The Other Thing: On Adventuring Alone

Mud boots, rock skisThis is the other thing I wanted to talk about. But first, I’ll start with a kind of a disclaimer. To quote Haruki Murakami: “I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone.” This has been true forever. I enjoy the company of others, sure, but I need a certain amount of alone time to feel rested and complete.

For years, however, I was under the impression that this need for solitude was ‘antisocial’ and therefore bad or wrong. I worked very hard to suppress this drive for solitude, which meant that several years were more difficult than they had to be. Not in the sense that I was picked on or otherwise mistreated. Simply in the sense that I was more tired more often than I needed to be. Constant social fatigue wore away at my self-confidence, spilling over from the social sphere and into my adventure sphere. Fear of going out and doing something by myself (and fear of somehow failing or running into trouble in the woods alone) meant that I didn’t get out into the wild anywhere near as much as I wanted and needed.

It’s taken several more years now of practicing doing things alone again, but I’m finding joy in the rehearsal. It started small with going to cafés to work or quietly sip tea. Then, a few bars. (I love reading in bars. I don’t do it often because interruptions annoy me, but bar-reading is great.) Or the beach. Or driving to the resort alone to link a few turns in the lift-served playground. These places are as pleasant and enjoyable by yourself as they are when in a group.

Smiling in May on Snow at StoweAnd then there was yesterday – earning my turns in calm, satisfied solitude. The peace of walking upwards and the exhilarating joy of sliding back down again.

Of course, there were other people out enjoying the day – hikers with their children or dogs, other riders in small groups. We flashed smiles to one another and commented on the weather, but for the most part I was by myself. Then, when I finally arrived home, I hopped on my bicycle to ride to the beach and lay stretched out on a towel writing the rough draft of these two blog posts. Eventually, I headed back into town to join friends for dinner, drinks, and laughter.

This perfect day was all due to the realization that yeah, I got this. I woke up Monday morning with the confidence in myself, my gear, and my ingenuity to get up and have an adventure doing what I love. If I got hurt on the mountain, I had a plan. If I locked myself out of my car, I didn’t have a plan, but I’m sure I would have figured something out.

Maybe this is just a small thing, but like icebergs, even small-seeming things can be quite large.

Gondolier Stowe

Just as earning your turns lets you experience both the Uphill and the Downhill, so too does following what you love give you the opportunity to be both Together and Alone. There’s nothing quite like stopping halfway through a powder run to trade high-fives with your friends, but there’s also nothing quite like savoring a mountain that is yours and yours alone.

This is what I wish I learned years ago: whether you’re in the middle of a crowd or standing all alone, just keep doing what you love. Everything else will fall into rhythm.

You got this.

Go have an adventure.

Slackcountry Living

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am writing a ski blog. This happened entirely by accident. See, in the summer, I can be distracted by other things – running on pavement and diving into lakes, sitting in the shade of oaks and eating cherries. In the winter, I think of one thing and one thing only. Skiing.

In recognition of this, the blog needs a new title, and I’ve settled on Slackcountry Living.

The slackcountry (or sidecountry) is the sweet spot between the well-known Ski Area Boundary and the fabled Backcountry. Ride a lift, duck a rope, and you’re suddenly getting to know a mountain on its own terms, not yours. No snowmaking, no patrollers. Just you and the fall line. And maybe the guy behind you – slackcountry runs aren’t marked on the map, but locals know they’re there. At least it’s less crowded.

(Disclaimer: you can also get incredibly lost. Don’t do that.)

Hopefully by next winter I’ll have enough money to buy AT gear and disappear into the true backcountry on daylong tours. (If I do, you’ll hear about them.) But, even if I am so elevated to skiing and riding greatness, I intend to remain a slacker at heart.

Come ride with me as I explore the slackcountry. It’ll be fun.

Riding solo at Stowe
Early season ride at Stowe, VT

Because I Said So: A Jay Peak Ski Area Review

Retro Jay Peak ski pins
I’m really embarrassed by the Mickey Mouse pin. The button’s legit, though. It’s vintage.

This is the first of what will be a series of ski area reviews. Since I live and ride in Vermont, I’ll start close to home.

I really don’t understand why so few of my fellow Burlington residents head north to Jay Peak. Apparently “it’s too far away.”

Too far away? Seriously? An hour and a half is never too far for good schuss. Besides: 50% of Jay’s skiers and riders come from Canada. It takes two hours to drive from Montreal to Jay – so stop your complaining, eat your Big Mac, and get off the couch, America.

I will happily swear up and down this state that Jay Peak is the closest an east coaster will get to western skiing without buying a plane ticket. The vertical’s impressive (over 2,000 vertical feet), as is the natural playground that is the snowfield summit. But what will really give you western déjà vu is in the trees. Jay’s glades are wide open and ever green with plenty of room to roam. Hit it on a powder day and you’re cruising through face shots so easy you (might) feel guilty.

Jay’s terrain is challenging with steep pitches and a little high altitude rock-hopping coming off the tram. Timbuktu is one of the most satisfying marked glades in the east, with plenty of features to find if you’re looking to get air. (I distinctly remember my eldest brother teaching me huck there. And by teaching, I mean he pointed at a rock and said “ski off that as fast as you can.” Surprisingly, I survived.)

If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to experience the Jay Cloud first hand. There’s a peculiar microclimate that exists solely around the summit of the mountain. It could be sunny and warm everywhere else in a four hour radius, but dumping on Jay. Granted, this phenomenon isn’t unique to Jay. Mountains like to hold to passing precipitation. But it’s really fun to talk about.

On the downside, Jay Peak is cold. Like, really cold. As in – no matter what you’re wearing it’s not enough cold. But, to quote their wonderfully witty marketing campaign, nobody grew up soft on rugged terrain. Builds character.

Raise 'em Jay
Oh, you’re cold? That’s too bad.

Pretty perfect sounding, eh?

The funny thing about Jay is that as much as I love it, it’s really… just another mountain. The trails are great, the glades are great, the unmarked glades are great. (While I’ve been skiing this mountain my entire life, I don’t claim local knowledge. I’ve never had the “backstage tour” as it where, so I can’t speak to what I haven’t found entirely by accident.) But there’s something almost… boring about all this perfection.

Two years ago, I hit Jay during the late-season blizzard of my dreams. My ski buddy and I hit powder run after powder run, braving the cold and wind for some of the best turns we got all season. And yet… I was a little relieved to get back into the claustrophobically tight trees of Mt. Mansfield. The glades are so roomy compared to the Peak’s southern neighbors that you’re rarely stuck without anywhere to go but down a tiny, squirrelly chute. You don’t have to drop the feature in Kitz Woods. There are plenty of ways around.

I can count the times on one hand that I stood uphill from a Jay feature and gone “oh shit.” Where’s the challenge in that? It’s not really skiing if I haven’t said Oh Shit five times in as many runs.

To sum up: Jay Peak is a must-hit that is a little like that one guy (or girl) you dated who was so unbearably awesome you couldn’t believe they knew your name, let alone kissed you on a regular basis. You ended up breaking up with him (or her) for that other guy (or girl) with the weird twitch and questionable hygiene habits because, man, they really made you feel special, you know?

What do you think? Was this review helpful, or am I really lying through my teeth? Keep me honest and let me know in the comments.