The North Chair at Blue was a quiet place that Wednesday morning. The previous afternoon had been warm and sunny and the snow had taken on the slushy wetness of spring. But when the temperature plummeted overnight a thick sun crust formed leaving something more like a skating rink than a ski hill.
The only people I meet on such days are those I like to call, with the utmost respect, ‘old-timers.’ They know every trail name, every chair lift and every liftie. And they are out there every single day regardless of conditions.
As I hiked up from the North parking lot I heard one of these old-timers yelling to no one in particular.
“It’s too icy,” she screamed erratically. “Icy! It’s too icy!”
She was standing at the bottom of the hill, waving her poles in warning. She looked unsteady on her skis and was obviously not going up the chair again. It felt like a bad omen.
She shook her head at me as I threw down my skis and stepped in anyway. And as I skated to the chair, my blunt edges slipping all over the place, I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, she was right.
Riding up the lift I nodded to another old-timer on my right and tried to spark some conversation about the conditions.
In her matching one-piece maroon suit and a face that was wrinkled with more turns and more skiing wisdom than I can ever hope to attain, she didn’t hesitate.
“There’s good snow on the edges.”
Her response baffled me and we rode the rest of the way in silence.
On the way down, I realized why the first woman had yelled at me. It was icy. I bombed down Little Devil faster than I should have, trying desperately to hold an edge the whole way down, but barely holding on. As I rounded the bend, almost totally out of control, I saw something I couldn’t believe; in the corner of my eye, there was the lady I’d ridden up with, making beautiful turns as if she was in buckle-deep powder. And she was ahead of me.
Next run down, I skied where I had seen the old-timer in question, but found more of the same. Ice, ice and more ice. And once again, she gracefully beat me down the hill.
If there’s one thing to learn from the early-morning old-timers of the North Chair it’s that optimism is a state of mind. There are a million reasons not to get out there. Frail bones, thin blood, terrible conditions and frigid temperatures. But watching that woman, who must spend more time on skis each year than many of us have in the past six or seven years, I couldn’t help but think to myself that she had it made. I can only hope that when my face is as wrinkled as hers I can find the optimism to find fresh snow where there is none. Here’s to the North Chair old-timers. Pray for snow!