I know what you’re thinking. It’s early in the season — very early.
You’re the only person in your circle who is even considering going skiing; the rest of them are still playing golf and hoping the warm weather holds. But not you. You’re raring to go. You hear the hillwinds swirling, you smell snow, you’ve heard that Wildcat or Killington, or maybe Stowe, maybe Bretton Woods, could be open. A run, maybe two, perhaps even four, but, still: open.
Do you go? Do you stay at home and talk about the Patriots at Dunkin’, rake the remainder of the leaves from the odd corners of the yard, put away the porch furniture, take off the bike rack? Or do you go skiing? Do you heed your inner John Muir, for are the mountains calling and you must go?
Do what you must, and if you must go, ignore the taunts of your friends, the derision of your kids, the disbelief of your spouse. But know what you will be getting, and luxuriate in its limits.
You won’t get a full mountain of open trails, that’s for certain. You won’t get a choice of lifts. The snack bar may not even be open. That’s the down side, and as a skier you know that physics, and life, has a down side, or else there would be no skiing.
The up side (and you know about that, too — it’s often a high-speed quad) is clear. There won’t be a crowd. (You’re one of the few nuts out there.) There won’t be amateurs ruining the snow and crashing, out of control, onto skiers below. (The amateurs won’t even be there, and there will hardly be any skiers below.) The brutal winds are a month in the future, and so is the brrrr of December and January. Plus, the chair won’t stop to collect beginners because there are no beginners. Indeed, there are no other fools out there but you.
I’m not saying that early skiing on limited runs is the sweet spot. I’m just saying that there is sweetness in the spot you’ll be in.
You know what the anglers say (and in truth you’re playing an angle by skiing early), so let me adapt it to our “winter” sport: A bad day skiing is better than a good day working.
Now, remember: You’ll be virtually alone. You can’t complain about the conditions; you’re the one who decided to embark on this endeavor. No one promised you a bowl of snow. And you won’t get one.
One more piece of advice: Don’t fall for the ski area’s web page saying that four trails are open. Here’s an English translation: One of those trails leads to the lift. One of them leads from the lift. And the other two? It’s just one, as in “Upper Snowdrift” and “Lower Snowdrift.” They are the same trail, just as Norma Jean Baker and Marilyn Monroe are the same person.
Let me tell you about my own experience skiing on a slender ribbon of snow when no one was about. I got there early, as readers of this column know I like to do. One trail open from the top (though it bore three different names — the New Math!). Practically empty parking lot. For the first 50 minutes I was the only skier. Call it an hour, for that is the duration of an “hour” at a psychiatrist, which my family believes I need. But think of it this way: How many times do you get to ski, even on a slender, single slope, alone for an hour? For gosh sakes, renting the Ham Ice Arena in Conway, N.H. costs $245 for an hour. You paid a fraction of that for your ski pass.
By the end of the day — and, really, with only one real slope open, your day will end early — you’ll have bragging rights, though it will be the firm conviction of your friends that you are right out of your mind. You’ll have stories that no one can contradict, because there was no one out there with you as witness. You’ll have an early start on the season, because no one else thinks the season has even begun.
And you might have a hell of a time.
But before we part, and before the ski season starts in earnest, a confession:
I’m the guy who shuddered in fear last summer when I dropped my daughter off at the South Moat Mountain trailhead in the White Mountains as she set out on a hike alone. I thought it was nuts, hiking without a companion, but there I was, skiing alone, humming a Three Dog Night song for the first time in my entire life (One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do) and hurtling down the hill by myself. And I began to wonder:
Which is worse: Being attacked by a bear that will maul your face on a White Mountains trail when you have no one to call for help, or being attacked by snow snakes — the mythical beasts of the ski slopes that can grab your ankles and send you falling — when even the ski patrol guys are nowhere to be seen?
This truly is one of life’s great mysteries. So call your minister, priest, rabbi, or imam. Hope one of them is a skier and will have an answer for you. You do not get answers to life’s biggest questions on the back page of a regional ski magazine.