One long-ago Sunday night, while we were spending the weekend at our place in Bolton Landing, four feet of snow fell over the North Country like a soundproof blanket. We obviously couldn’t make it back to Albany to work, so we called in snowbound and I prepared to hunker down and write something. About snow. In the morning, Joe went to dig out the Jeep and I watched from the window, sipping a hot cup of coffee, still in my bathrobe.
“Come on!” he shouted. “Get dressed. This is gorgeous! Let’s go skiing!”…I could see that it was gorgeous and I liked snow very much, but from a distance. I’m an indoor kind of girl. I was then and still am, short and likely to founder in snow over my knees — it only takes a couple of feet. Joe, on the other hand, was tall and strong, not to mention athletic, and loved striding along in snow up to his hips. Against my better judgment, but seduced by man and nature, I wiggled into my ski pants and slogged to the car; it really was beautiful, even outside. As always, the northern Chambers of Commerce had anticipated skiers – that was how they made their money in winter – and had the main highways plowed. It had stopped snowing, was bright and sunny and we were the only car on the road. We got to Gore Mountain to find a few other die-hards in the parking lot. “Chubber,” one of our friends from the Backwoods ski club, was waiting for somebody to ski with. True to his name, he was short and round.
He stood at the door of the lodge, resplendent in his old navy blue parka and his red and white Backwoods ski hat. Joe pulled on his matching hat. Even though they looked like Abbott and Costello, they were both experts, if suicidal, skiers and they started drooling at the thought of the untouched powder. It looked soft to me and non-threatening. The chairlift was running and I rode up with the two of them. I didn’t like to go to the top for the first run, I needed to warm up, so I told them I’d see them at the bottom in an hour and got off at the mid-station, for easier skiing. They stayed on the chair to the double diamonds — hard, very hard and scary. Where I was, the snow looked safe, soft and fluffy, friendly. I pushed away from the landing area. It was nice. Easy. There are many ways down a ski mountain and I knew most of them at Gore. I headed for a mildly steep hill, steep to walk up but just right to ski down. There was a little path (with the uninspired name “Cutoff”) that cut off from the main trail to a shortcut down the mountain and straight to the lodge, where there was at least hot chocolate if nothing stronger. It was early. The path was virgin powder. We don’t get a lot of powder in the North East and I had no idea how to ski it, except that you had to go fast and keep your tips up or you would sink. The goal was to stay on top of the snow. I was a nervous skier at best, always doubting my ability to get up from a fall or to avoid a tree that came too close. I “checked” a lot, meaning I slowed down or stopped at the slightest provocation. I saw this narrow little path, with its four feet of new snow, turned into it, pointed my skis down the hill and said to myself, “Don’t check, don’t check, don’t check, keep the tips up, keep going.” I checked. I knew I would, I always do, I can’t stop myself. Immediately, I sank in the snow up to my waist; sank like a stone in a river. I was stuck; more than stuck; trapped. I couldn’t move my feet, with the skis on them and, of course, right then I had to go to the bathroom. Urgently. I wet my pants, my brand-new three hundred dollar ski pants that I had put on that morning because I knew I was unlikely to hurt myself in all this soft snow. I started to cry. I hadn’t figured on getting stuck, especially getting stuck alone. A snowy mountain is a very quiet place, especially with a thick muffler of new snow and nobody around to hear a yell for help, as far as I could see or hear. I felt my wet, warm pants and thought I’d better get the hell out of there before they froze to the snow. I started digging down towards my skis. It took a while, a long while; it was only 10 AM, but I was afraid it would get dark and I’d still be stuck here, a Gore legend: “Remember her? She was a nice woman. She got stuck on Cutoff. Ooooh.” I dug and dug with my big fat ski gloves which weren’t very flexible but they turned out to be good shovels. I finally reached my boots and fumbled around for the bindings so I could get out of the skis so I could get out of the hole I was in. It took a long time. Soon I was hot and sweating and swearing but in all-around better spirits since I was empowered by hatred of my husband and Chubber, who, I reasoned, had brought me up here and left me to die. I finally got the damned skis off and pulled my freezing feet, still in their boots, out of the snow. Then I dug down and got the skis. Skiing is always good exercise but this was ridiculous. I sat on the edge of the pit I had dug and cleaned off my boots and skis and set my bindings to put them back on. I couldn’t get them back on. My bindings had to be stepped into hard to lock in and there was no purchase anywhere. Everywhere was too soft to give the required stomp into the skis. … I hated skiing. I thought I only hated the cold and the speed and the heights, but I also hated the snow, the equipment, the clothes, the mountain, and other skiers. I even hated the rabbits and mostly I hated myself for being there. Hatred, however, is pretty good fuel and I hauled myself to my full height, shouldered my skis, grabbed my poles and started hiking down towards the lodge. It had started to snow again. The skis were heavy – I had to keep stopping to switch shoulders; I stepped, sank, stepped, sank and rested. Walking in ski boots is like walking in Crock Pots. I headed towards the T-bar, which I knew was somewhere nearby and where I hoped I would be able to find hard enough ground to get my skis back on. I felt like Christ dragging a cross, but without His sense of grace and equanimity. I was an Abominable Snow Bitch by now, but I made it to the lift and there was an attendant, finally, who helped me get a grip and get myself put back together.
I skied down that hill non-stop, not checking, not even slowing down, and not caring if I hit a tree or ran into the wall of the lodge. I have never been so glad to get off a mountain. Joe and Chubber were sitting at a table inside, having some hot wine, still glowing from their glorious experience on the North Side, running into drifts and digging each other out. “Where were you?” they asked. I snorted. I had started to thaw out and smelled like a bad nursing home. “I need to go home and change my pants,” I said. “And I don’t want to talk about it, Yet. “ And,” as I said repeatedly in the great outdoors, “I want a divorce.”