Sunday, February 8, 2015

Satan's Ridge

The local area where I ski: Sundown
I started skiing fifty years ago and although I am no athlete, it is a sport I have thoroughly enjoyed in six different decades of my life.

We have decent resorts within easy driving distance in Vermont and New Hampshire, and some of our best family memories were created on ski vacations there when the boys were little. We had to buckle their boots for them then, and lift them onto the seat of the chairlift.

Those mini skiers are now grown men who "skin" the Colorado backcountry (no lifts, you climb up with rough skins on the skis), or ski black diamonds in the Sierras in California.

They are both graceful, incredible athletes who are a joy to watch coming down the mountain.

My sons have outgrown Eastern ski conditions and hills -- too icy, too tame -- and they live in the west now, but I still live here and I still ski New England slopes.
The little skiers grew up and now ski out west

For an aging skier like me, it is a rare visit to Vermont at this point.

Satan's Ridge in the 1960s
But within 35 minutes, just up the road from my house, there is a local area that is a gem. Our little state is not known for mountains, but the hills in the northwest are actually quite steep. Not high, but rugged in places, and all you need for a small ski area is a pocket of steep terrain.

This gem is called Ski Sundown now, but when I began skiing in the 1960s it was called Satan's Ridge. The name was a natural -- it was built in Satan's Kingdom, a forested, undeveloped area where the river runs over rocks and churns up rapids.

I had leather boots then that took half an hour and strong fingers to lace up tight enough, and wooden skis. We skied in our jeans and got wet.  Downhill skiing was an endurance sport then, and if you came in with icicles on your eyelashes, you could prove you had a good time.

Now, all these years later, I have high tech equipment, ice shedding clothes, every convenience an expensive sport allows, and I will only ski when the snow has been groomed perfectly. And the weather has to be mild.

It's so easy for me now. I can get to the local area quickly, I can ski mid-morning in the middle of the week before the kids arrive and I even get a senior discount.

It's a small area, not much variety, but the slopes are challenging and I only stay a few hours at a time.

blurry shot of me skiing -- but it's proof!
I find lately that I am as interested in the greenery and plants on the slopes as I am in my next run. Ski areas are not kind to forest ecology. They rip up swaths of the mountain and lay it bare.

They do allow a way for people to get into the woods on a winter day though, and I like checking out the mountain laurels poking up through the snow or the stately presence of giant firs and ghostly birches around me.

I try to i.d. woody plants by their buds and I love the play of shadow and light on twiggy winter branches. I notice red berries deep in the woods.

On the mornings I ski there are no crowds, so the experience is a calm, quiet and sometimes reflective one, where I can stop and look about and enjoy nature.

Then I face downhill, push off and I am a teenager again, ripping down Satan's Ridge in Satan's Kingdom, forever young.

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