I skied at daybreak on a midweek morning this week, under a mostly cloudy sky. It had been clear at 6:30 a.m. when the dogs woke me, and maybe I should have gone then; there is something very special about skiing as stars and moon give way to sunrise. But I dawdled, drank some coffee, did some work around the house, and the next time I looked out the clouds had begun to move in. By the time I got to the trailhead, it was nearly all overcast.
I put the skis on, and to the east could see a few minutes of reddish-orange sky before it went to gray. The sun had just come up, but I’d not see it on this morning. I skied anyway; skiing is good under any type of sky.
I’d been out a few days earlier at the other end of the day, Saturday afternoon, New Year’s Eve. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Eve; those days are long gone. Sally observed that I’m not a big fan of most celebrations, and I suppose she has a valid point. Whatever the case, New Year’s Eve does not move me. I had no plans for the evening, so I went skiing as the last light of the last day of the year faded into shadow and darkness. Any daylight would soon be gone as, soon, 2011 would be gone as well.
I left the trailhead in smudgy shadow, with only faint light reflecting from the snow. After a few minutes I reached up and turned on my headlight, and the beam lit up the track ahead of me and I could see fine. The track had been set earlier, but had gotten some hard use during the day. It reflected a bit of glaze when my light hit it; packed snow shifting to thin ice on the top. When you ski on that glazy surface, several things happen, and one of the most obvious is that your skis glide with little effort, and you go very fast.
I’ve been skiing for the better part of the past month, but this was the first time in any prepared track, and now it was very fast and I’d not had that yet. Here are two things you should know about skiing in fast track: one is that you feel really fast, racer-fast, and no matter how bad of shape you’re in, you feel like you could keep up with anyone. The other thing you feel is that it is a whole lot of fun to go fast on skis. If you think things over, you soon realize that the first part, being racer-fast, is a delusion. You’re not and, in my case, never will be. But in regards to the second part, the part about it being fun, that is as true as any truth that you’ll ever know.
So I skied that New Year’s Eve, skis rattling in the track, the wind bringing tears to my eyes, the world a blur of gray and black to the side where the beam of my light did not reach unless I turned my head. I skied for an hour or so, and quit feeling good about it. Then I drove home for dinner and a glass of wine, and that was our New Year’s Eve celebration. I had no regrets.
Late that night, long after I was done skiing, it started to snow, and the wind began to blow. Daybreak came under clouds of snow driven by wind. I wondered, if we were a primitive people, or at least more primitive than we pretend to be, what would this portend, this storm of snow and wind come on the first day of the new year? Would we take this as a sign of things to come in the year ahead? And if so, would we see this as a good thing or not?
In the end I had no answer. I cleared the sidewalks and driveway and went skiing again, but this time in new snow, pushing the soft powder as I went. Glide was slow, but it was smooth as silk and I did not complain. I was the first one on the trail, but by the time I quit I’d see a handful of others, rosy cheeked, smiles on their faces. It was a good way to start things off in 2012.
Now, mid-week, a few days into the New Year, I was out again, skiing easy in firm track and enjoying it very much. It’s been a strange ski season to date, marked by thin snow, and trail conditions that can best be described a “marginal” most of the time. I like snow on the ground by mid-December. Snow in mid month is as it should be up here. Face it: December should have a bite of cold to it, and it should have snow.
This past December was a problem. We had snow early, but it faded under thaw and rain. Ski trails were sketchy, snow cover light. It was not as it should be in northern Wisconsin as Christmas looms and New Year’s comes in. But that’s what we had this season.
I started skiing early in the month on a thin layer of hard-packed snow that turned even more firm after the thaw came and went. It is the type of skiing that in the past has had me gnashing my teeth and engaging in unflattering rants of self-pity at the wrongness of poor snow. It has, through the years, irked me, the thin snow of bad seasons.
This year, and don’t ask me why, I’ve been skiing more often and enjoying it, even with the iffy snow.There has been a crusty base, a bit of new snow over it now and then, and mild temperatures. It’s all added up to a good time on skis, regardless of the relative lack of snow.
Now the calendar has turned. There was snowfall on the first day of the new year, and I choose to see that as a good omen, a sign of better times to come. I’ll ski this week and the next and the next, until there is no snow to ski on. I’ll ski with the knowledge that other skiers will do the same, just as snowmobilers will ride and snowshoers will walk and everyone who lives for the season of snow will find some satisfaction and happiness with it. That is the way it should be. And that should be the true celebration of the new year.
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