Better Late Than Never
Blue skies and ski buddies at Sugarbush Resort
I got a late start on the ski season this year—this past Saturday, Jan. 24 was my first day on Alpine skis. I packed up my car and drove over to the Mad River Valley, about a 30-minute commute to Sugarbush’s Lincoln Peak.
I’m a late-bloomer skier, in that I tried skiing a few times as a teenager in Connecticut, but didn’t get on shaped skis or link a turn until my late 20s. So I still get first-day jitters each season, and can easily psych myself out. The people I ski with are experts; most of them have lived in Vermont a long time, if not their whole lives, and ski and ride with speed and ease. When someone new asks me to ski with them, I typically try to prepare them by lowering their expectations and give them plenty of opportunity to change their mind. “I’m slow!” I’ll warn new friends. “I don’t really do crazy technical stuff.” Or, “I don’t want to hold you up in the woods. Don’t feel like you have to wait for me.”
As I drove south on Route 100, I reflected on the past couple of months. Going into Autumn, I was so psyched for this ski season. I felt like by the end of last season I had made real progress. I was saying “yes” to more and more expert terrain, clocking 40-plus miles per hour on some of the intermediate (tracking it all with the Trace Snow app), and ducking into the woods with my friends and able to keep a pretty flowy feeling navigating through the trees. But when we got the first dump of killer snow this year, I was laid up with a medical issue and ended up having surgery. The day after my surgery, a bunch of my friends went to Stowe; I saw them later that day, with that post-powder-day glow.
I was healing, and I hit another delay. When I brought my skis in for their annual tune-up and pointed out that they had delaminated, the tech very nicely told me the delamination was likely a warranty issue. The ski manufacturer was going to send me brand new skis to honor the warranty, but I had to wait on the shipping (old skis to the factory, factory to check them out, new skis to ship to my house). Just after getting them back, I traveled back home to Connecticut for the holidays, and then Vermont was hit with a cold snap. I was hesitant to take out skis I had never used on what might be challenging conditions. My friends kept telling me the snow was good on the mountains—the miracle of Vermont’s continuous investments in snowmaking and expert grooming—but I had fallen into kind of a non-mountain funk and opted instead for a lot of cross-country skiing.
When I woke up the morning of January 24, I was out of excuses. Body healed, blue skies, temps climbing to the 30s, sharp skis, friends at the mountain, caught up on chores at home. It was time to break the ‘14-15 season seal. I pulled out all my ski gear, packed up the car, and got excited for the day ahead.
And it was just what I needed. I’m not sure how many times I’ve ridden to the top of the Heaven’s Gate lift at Sugarbush, but I do know that each and every time I get the same feeling when I get off the lift and take in the view. It’s breathtaking: the magic of rime ice on the trees and sign posts, the snowy capped evergreens on the surrounding mountains, the glittering surface of the moguls dotting Ripcord and Paradise. I felt that freeing feeling you get from skiing as I banked the turns down Jester, alternating between playing in piles of powder and catching speed on the firm spots. I remembered why I do this and was glad to be back.
Do I wish I learned to ski earlier in life so I’d be able to keep up with my friends all the time? Sure. Do I wish that my circumstances were different this year, and I got to enjoy all the killer early-season snow? Absolutely. But the important thing is, I am here now. And it’s better to start late than never at all.
By Sky Barsch. Sky is a writer and editor in Montpelier, Vt. Her passions are mountains, trails, traveling and food, plus her adorable powderhound, Siena.