Venture with me and William Shakespeare deep into ski country in the sultry season of June, July and August.
Head to your favorite ski hill; you’ll need to expend no effort to find a parking space near the ticket booth, which right now is as empty as the base-lodge cafeteria line. Look up — strain your neck a bit — to the summit, bathed in midsummer sunshine, bereft of snow. And try to tell me that the whole scene doesn’t look like a “bare ruin’d choir.’’
A bare ruin’d choir, where late the sweet lifts swung. Our mountain companion Shakespeare employed the “bare ruin’d choir” image in Sonnet 73, written in 1592, precisely 400 years before Alberto Tomba won the giant slalom competition at the 1992 Albertville Olympics at Val d’Isère. He — Shakespeare, not Tomba, a different sort of ethereal poet — was speaking of the remains of a church that had fallen into disuse “as after sunset fadeth in the west.” He — Shakespeare, not Tomba — employed exactly the right metaphor for a ski area in summer:
A place of worship, out of season.
But our scene in the northern precincts of New England brings us to the penultimate line of the Shakespeare sonnet: This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong.
Ski country in summer only makes our love for our winter sport more strong.
I rambled around New England ski country early this summer as the earth warmed and the sun began to glisten, partly to feel the ancient yearnings, partly to re-infect my longings, after a COVID interregnum, for the old lodges of the East and the lodgepole pines of the ski resorts of the West. Of course it all came roaring back: that tingle in the legs, that stirring in the heart, that inexplicable surge of energy that comes with the muscle memory of cruising down the Harvey Gibson Trail at Cranmore Mountain, with the shuddering at the prospect of tackling the forbidding Tuckerman’s Chute at Jay Peak, with the re-living (and re-loving) of the heritage of the sport on the Taft Slalom Trail at Cannon Mountain, where big-mountain skiing was launched in 1932.
The very hills that provide us with skiing around Presidents Day provide us with hiking around Independence Day, and if you are a stolid resister of the charms of summer, there is some consolation: At the summit of several peaks you get a breathtaking glimpse of ski trails at the far horizon. Think of it as an appetizer for the main course, which of course is only months away.
And — surprise! — your favorite ski-weekend restaurant actually is open after the snow melts. The Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub in Glen, N.H., still has its prime-rib special on Fridays and Saturdays. Please be assured that the Sunday River Brewing Company has not run out of Ski Town Brown Ale in its well-loved venue in Bethel, Maine, just because the last run has ended. I’m partial to the Thursday evening two-for-one fish-and-chips deal at the Almost There bar and restaurant in Albany, N.H. Imagine my delight when I discovered that it’s offered in summer, too — and that you can devour those tender fries outdoors!
Then there is the shopping. I hate shopping. I hate what my wife loves about shopping: wandering endlessly in stores, nothing in particular in mind, stopping at a rack of clothes she has no intention of buying, pushing the hangers around as if she were looking for something specific when she plainly is not, lingering at displays of items that she never will take to the cashier, then moving slowly — excruciatingly slowly — to another section where the unattainable has inexplicable appeal.
Now take me to a tent sale up in the North Country in blazing hot weather. There you will see me wandering endlessly, nothing in particular in mind, stopping at a rack of clothes I have no intention of buying, pushing the hangers around as if I were looking for something specific when I plainly am not, lingering at displays of items that I never will take to the cashier, then moving slowly — excruciatingly slowly — to another section where the unattainable has inexplicable appeal.
What is it about a tent sale that lures me in, captures me, captivates me? It is one of life’s mysteries — and it is what my daughter, who spent five years in a seminary, would call a life-cycle event. I do it every summer. I’ll do it this summer. So might you.
Life cycle. Or cycling, on the mountains (you won’t ruin the trails) or on the scenic byways. I’ve come to love bicycling in that wondrous area where the back roads of Maine and New Hampshire intermarry, and where all roads seem to lead to the Stow Corner Store, where the incomparable and indefatigable Maureen Reilly presides over a chalkboard menu that groans with treats. We love the way the seafood chowda warms us in winter. It tastes just as rich after a cycling trip in summer, and the butter on the fresh mini-loaf of bread melts faster. That also works on the cornbread that was cited as the region’s best in a recent Winter Food Weekend.
Take it from Mister Winter himself: All is not lost — all has not faded into the overgrown hills of the lost ski resorts of New England — when the pages of the calendar proceed beyond March. There is charm to be felt, outings to be had, thrills to be experienced, out of season. It may be the offseason for us, but it still can be high season for fun. Try it. If nothing else, go to the tent sale. You’ll be there for hours. The happy hours are not only in the pubs or at the bar in the happy hills where late the sweet lifts swung.
David M. Shribman, executive editor emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, did not win his Pulitzer Prize for ski writing. He has skied in 14 states, three Canadian provinces and five countries — and, frequently, after classes at Dartmouth College.