I’m a Californian. I say that with my head held high, in print at least.
In person, now that I live in New England, I keep it a little quiet, lest I be struck in the head with a firm Macintosh apple. Around here, we Californians are presumed to be a little wacky, a little soft. I take some offense at the former, but fully admit to-even embrace-the latter. Born and raised on the shores of Lake Tahoe, I never found any disadvantages to warm weather, big mountains and soft snow, and I could happily have gone on dwelling amid all of the above. I appreciated the real technical aspects that an icy Eastern skiing education afforded, but planned to live out my life in ragged comfort, in the West.
Unexpectedly, I fell in love with a Vermonter, and with a single vow my destiny changed. Now, after a lifetime of bashing Eastern skiing, my future happiness depends on appreciating it. Sure, you may say, I came along after the going got easy. Man-made snow and high-tech grooming have made true blue ice a memory of yore; shaped skis have turned the nastiest wart-ridden trails into amusement park roller coaster rides; and high-speed lifts zip you through snow-gun plumes before they have a chance to glaze your goggles with ice. Still, this was not love at first sight.
Getting to know Eastern mountains is a bit like getting to know the Yankees who populate them. Their complex characters reveal themselves only with time. Big, open Western runs seem to say, “Take me, I’m yours.” Eastern trails, by their shape and contours, say, “Not so fast, pilgrim.” Rip down Stowe’s Goat with the same abandon you employ on Squaw’s North Bowl and you’ll learn the true meaning of “hardwood.” Great Eastern trails, however, reward good behavior. The cascading pitches of Stratton’s Spruce, for instance, practically pinpoint your pole plants as you wind downward, and the undulations of Burke’s Big Dipper invite cruising while chiding you to keep your feet under you.
Bonding with the mountains was one thing. Coming to terms with the weather may forever be a challenge. For two weeks when the mercury huddled somewhere below the 10 that is below the zero, I nearly lost my will to live. The indigenous people hardly made matters easier. I openly cursed the weatherman who had the nerve to chuckle through his grim arctic forecast, and I grumbled at my husband’s cheery assurances that, despite the temperature, “It should be clear,” and, “It’s not bad without the wind.” If there was a January day when the sun’s warmth contributed significantly and the wind’s chill insignificantly, I missed it.But for the sake of our two boys, who sniff a bad attitude as readily as sharks detect blood, I pretended to be strong. On the coldest of those weekends when we defied good sense and headed north to Cannon Mountain, I feigned toughness as we dropped our firstborn at ski school. Surely this was child abuse. When we retrieved him, he was shaking with cold, yet through chattering teeth he pleaded, “I want to k-k-keep g-g-going.” Clearly, I am outnumbered, by one Yankee and two little half-Yankees.My choices are clear: adapt or perish. Somebody has to do the cooking around here, so I’m opting for the former. I now dress properly, in layers of wool and fleece, neither of which were in my California wardrobe. I have embraced car seat-warmers, learned the balmy pleasure of 10 degrees after the sting of subzero, submitted to responsible ski-edge maintenance, and rediscovered the art of the slalom turn. I have my weaknesses-like begging the kids to stop for hot cocoa. And I still optimistically carry sunglasses in my purse-somewhere near my organ donor card, which I expect to need only slightly less frequently.
In early March, an unseasonably warm spell melted the 10 inches of snow flash-frozen in our yard since December. “Look Mommy,” my son shouted, pointing to a patch of brown grass. “There’s some spring showing through.” Oh no, I thought, panicked. It’s too early..
Not ready for an Eastern winter to end? This is serious. Next you’ll hear me agreeing with my husband that the snow is always really good when it’s raining. But I’ll do so quietly, lest I get pelted from the left by a volley of ripe avocados.