Sometimes in ski country we just don’t ski. We don’t feel well, or we don’t feel like it. It’s too cold or it’s too warm. The light is flat, or we just feel flat. The skis stay in the closet, or in the car, or on the rack. It’s a lost day.
But is it really lost? Is a day in the mountains without skiing really a lost day? To ask the question is to answer it. Of course it’s not.
There’s the guilty pleasure of sleeping in. There’s the innocent pleasure of a hearty breakfast that really is brunch. There’s a book to read, a letter to write, a movie to watch. Plus there’s the fire. There’s nothing like a fire in the country. It lights up our lives even as it warms the living room.
Not so long ago we found ourselves in the White Mountains on what must be considered a horrible day, maybe the worst of the winter. Here is the parade of weather conditions that day: A little snow, then a lot of rain, then a little snow, then more rain. It was, the meteorologists told us, a wintry mix. It was, our eyes told us, a wintry mess.
It made us think of the title of one of our kids’ favorite children’s book, Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
Tough luck. No skiing today for us and, it turned out, for most of the rest of the people who had traveled up north for a holiday weekend. Over on the mountain — actually over on where we thought the mountain might be, but for the fog — there was little activity. On closer inspection we did see three people coming down the slopes. The word fools passed our lips.
What we did that morning was take a walk. It was actually three walks. The first was in the snow. The second was in the rain. The third was in the slush. By the time we returned to the house, we were soaked to the bone. Soaked — but happy. We had been outdoors. We got some exercise. We got to describe some other people as fools. We had that heady feeling or relief that those fools were not related to us. Other times they were.
Then we had lunch. Hot chocolate, later. A little nap. Some reading by the fire. A lot of tending to the fire. That is what you do with a rainy/snowy/slushy day in ski country. You don’t ski. You relax.
There was a time when I reacted with anger, or maybe just profound irritation, when I heard raindrops on the roof in January. I knew, of course, that skiing that day was a fantasy, and I amused or comforted myself with the notion — purely of my imagination, with no scientific evidence whatsoever or even observation — that the skiing was always great the day after a good rain.
For years I comforted myself with that conceit. My kids didn’t contradict me; those were the years (and there weren’t many of them) when they thought old Dad knew what he was talking about. My wife didn’t contradict me; she knew that was pointless, for the only household subject in which my knowledge and wisdom trumped hers was skiing. Skiing is great after a rain? What’s the harm in believing that?
This last coronavirus year we all had a chance to test the principle that a lost ski day didn’t mean a lost day. Most of us felt an actual ski day that involved social distancing and putting on our boots on a lawn chair in the parking lot was not the sort of ski day we dream about in August. So we did a lot of sitting, and yearning, and maybe venturing out to the slopes on a weekend day when no one was around.
But it wasn’t the usual routine. But in experiencing a different routine, we came to understand something profound, that the old routine was not so much a routine as a reverie. It reminded us how great were ordinary ski days, how terrific were the mornings when we awakened to see a fresh blanket of snow, how fabulous it was to crowd into a tram at Cannon, or to ride the chair with strangers at Bretton Woods, or to see the single chair over at Mad River as an antique rather than as a prescription for COVID safety.
We learned a lot in the virus year, just as we learned a lot in the days when the rains came and some old codger tried to convince others that the skiing was fabulous the day after a rain. But we learned, too, that the skiing was fabulous the year after the virus.
It wasn’t a lost year, just as my wintry-mix day wasn’t lost. Both were investments. Investments in hope, and dreams, and in the knowledge that better days were coming. The skiing is great the day after a hard rain. The skiing is great the year after a cruel virus.
Skiing, after all, is believing. ′