The sleet is coming down almost horizontally. It’s just cold enough that it freezes on contact, coating the railings of the tram dock with a solid, immediate layer of ice. I have come home to Cannon Mountain, N.H., for Christmas after becoming one of those people who leave New England for bigger mountains and deeper snow out West. I thought the Rockies had made me tough—patrolling at A-Basin, backcountry missions that call for two kinds of crampons, that kind of thing.
But yesterday it was so cold my cheeks were blue and waxy by the first run. I didn’t even last till noon. Today, the temperatures are just high enough that it’s raining instead of snowing. The tram is packed shoulder to shoulder with people wearing trash bags over their jackets. We unload, and I debate a 9:30 a.m. trip to the bar.
By the time I buckle my boots, the people wearing Hefty bags are already skiing. They are having an awesome time, even though it is, objectively, horrible out. “At least it’s not too cold!” they say to each other as they shake raindrops off their goggles and head up for another lap. I shiver and swing my hands to get the blood flowing. The same ice that coats the railing now coats my goggles. I could probably use those crampons now. This place, with its freezing rain and wind and steeps and state- run lack of bullshit, is what makes you tough. I just had to come home to realize it.