The Soloist

A beautiful trail for skinning (it is hard to believe that a week ago this was rocks and ice)

One of the perks of working in outdoor retail is that you do not often need to look very far for a partner.  It would seem as if a partner is always a phone call away; in fact, ski partners are so readily available I have been talked out of rest days repeatedly this year.  Now that I think about it, I have skied a bunch of days this year already and can not recall skiing any of those days alone.  While I have been grateful for the company, I have missed some of the solitude that comes with being alone with the outdoors and your thoughts.

A nice view of the trail

On Tuesday morning I headed to Mount Wachusett to meet Luke for a early morning skin and ski.  I had the day off and was in no hurry but we chose an early start hoping to beat the predicted rain.  My drive to the mountain was slow, with snowy roads, the traffic that ties in with the morning commute, and less than ideal weather.  However, I was lucky to be leaving the city as traffic heading towards the city was much worse than leaving.

On my drive Luke sent me a text saying he was running late, the result of traffic delays on his route to the mountain.  Later, as I pulled into the parking lot Luke sent another text to inform me that he was turning around and calling it a day.  He had been on the road for an hour and barely made it to what would normally take him fifteen minutes.  While I was discouraged that Luke would not be joining me (the day’s first setback), I was excited by the mountain’s conditions; it was dumping snow and the mountain appeared to have received six to eight inches already.

You can see how hard it was snowing (it was pretty calm until the summit where the wind picked up)

I decided that in Luke’s absence I would forgo skinning and merely enjoy some lift-assisted runs, reasoning that I could get a bunch of skiing in and take full advantage of the supremely good conditions.  While getting ready in the car I ran into the day’s second setback.  I had forgotten ski pants.  I live within a half hour of Mount Wachusett and under normal circumstances I would have bailed on the ski day at this point or returned home to retrieve a set of ski pants.  However, the mountain was in great condition and I remembered the traffic backing up trying to get into the city.  If I left the mountain now all I was doing was sentencing myself to sit in a traffic jam.

After berating myself for being so absent minded, I headed into the retail shop at Wachusett and bought a new pair of ski pants.  This purchase really hurt me because working in outdoor retail I am not used to paying full price for things like ski gear, and because I have promised myself to by less gear this season and focus on wearing out some of the items that are residing in my closet.  Oh well, I am now the proud owner of some electric blue Orage ski pants. 

Looking at back at my tracks

I returned to my car, pulled the tags off my new ski pants, and proceeded to get ready for a day skiing the pow when I encountered setback  number three: my season pass was missing.  My season pass normally resides in the center console of my car as a way to prevent such a setback.  The problem is that I often forget the pass in ski pants and ski bags and never realize the pass is missing until it is too late.

After already stomaching the purchase of new pants, I was afraid to go to customer service and see what they would charge me for a duplicate pass or a day pass. Instead, I chose to head out to the mountain and see how many runs I could get in before someone asked to check my pass.  Two seasons ago I was hugely successful with this ‘guerrilla skiing,’ as I rode Wachusett for the entire season without a pass because I was too cheap/broke to buy one at the beginning of the season. This time, I managed to make roughly ten runs before a lifty asked to see my pass. Upon his request I feigned ignorance stammering on about how I must have left it in my car.  The lifty generously allowed me to ride to the top after I promised I would return for my next run with season pass in hand.

No traffic on this road

After running my last pass-less lap, I returned to the car knowing my day running the lifts was over but still hungry for a little more skiing before the rain came and put an end to the wonderful powder day.  Despite forgetting my pants and pass, I did have touring gear in the car and decided that I would finish my day by skinning to the summit and taking a run on Conifer.

After applying skins to my skis and re-layering I left the resort’s parking lot and headed up the Midstate Trail.  The conditions were incredible and I could only see one other set of tracks (a faintly visible set of foot prints, probably from some very early morning hiker who managed to beat the majority of the snow).  I followed the Midstate Trail to the Summit Road where I continued my skin to the summit.

 Stopping for a drink, notice the blue pants that I procured earlier that morning

The conditions were incredible on the backside of Mount Wachusett and it appeared that I had been the only person to venture up that part of the Mountain in some time.  The footprints I had seen earlier disappeared about a half mile up the trail, leaving me alone to break trail often in more than ten inches of snow.  As I was hiking, I came to realize that while I love the group dynamic and being out with friends, there is something very powerful about being alone in the woods.  Even though I was within fifty yards of the ski resort at times, I felt very alone.  It was just me, the woods, and the rhythm of my skis moving uphill.

While going out in a group is fun, I think there is merit to getting outside and experiencing things for oneself.  Despite the day’s setbacks I was grateful for not having my pass (and I kind of like my new electric blue pants) or I would never have had the wonderful experience I did.  While doing activities in a group is extremely fun and rewarding, there is something about escaping into nature alone.  Overall, I was happy that this day seemingly full of setbacks worked itself out and helped show me something that I had forgotten about over the last few months.

No need to hide, I am twenty feet from the lift and can not see it, nor can they see me