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Tyranny of a Skier’s Winter

Fall Line

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For anyone who lives in a ski

town, that old cliché rings true: You came to the mountains for the winters; you stayed in the mountains for the summers. But to the rest of the ski world—and the vast majority of us who schlep to the slopes crammed into a car or shoehorned into an airplane seat—visiting the hills after the snow melts isn’t so rote.

I’m a case in point. While I’ve skied nearly as long as I’ve walked, it wasn’t until my 16th year that I fell in love with the high country in the summer. I was raised in a certain era, you see. And in New England, to boot. There were rules to live by: You skied all winter and sailed all summer. In winter, your summer house was boarded up as you moved your recreational operation to the mountains. In the summer, the winter house was closed. Never the twain would meet.

Until my 16th summer. That’s when I headed cross-country with friends. We traversed the northern regions of the U.S. on the way out—all the way from Massachusetts to California—then looped south on the way home. We experienced a lot of life on that road trip, but it wasn’t until we pulled into Jackson, Wyo., that I really felt a seismic life-shift.

I’d skied Jackson, but this was a new world. The colors—ridiculously green compared to the white slopes I knew—were intoxicating. Even the air smelled different. We had planned on only two days there, but I begged my friends for more. We hiked everything in sight.

In my journal, the page from a day spent trekking the high country stands out. It is stained with some kind of berry juice, next to which I wrote, “There’s something about this fruit I’ve just picked and eaten that tastes transformational. I’ve been on mountains all my life, but this moment feels defining.” That moment in Jackson stayed with me. In my world of addicted winter skiers and obsessed summer sailors, no one had ever even hinted at the wonders of the mountains after the snow melts.

I soon met a guy from the less comfortable side of town. He didn’t even ski. In fact, during one of our first times on skis together, his Sears-purchased boards (Sears!) snapped on the first run.

At some point later, I mentioned my family’s mountain home, and how we only opened it in the winter for skiing. He was astonished. “You have a big house in the mountains and you’ve never been there in the summer? That’s stupid.”

I ended up marrying the guy, and we’ve raised two girls, making a point of breaking free from the tyranny of a skier’s winter. We took them to the mountains across all seasons, quickly learning how to embrace and enjoy whatever the mountains gave us that weekend. It remains one of the greatest ironies of our sport that many of its most passionate followers never set foot in their favorite mountain playgrounds all summer.

We now shake our heads at skiing friends who continue to ignore the high country until the flakes fall. And it took a nonskier to teach me that lesson.

MARCH 2008