Backstory: Winter Lost and Found

This winter I am going to ski the monster, the beast that created all those scary stories that skiers would tell when I was a kid. Tuckerman Ravine. Other skiers would brag of death-defying runs they survived down Tuckerman’s steeps. But despite always seeking steeper runs in my youth, I never got to cross it off of my list. So this season, I’m going to ski that boogieman.

The march toward The Headwall. [Photo] Tyler Cohen

The march toward The Headwall. [Photo] Tyler Cohen

Big deal, right?

First, let’s back up a generation. My parents had me on skis as soon as I could walk. Back then, our group of families headed north from Massachusetts, rented a ski house and partied the whole time. And back then, as a kid, I wished our Boston summers away. On hot and muggy days, I’d comb through ski magazines and dream of skiing in Chile on the Fourth of July. When ski season did return, I would get my ticket clipped all the time. “You are out of control,” the patrollers would bark. But they didn’t know what I knew—I would be the next Franz Klammer!

Then, at 17, my nuclear family exploded. No more family ski trips. Dad tried to take me to his ski club sometimes, but I was too much of a bitter, pain-in-the-ass punk to appreciate it.

At 20, I met my future bride on the subway into Boston. After less than a year, my sweetheart was expecting. Soon, we had our son, Zachery. A few years passed and the family grew with my baby girl, Annika. We were barely of legal drinking age. Along the way, tattooing, a lifelong passion, became a career and swallowed up even more time. And since tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts, I commuted from Boston to New Hampshire for 10 years.

Somehow in those years, I lost skiing. Too much family. Too much work.

Without skiing, I started to hate the cold. Hated being broke all winter since business dropped off after Labor Day. Winter sucked.

But recently, I got a steal on a little piece of mountainside in Franconia Notch, and now I’m beginning work on a tiny backcountry cabin. I bought the land around the time I started hiking to Tuckerman for a photo project. On those first few trips into the bowl, I had no thoughts of skiing again—certainly no desire to ski the daunting beast that towers above like a sheer wave about to break. But the more I gazed at Tuckerman, the stronger my need to ski again grew.

Just last year, I had no idea what skins or AT gear were, but now, even though I haven’t set foot into bindings in more than two decades, I dream about drying climbing skins near a wood stove. I still have no idea what “shaped” skis feel like. The last skis that I drove an edge on were 210cm long. But I just bought a pair of AT boots and some skis to match.

Now that it’s winter, the trail to Tucks is cloaked in white. And I’ll soon see how my new skins climb. I’ll strap skis on my pack for the steep boot pack to the snowfields. Above the Ravine, I’ll lock bindings down and latch boots as tightly as I can—and maybe a little bit more out of fear. All of those years spent away from snow, wishing winters away, will surely come to mind, and regret will reach critical mass.

Then, I’ll slide over the Ravine’s edge and let gravity pull me in. It’s the only way to throw myself back into winter, to make amends for all my time gone.

Want to come along? Maybe I should follow, though….

This reader essay was first published in the December 2013 issue of Backcountry Magazine. Tell us your story, keep it to 700 words and send it to subject titled “Backstory” for a chance to be published.

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