Today is my eighth day skiing Smuggs and the mountain still gives me the warm and fuzzies. A month ago, I reported that The Honeymoon Still Isn’t Over. Nay, I think it has barely just begun. And I would be hard pressed to say when it might end.
The phrase of the afternoon was “one more run.” I took a half dozen “one more runs” — I couldn’t tear myself away from the mountain. The skiing was just too good. I continually pushed through physical soreness to keep going until mental fatigue started to set in near the end of the day.
Weather varied tremendously throughout the day ranging from warm and sunny at the base to full on winter with two inch per hour graupel and hail. Visibility ranged from miles to feet but clouds were always nearby even when things started to clear. Every run seemed to feature a completely different weather pattern than the last.
Snow conditions were also quite variable though generally pleasant despite occasionally being a challenge. Water saturation was quite high but mank/chunk levels were moderate and controllable so long as visibility would allow foresight in planning turns.
Days like today reinvigorate me with that overwhelming feeling of living to the fullest. My body unleashed testosterone and aggressiveness that combined and fueled a kind of visceral mania. My eyes opened wide, I stumbled out of the shadowed state of depression, and felt a lost but not forgotten passion. Where has it been? I have it now but I know it can be fleeting. So I need to use it while I have it, internalize it, and make it mine again.
The bright light of spring split the clouds in the early afternoon. The metaphor was not lost on me as I slowly skied the traverse, looking around, breathing deep, feeling human again. Or at least feeling like myself again. Well, except for the poor physical conditioning.
I soon found myself in an elevator shaft, in the trees on upper Madonna Mountain. A pair of trees towered over partially buried deadfall and an ice patch. I could make the turn but I had a hunch that there was either glare ice or rock under the snow where I planned to turn. There wasn’t much room for speed control below the trees, so it was to be a straight line into an eight foot wide 35 degree elevator shaft. I looked to my left and other tracks had opted for discretion leaving the line untracked with two inches of fresh covering who knows what beneath. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have even been thinking about the calculation, I’d already be at the bottom. I wasn’t going to back off it, I was out to recapture something that I lost. And what a place to do it.
Every time I ski Smuggs, I wonder if it will be the day that the honeymoon will end. Eventually, I am going to have a bad day at Smuggs. One of these days, the warm and fuzzy emotional reaction I get isn’t going to happen. But after half a dozen days at Smuggs, that day has not yet come. And It may be a while yet before it happens. If it ever happens.
Most of New England was forced to rely on human-groomin’ to alleviate a freeze event which followed mixed precip and/or wet snow. Smuggs was lined up for a few inches daily resulting in exceptional powder and packed powder conditions. Untracked was less than my half foot standard for powder day status but a few inches was all it took to ensure exceptional turns.
My slight disappointment with the low new snow totals was significantly offset by the exceptional quality of what little powder Smuggs did get. Everything was skiing exceptionally well despite occasional base depth issues in tight and steep quarters. There were still places in which a hockey stop in a tight chute would strip snow down to a grassy, rooty, or rocky base. But for the most part, snow conditions were primo.
The week before Christmas is always uncrowded. Even when Christmas falls immediately after a weekend. Even when a foot and a half of snow falls in the past forty-eight hours. Call it the Christmas shopping effect: sleeper powder days when uninspired skiers and riders are busy prowling the malls instead of prowling for powder.
I am so up on Smuggs. I can’t even say the name without smiling and feeling better. Smuggs is one of only three or four ski areas that I connect with on an emotional level. Perhaps the honeymoon is not over yet. But I don’t think that is the case. Despite only having skied Smuggs four times, the connection already runs deep. It’s a special place.
The expansive tree skiing grabs me like no where else. The types of trees, spacing varieties, topography, and vertical all combine to offer an immensely pleasing experience. Much like other Northern Vermont areas, Smuggs tree skiing is a choose your own adventure and the best adventures are often off map. But by thinking outside the pack, there are so many seemingly obvious shots that remain untracked days after a storm.