After two false starts, I finally managed to skip out of work early. Three days ago, a storm dropped almost a foot on central New Hampshire. I had the prerogative to shut operations down per standard procedure when the University cancels classes. But duty called, we were needed. Despite my recent resentment towards work, I am not resentful for making the call to open. It was the right thing to do. My upbringing would abide nothing less.
My dad and I used to ski together once per season. Our family skied a lot when I was younger. But he didn’t ski much any more and sometimes that one day was his only real day of skiing all year. I really enjoyed those days. And while I wasn’t impressed with my first visit to Tenney when we skied there, I enjoyed skiing Tenney with him. I’d take another run with him anywhere if I could.
So the mountain always brings back memories since I only skied Tenney once when it was open, and we skied together that day.
Around a quarter past three, I parked next to a pair of cars and a short bus from the local prep school. The longer days of February make post work turns possible, such shenanigans are not possible earlier in the winter. A local vagabond pinner and I struck up a conversation as I prepped my pack and gear. He had recently been shoo’d off other local backcountry but the lost area still seems to be fair game.
He reported good snow conditions and excellent turns. Remembering lack luster conditions from the past two seasons, I inquired about snow depth and growth of brush. I specifically wanted to know if the steep trail to far skier’s right was passable. I couldn’t remember the trail’s name but I recalled that it is Tenney’s steepest offering. I got a vague and cryptic response suggesting either ignorance or carnal knowledge. It was an implicit invitation to explore either way.
The skin was fast and easy due to the mountain’s consistently mild pitch and limited fourteen hundred foot vertical. Almost every trail had been skied but untracked turns were only limited by time. The recent extreme cold had relented and I skinned in only a base layer despite the setting sun and increasing wind. I enjoyed distant views of the southern Whites and the Franconia Ridge.
I angled looker’s left as I skinned, heading towards the motionless double chair and then passing under it. I was skinning towards that trail whose name eluded me. I skied that trail with dad all those years ago, much to his chagrin. It was a natural snow trail with really thin coverage and bump troughs scraped down to the grass. The type of terrain that I had recently become enamored with but did not strike my dad’s fancy. The trail was an east coast gem featuring a twisty double dip.
It was the best Tenney had to offer then, so perhaps that might still be the case. After summiting, I clicked in and pushed through one to two feet drifts on a flat traverse. I might as well have left my skins on until the first pitch. But the effort was worth it. The trail was remarkably clear of brush with really good coverage. I made big arcs in bottomless powder. Around the first bend and then the second as the trail pitched forward, descending down its first of two drops. Sensational! After the first drop, I rounded another bend and stopped to evaluate the second drop…
The second pitch had completely grown in. It was an impenetrable jungle without a single turn in sight. Despite the dim light, I put my goggles on and began one of the most arduous bushwhacks that I’ve ever experienced. The growth was up to ten feet tall and extremely thick. I worked the slope edge to edge straddling the growth, working my way back and forth, desperate for an opening so I could kick turn. Finally, I worked my way free of the jungle, an unfortunate mar on an otherwise pristine gem.
For four years, I have tried to write about my dad. But the words never materialize. What could I possibly write? I am not a gifted enough writer to turn a eulogy into a celebration. So perhaps instead of attempting and failing to write one comprehensive work that I could be satisfied with, I can write it out in small pieces. Grabbing at the threads one at a time when I am moved to do so.
As I was completing my skin, just below the summit, I saw the sign for the trail name that I couldn’t remember: