Cannon. My favorite mountain. Yet, I have been such a stranger lately. Only five visits during the past two years? It could only mean that my discount strategies have expired. Even today, I refused to pay full price and opted for the half day ticket. Cannon is always good enough for me (even at its worst). But never good enough to pay full price.
Cannon is home. Seems like it always has been and always will be. Yet I’ve skied Jay more times. I have had season passes at Jay but never at Cannon. But Cannon is home and Jay isn’t. Jay has been quite good to me over the years. But it will never be in my blood. Jay is the smart play for reliable trees and powder but… well, there is always a but. Jay is to my mind as Cannon is to my heart.
Before skiing, I stopped by the repair shop for my once per year ski tune. For some reason, I thought I might need it today. It wasn’t my skis that needed the tune up but rather my head. My first turns were a sloppy skidding mess despite the tune and generally soft snow. I wasn’t forward enough, not enough angulation, my stance was too narrow. My mind wasn’t “in it”. I wasn’t going for it like it was yet another epic powder day *yawn*.
But after a few runs, I found some aggression. My hands clenched around my pole grips a bit tighter as I applied forward pressure to my boot tongues and laid an edge that stuck, propelling me forward into the next turn. Not effortless, not like I’ve become used to. But requiring mindfulness and attention, requiring effort and rewarding that effort appropriately. Cannon said “you’ve become soft, push a bit harder”. So I did. And it felt great.
Every ski season* has an ending and a beginning with purgatory in between. And much like the mountains, our seasons have peaks and valleys, highs and lows. Those who want for consistency and regularity in their lives need not apply. Skiing is an activity better suited to those who enjoy extremes, people who can not only accept but revel in and embrace the worst of conditions**.
Beginnings are powerful. More than just a do over or a redo, beginnings suggest that something even better is coming. We sweep away the hardships of the past and get on with things. And even following a season of many epic days, skiers are still ever hopeful that this season might be the big one.
Dad once commented on my tendency towards extremes. He saw the potential danger rather than the beauty in extremes. But for me, even in the depths of despair, I would suddenly cackle with delight at how wonderful if felt to be alive, to be able to feel, even if to feel terrible. It was still joyous in a way. Amor fati was a way of life for me long before I read Nietzsche.
While a new ski season began for me this weekend, I continue on in purgatory: long having sought a new beginning that remains elusive. There are no highs nor lows, just a constant grind. One might think that burn out would make someone negative. But rather, burn out leaves you hollow and uninspired. The ski season may have begun but I still seek a new beginning.
*Ski season here is connoted as a localized season rather than an individual’s personal season.
**Not a reflection or implication of the skiing at Sunday River, far from it.
Cannon showed off its snowmaking improvements during opening weekend. The new system has clearly allowed Cannon to shore up a critical shortcoming of the ski area. Cannon has always struggled to open terrain and connect its two lodges and summit building during the early season. When natural snow and consistent cold temperatures are sparse, the mountain can struggle to open up major routes before the New Year, let alone the important Christmas vacation week.
In recent years, Cannon has historically opened the Peabody Quad with one mid mountain route route along the narrow trails Middle Cannon and Gremlin. This created a super WROD and surface conditions that deteriorated rapidly. Despite the blue square ratings of Middle Cannon to Gremlin, solid intermediate level skiing was clearly not available during a typical opening weekend at Cannon.
This year, Cannon went with a different strategy spreading out open terrain for ALL ability levels between three lifts including the Brookside beginner lift. True beginner terrain on opening day at Cannon? Perhaps a first as long as I have been skiing there. And even some terrain park features. But Cannon’s grooming was not up to par compared to the new snowmaking system which meant that intermediates still would not be happy with the offerings. On the other hand, those of us that appreciate ungroomed conditions were delighted.
It was still snowing when I left Jay Peak yesterday and temperatures were forecasted to remain below freezing. So I had no reason to suspect conditions would deteriorate overnight. But I quickly discovered during my skin up Goat that the snow had been wind blasted into a crust. The snow was oreo cookie like: crust on dust on crust.
My plan was to ascend Goat and evaluate options including some combination of Poma Line, Upper Ullr’s, or JFK using Weddlemaster as a skin track back to Alligator Alley with a final descent down Green Mountain Boys (which had treated me well the day before). But the crusty snow only got worse the higher I went.
A decent sized crowd of skinners (for Jay) fanned out from Stateside Lodge. I opted for Wiggle to Hell’s Crossing to Northway for the ascent. Snow depths varied from bare ground to deep drifts. The wind clearly had its way with Jay as it usually does. Conditions appeared to favor wind sheltered areas. I was thinking about skinning to Can Am but assumed it wouldn’t ski well due to being massively exposed. I started my first descent down Upper Milk Run. If Milk Run skied well, I would skin back up and around to Can Am. If not, I’d head to “greener” pastures.
Turns were very nice on Milk Run but the snow didn’t feel like the foot and a half four day total. Following the flow of the trail, I skied the best that Milk Run had to offer. It was a solid untracked powder run but produced less excitement than anticipated. At the bottom of Upper Milk, I looked up Wiggle and down Taxi and ultimately decided on skiing down Taxi and catching the skin track up Goat.