit.
And so anticipation no longer is, as Carly Simon would have it, “keeping me waitin’.’’ It has arrived: Winter. I hope it will, as the song says, “stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.’’
The good old winter days, indeed.