On Saturday I woke at 5:35am in a too-soft bed in a rental condo in Vermont. It had snowed through the night, five inches of fresh white. We had planned to be at the mountain by 6am to begin the long, slow climb up to as high as they’d let us go before skiing down.
I struggled with the straps of my snow pants and then my boots. I dropped a glove, kicked the corner of a shelf, woke everyone up with my tip-toed departure. In my planning I’d failed to consider the need to clean the car off. I’d assumed getting up the steep mountain access road wouldn’t be a problem.
I started to worry about those things, and being late, but that kept my mind off the wind driving icy pellets into my face. I didn’t feel cold at all.
After burning five minutes pushing the snow off the car, I fishtailed backward out of the parking space and crunched slowly out of the lot, sliding a little at the exit when I stopped to look both ways. When I got to the mountain access road, I revved the engine hard and stayed on the gas but still spun out before reaching the first turn. I had to roll softly back down and start over, this time revving harder, concentrating on not letting the tires spin too much against the icy slope. Eventually, I made the parking lot at the base of the resort and hurried to strap the skis onto my pack, snowshoes onto my feet, and a headlamp to my already sweaty forehead.
In the dark, you could make out a train of headlamps inching their way up the incline. It looked like something from an Everest tragedy documentary, but I started up anyway, one foot in front of the other, pushing the pace to try to reach the top of the lift before it started spinning for the day.
We didn’t have passes for this mountain, and we weren’t going to buy them. Snow has been in short supply thus far in New England, so we resigned ourselves to poaching a little with a hard hour’s climb. They’d not run the groomers, so what we were stealing was just what Mother Nature offered us on the morning. Seemed fair and in keeping with my general feelings about private property, etc.
Five minutes in and I was unzipping, the heat rising from my chest, my temples tingling with sweat. It was 25F with a sideways wind. I looked ahead and saw nothing but slope and plodding bodies. I looked back and saw more like me, working against gravity, the bad idea brigade, all of us out here in the dark working our asses off for 5 minutes of downhill.
The funny thing is, these people are everywhere. They’re the other car in the parking lot in the pouring rain, zipping up their jackets. They’re the crew that come riding up behind you in the snow with goggles on and stupid grins. They’re the idiots that show up to the little, hard races in unglamorous locations.
And they’re the ones who pushed me up that stupid mountain in the dark, in the cold, the ones I tried not to let pass me, because as bad as this idea was, I was really enjoying myself.