Collecting Mountain Memories

Some of these are seriously retro. Others are seriously Mikey Mouse.
Some of these are seriously retro. Others are seriously Mikey Mouse.

It was Dad’s idea to start our pin collections (one for each of us). The rules, while simple, are strict – one mountain skied, one pin. Since we made a conscious effort to ski far and wide, exploring the mountains of the world, we’ve amassed a pretty impressive collection.

This is (almost) what 24 years of skiing looks like.

Dad’s collection was set into framed rectangles of felt and hung in the basement between the posters for Zermatt and French wine from 1998 (Beaujelais Nouveau est arrivé!). My collection lived in a ziplock bag in my sock drawer. When my parents moved from Massachusetts to Illinois in 2008, Dad’s pins were packed away in boxes and left in the new basement, unopened. Mine remained in my sock drawer, only this time the sock drawer was in Illinois and blatantly lacking socks.

Mom mailed me the ziplock bag last week. When they arrived, I dumped the bag on the floor and spread them out – weeding through. A few didn’t belong – one boyscout pin stolen from an elder brother, two from ski areas in British Columbia I’ve never skied. I set those aside. The rest, I laid across my bedroom floor in a rough approximation of the world. Just above my left knee was Chile, as far right as I could reach, France and Austria.

I watched with smug satisfaction as Utah blossomed out, blending with Colorado – same with Vermont and New Hampshire. I paused with special fondness over the visits I remembered most strongly and puzzled over areas I didn’t remember at all.

My memory’s not very good, you see, and that’s why this pile of pins is so precious. It is less a collection of things picked up to be displayed for aesthetic pleasure, and more a series of ticks on a timeline. Here is Wachusett, where I almost broke my collarbone showing off to a boy in seventh grade. Here is Portillo, where I met the US men’s and women’s downhill and super G teams. Here is Crystal, where a double amputee and his two friends led Drew, Dad, and I through hip deep powder (he was more impressive than the men’s and women’s ski teams combined).

Then I realized I was missing one. Then more than one. I was horrified to find that I’d let six years go by without realizing I was skiing “pin days” (the first day riding a new mountain).

Worse, Bolton Valley, which I’ve skied since I was knee-high. Smuggler’s Notch, which I was devoted to for two winters. And now Stowe. All gone.

Today, in the midst of the January Thaw, I drove to Smuggler’s Notch just to buy a 4 dollar pin from the ski shop. I made my roommate promise to get me a Bolton pin the next time he’s there (I’m only there for night skiing, when the shops are closed). Stowe I’ll pick up next weekend.

But Sunday River? Sugarloaf? My college haunts. Missing – and me without any idea of when I’ll make it back to those mountains.

And then there are the obvious gaps in the set, the mountains that glare out at me demanding to be ridden. Magic Mountain. Mad River Glen, namely. How can I be a Vermonter and a skier without a pilgrimage to MRG?

This post was so long, I figured it deserved a second picture.
This post was so long, I figured it deserved a second picture.

Finally, the sudden realization that it’s up to me now to meet these mountains. Next month, I’ll be riding a pin day at Saddleback with two of my best friends. It’s sad to think that this will be my first (known, realized, conscious) pin day without my dad with me, too. Suddenly, entirely without my realizing it, I’ve grown up.

Just more ticks on the timeline.

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