Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Good Bye Friend, Hello Friend

As you may or may not have witnessed on skis, we have been blessed the last couple of weekends with great skiing. Really, I mean really nice mid-winter conditions, grooming and snow surfaces, thanks due to the little snow cycle we were in and our veteran groomer Dale Monthony. Watching the weather, however, we knew some rain was coming and we had done all that we could to prepare and insulate our precious ski-base, including closing the trail system for Wednesday. Sure enough, some precipitation had come in the overnight, raindrops dripped off the roof, rain soaked into our fresh packed powder snow, rain dampened my normally impenetrable spirit (just a little). No such thing as wet powder -- it was wet, plain and simple. Working in the quiet shop, I was encouraged when the local Senior Snowshoe group of about 25 came in for their planned hike. They were unaffected by the weather, and I liked that -- they are a vivacious bunch of kids at heart. They organized and filtered out in groups onto our snowshoe trail system and it became quiet again. Too quiet -- I was glum, in the dumps, I was saying goodbye to the wonderful winter powdery conditions we so thoroughly enjoyed just 24 hours previous, like saying goodbye to a close friend.

Sitting at the computer doing my work, I was intermittently aware of the tap tap tap outside, the relentless quiet drip of water off the roof, steady as a metronome. Though the rain had stopped, it was still warm and snow was melting on the roof panels. My mind and eye were drawn away from the tasks at hand, looking outside throughout the day, doing ski shop-guy kinds of things but wanting to be doing ski-guy kinds of things, lamenting the transformation of all of that nice soft fluffy powder. While working through the tasks of answering emails, ordering products, getting race details set, sanding parking lots and other such things, my mind kept wandering, drifting way off over the ridge just outside the shop walls. Toward the end of the day it was bleak as I lost all concentration. The draw was inescapable -- it was time to go.

At times when my restlessness gets the best of me, I often make haste and head for the hills. As I caved into my desire to ski, I figured the best soft snow would be on the backcountry Botheration Pond loop via William Blake Pond -- it had just been transformed to mashed potato snow, perfectly ripe for my Madshus Epoch backcountry fat skis. Now, being the responsible ski-shop guy that I am, I do my best to preach preparedness and safety to all skiers. Being the restless ski-guy that I am, I just grabbed my trusty backcountry skis and split. No water, no backpack, no headlamp; just jeans and a light in my heart -- just the kind of stuff that makes my friendly Forest Ranger Steve shake his head... I wasn't even sure what time it was, other than that it was time to go.

I had been itching to get into the backcountry for some time now. I've often said that one of the greatest things about our little slice of Adirondack heaven here is our proximity to the wilderness area. Though we do have an exceptional groomed Nordic ski trail system, beyond our facility is yet more opportunity for you for boundless adventure on skis and snowshoes, right from our door! It is a special place to me, and climbing up past William Blake Pond, soft camber skis gripping the wet snow and springing me forward, the feel underfoot was wholly different from my skating skis on our groomed trails. It was soft, it was heavy, it sloshed off the tops of my skis and enveloped the wide baskets of my poles as they sunk through, the canopy of trees overhead welcoming, opening a line of sight as I crested the beaver pond just above William Blake. Skiing back here is uniquely different: singletrack width, dips and rises, obstacles to navigate, different technique and different skis. At it's element, it is sliding around on skis. In the moment, it is the deep flex of the skis through dips and off-cambers, crossing a frozen pond, bounding uphill, slicing through trees downhill milking speed and momentum from the undulations of the ground. Boundless tract, pushing the confines of your abilities and imagination, stretching the apexes of turns and slinking though rock outcrops and decision-making, the smell of pine and snow and moss on trees.

At the intersection for Halfway Brook Trail, I've got to either go for it or turn around. Turn right and I am committed to a nearly 5 mile trail that would bring me out to Old Farm Road intersection ( and still over 2 ski miles away from the shop from there). Turn around and I'll be disappointed that I gave up. The trail to here has had pretty good coverage at this point, except where the pines were thick. Going forward would be more of the same, with less and less light. I take that into consideration and press onward, slinking into a sequence of really fun mellow downhills with nice turns and gentle climbs. I have skied this trail so many times in the dark last season, it's familiar flow and feel like a good friend rediscovered. Though thin of cover and with a little more challenging obstacles, I do my best to remain in control on the technical downhills with good line choice and reactions. One mistake and I'll really know I am out here by myself. A few more technical sections later and I begin to second guess my decision. Atop a scratchy descent with rock features to navigate, I finally decide to pull the plug and turn back. It is getting too late, and the consequences are too high (like missing a fabulous dinner in the Lodge from Chef Andy!). And, after all, I have to maintain control and be safe and responsible (and get back for grooming in the AM).

During my return I stop on the ice on the beaver pond. Clearly the weather is changing. The wind had been picking up the whole time and is now howling, moody low clouds are rushing by. There is an intensity, an urgency to it all. Where I had ascended just an hour ago in just my shirt, I don my jacket and sleet pellets bounce off of the stiff weatherproof fabric. The snow had been minutely changing in feel as well, tightening ever so minutely with the incoming descent in temperature. Standing there watching the trees wave overhead, listening to the wind weave its way through the pines, the world around a constant morphing change in its stillness. I shiver -- time to depart, climb up past the Hooper Mine for a look at the mountains beyond, then complete the loop back to the shop. Winter has so many faces here, so many places to become sweetly lost within, so much to absorb and experience and just be.

Winter temperatures have returned overnight after yesterday's brief warmup, and we're back to work this morning. Dale has been out grooming again since first light, and says the snow is tilling up nicely. Today (Thursday 2/2) we're hosting an invitational High School ski race featuring the regions finest athletes -- lots of action and lots of spectator access. We'll also begin running Roger's Road bus pick-ups this weekend, so you'll get to ski all of our lower terrain with a guiltless ride back, conditions permitting. Please call the shop for details. Through the weekend we are expecting nice temperatures, a little new snow Friday and Sunday, and lots of sun scattered about for your adventure. With winter conditions, expect great skiing and snowshoe trekking conditions and lots of room to spread out upon our extensive ski and snowshoe trail systems. When you're done, sink back into the ski shop fireside couch with a bowl of hot chili or soup, or complete your Adirondack adventure with a fireside dinner in the Lodge. A few cozy rooms are still available should you want to stick around a while (if so, pack your headlamp for night skiing).

Now, since I've got you primed for backcountry trekking with my little after work adventure, we do have a fine selection of Madshus and Fischer backcountry skis and packages available with pleasant discounts that will get you out there. And back. And we've got the terrain to use them in. You see, the adventure never ends when you are up here. Yes it is sliding around on snow on skis, but it is something much more than that. It is the light in your heart it produces -- that feeling that you belong here, the lift in energy and elation upon snow as your skis glide forward. Make your own tracks, create your own adventure!

By the way, Dale did see his shadow this morning, so I have assured him of many more weeks of grooming...

The Tailings -- which way do you want to go?

Forest Reveal at the Beaver Pond

Moody skies on the way back, winter pushing back in.

South rim of the Hooper Mine.

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