The Mountain Journal: Cold toes and warm lodges

By Tony Crespi

It’s really cold. Really, really cold! My teeth are chattering and my feet feel frozen. It’s just bitter cold out there! Now, understand, a lifetime of mountain escapes and repeated bouts of frostbite, when I worked as a race coach and ski school supervisor, explain the problem. Still, if you are a skier you expect cold weather. After all, skiing is a winter sport.

Still, my digits are just frozen. After a careful warm-up and adding boot muffs, Hotronic™ boot warmers to toast my toes, and several additional layers of clothing, I’m good to go again.

Skiing is a sanctuary from life. It’s an escape from cell phones, iPads, computers, and everyday worries. Skiing is more than just sliding. It’s a way of being in the world.

Snowflakes are swirling—it’s raw.

After unloading from the chair my wife Cheryl immediately heads off the summit to quickly escape the winds. Truly, the winds are whipping and I can barely hear her voice. Tucking my head in my collar, I hear her acknowledge that it would get better as we drop near the trees. A dozen turns later we are out of the wind and slicing untracked windblown powder on the side of the trail. I watch her cut several tight arcs and realized that not much has changed in our years skiing together. We still hunt for the untracked snow. We still avoid crowds.

My toes have changed, but with muffs and heaters I’m fine. Life is good.

An hour later, as Cheryl heads into the lodge, I head to the detachable chair. My mission? A nice black diamond. I plan to track this a few times. Then, an hour later, together again, we search for our last runs for the day. As we ride I’m struck by the shortage of women on the mountain. Then again, I recall that while 41 percent of skiers are female, less than 11 percent of American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) certified ski mountaineering guides are women. But I’m fortunate—my wife loves to ski. And travel. From the Green Mountains to the Wasatch range in Utah we have wandered far. Sure, we have struggled with cold toes, but we’ve built warmer memories.

At 2:45 p.m. we break for a late lunch. Listening in the base area as we share a sandwich, it’s clear that too many folks seem to have forgotten how to savor a day on the mountain. Many complain about the cold. Others complain that the powder is windblown. Many others are on cell phones. I find myself wondering. What has happened? This is fun. It’s supposed to be an escape. An adventure. With friends. With smiles!

When was the last time you turned off your cell phone? When was the last time you truly concentrated on enjoying that special day with friends, without distraction? Picture yourself on the mountain. Visualize the chairlift ride. See the snow swirling. Hear that wind as the air hits your chair and the top of the mountain. Feel that hard snow underfoot as you slide away from the chair. Who did you ride with that day? What memory did you create?

Skiing offers a rare opportunity to escape distractions, revisit with friends, focus on the moment. It offers an opportunity to talk on the chairlifts. It provides a chance to share an adventure. It’s a chance to share a much-needed warm lunch and hot chocolate.

It’s a vehicle to build memories.

Sitting in the lodge at the end of the day, I see too few folks smiling. As I sit, I reminisce. I remember tracking figure-8s in six inches of fresh powder on Needles Eye with an old friend. We had skied hard all day but had found those half dozen runs the most memorable. We also enjoyed the camaraderie. We had left our phones for the day. We had skied. We had talked. We had smiled.

Truly, it’s not always about getting to the bottom first. Sometimes it’s the about the journey.

I smile at my wife. “This has been a perfect day,” exclaims Cheryl. “The snow was super. And it’s nice not to fight the crowds!”

She’s right of course. It was perfect. Skiing was fabulous. We had no lift lines midweek. And we enjoyed a great adventure together. I smiled too. We’re lucky. We’re healthy. We share common interests. And we enjoyed a great escape.

How will you build great memories?

I hope you do. From that first run to the last.

Photo by Robin Alberti

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