Thursday, March 6, 2014

Get away with springtime skiing

For skiers, persistent snowfall and frigid temperatures usually mean a winter full of quality runs on the slopes of New England. But as the blizzards ebb and warm weather eventually awakens from hibernation, there may still be a chance to steal a few treasures from the ski mountains.

Springtime skiing is an unexpected pleasure, extending the ski season and offering a most unique day on the slopes.

There is a certain feeling associated with spring skiing that is unnoticeably absent during mid-winter’s pelting snow and subzero wind chills. The sun spurs it on, but this feeling goes way beyond the weather. In fact, many times the heat makes for mushy, granular, sub-par snow.

But spring skiing is more mindset than mint conditions: joy, adrenaline, escape. Don’t be surprised at the speck of guilt scraping at you like a bared rock on your skis. When you walk out onto the lodge deck, a cold beer cooling your sweating hands, a sunburn on the parts of your face that weren’t covered by goggles and the parts of your forearms not covered by your t-shirt, you know you got away with something.

It is the same feeling as the one you had when you were a kid and you took a cookie but did not get caught with your hand in the jar; or that feeling you got in high school when you snuck in after curfew and mom and dad did not wake up. That is the feeling of spring skiing: I shouldn’t be here, but I am and I’m not leaving until they make me.

At Maine’s Shawnee Peak they embrace the circumvention of Mother Nature by hosting their annual Spring Fling (March 22, 2014). The seasonal contradictions are reminiscent of many regional ski resorts post-March 1. There’s a BBQ, plenty of skiers in t-shirts, beer specials and more than a few radio station promo prize giveaways. It all takes place in the shadow of a mountain just starting to lose its snowy edge.

But you don’t go spring skiing in New England for the packed powder. You go to get away and to get away with something. You go for that moment at the summit when you look out at a green valley and ice-less lakes surrounded by larger mountains that remain covered in snow. You go for the next moment when your gaze turns downward at your ski tips quivering over an icy black diamond trail pockmarked by puddles and pine needles. The obstacles are merely part of the semi-risky gamble we humans like to make when we are seeking reinvigoration after a cold, dark winter.

At Shawnee’s Spring Fling event, the pond-skimmers take it to a new level. When they’re hurtling down the main trail toward the manmade rectangular slush pool, surrounded by spectators and ski patrol/lifeguards, all they’re thinking is speed, speed, speed. There are few crossings, many valiant attempts and a lot of wet participants who end up submerged in the slush pool. From a bystander’s perspective, however, the sopping costumes and on-their-way-to-being-rusted-shut ski boots are just another entertaining perk of spring skiing.

Many other mountains across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine host similar springtime events with the hope of drawing in a crowd for some fun in the sun. It all depends on how long they can keep up useable conditions, and how many people think outside the box come late March.

So in the midst of this frigid winter, remember that spring is right around the corner and with it an opportunity to enjoy New England’s ski mountains in a unique way. No matter whose slopes you hit, you can get away with having a good time skiing this spring.