It’s curious how we alight in certain places.
From the moment I strapped on those long Northland skis at the age of 15, I was bitten, forever smitten with skiing. The sound of cold Vermont snow squeaking beneath my leather boots, the crinkling of little hairs in my nose as I sucked in that high alpine air and the mountains that rolled around me in shades of green to purple held me in the swirl of a hug.
That moment set a trajectory that drew me from the gentle mountains of Vermont to the Colorado Rockies and finally to the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range.
I had tried following a traditional path set for me by my father, working in book publishing and radio in New York City, then law in Washington, D.C., but I kept escaping to Vermont in my VW bug for euphoric flights down the slopes of Killington and Mt. Snow. Around the corner from my house in Georgetown, a car’s Colorado license plates gave me such an itch to head for those mountains that it took only a few months to decide to quit my job, break up with my boyfriend and drive that Volkswagen straight to Aspen, Colorado.
Died and gone to heaven. Colder than Vermont but dry-not-bitter cold. Snow not ice. Wide-open fields of soft, airy fluff, uncrowded slopes, even elk standing against the mountains watching us ski by. And as if by magic, it snowed at night and mornings dawned clear and sunny and powdery.
Growing up in a small town on the East Coast, I had been steeped in frontier history and tradition and followed the call to the mountains in fine old explorer style. My Yankee sensibilities fit right into the Colorado ski town snugged right up to the mountains. Landing there was landing home.
My soul flew thermals with the ravens above the ski mountains. When I hurled myself from the top of Aspen Mountain to the base, I traveled through pine alleyways, swooped into bowls and gulches, dodged squirrels that shot out of the woods daring me not to run them over, grinned at the shrieks of glee lifting out of the glades…and at the end of the day, met up with friends for a beer and bragging rights.
I skied the Rockies for a lot of years, growing up there, really, married, and skied some more, hitting Vail, Copper, Breckenridge, Telluride, Winter Park, Steamboat Springs. I learned to drop my fear of going too fast. Especially if I wanted to keep pace with my husband who was an SST on skis. On 215 K2 downhills, he swooped the mountain from top to bottom like a graceful hawk chasing and toying with a mouse. We reveled in laps on the gondola. Up and down, up and down as the sun gradually filled the gulch with light.
I never wanted to leave my ski heaven, but there came a time when that idyllic existence gave way to another kind of adventure: moving to California.
The process of becoming a Californian was tortuous for me. I was happy in my life; being uprooted and hauled to a remote canyon in Los Angeles was unnerving. The PCH was a nightmare. After living someplace that was no more than five minutes from anywhere, the PCH strung out a line of sparkling cars whipping along at warp speeds, while the drivers ate, talked on phones, applied makeup, did not look at the ocean that sidled into shore. I couldn’t drive. I was trapped in a hot canyon where the air didn’t seem to move. At all.
I wanted to ski, to live within vertical horizons. We couldn’t get to Mammoth fast enough. The first time we drove up from L.A. – in the dark – we had no idea where we were going or what the landscape looked like. It was all we could do to keep focus while other, more excited drivers daringly passed us on the two-lane sections of freeway. But the second trip was in bright daylight, a breathtaking journey from desert up to mountains, and awed us with a sense of geologic time and volcanic movement.
We became permanent Mammoth residents within one winter. The bonus in discovering Mammoth was finding a town filled with great people, kind, generous and friendly, a town we never want to leave, with a mammoth ski mountain to explore in winter and neverending trails to hike in the summer.
Now, just a little snow to cover the dog poop and add to the great snowmaking done by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and we’ll have a great year. Think snow.