My skis are dangling above a ribbon of snow as I whiz quickly uphill on the chairlift. Right now, creeping up on the very end of December, there is a stark contrast between the bright manmade snow and the brown woods as the groomed trails below me slice through the sparsely covered forest.
Ten minutes ago, I’d slipped out of my roomy moccasins and into my boots, clamping down the buckles tight. A half hour ago, I turned the car around to grab my goggles, which I’d forgotten on the kitchen counter. An hour ago, I scarfed down some oatmeal and slurped black coffee. Before then, I rolled out of bed and slipped into long underwear in the dark, with the sun still hanging low out of sight. Now I’m on the lift, about to be delivered to the summit. It’s cold. Well, it’s not that cold. I’m cold. It’s my first day out here on the hill. My body has not acclimated to this chilly mountain air yet.
The chair drops me off at the top and I slide forward, remembering the feeling of snow compressing under my skis. I’ve been waiting for this moment all fall. I don’t stop to think, I just point my tips and push off, skating.
The slope dips into the trail’s first pitch, and I hook my edges into the side of the hill, curling them into the mountain. Feeling the groove return, I roll my ankles back and forth. Until this point, I wasn’t sure that I’d actually remember how to ski. It had been so long since I’d made those last few slushy, sweaty turns at the end of the previous season. But my ski legs come back quickly and I fall into a neat, even rhythm.
The wet, early-season snow grabs at my skis, and each arc I carve through the crud calls upon muscles that have been dormant for months. Halfway through the run my legs are burning. So I relax. This is shakedown day, and there’s no pressure. I open it up, taking each turn wider across the hill, and gather speed as I loosen my line.
I hurl blindly over a roll in the trail and suddenly am flying towards an exposed patch of dirt. My first instinct is to throw my tails sideways. With the speed I’m carrying this is not the best choice. I hit a strip of ice and skid a few feet before my skis swoop out from under me. My hips meet the hill and my pants catch on the ice, yanking me to a stop.
I ball up my fists in my gloves and push myself up, brushing off the snow. Shake out my legs, my tired muscles. Then I smile. Oh, I smile, I smile. That was good. There’s always a first fall—there has to be one of these, every season. Now it’s out of the way. I ski back off down the hill snapping my turns quickly as ever, grinning into the cold wind rushing into my face, a giddy grin slowly spreading across my face. At the bottom, I slide into the liftline and head right back up.
This is the third of a series called Dropping In which highlights all the best milestones in kicking off a new ski season. For serious skiers and boarders in the Delaware Valley, visiting Salter’s is one of these annual rites. Check back into the blog later to see what other moments we’re looking forward to.
Joining the Salter’s crew to write Dropping In and other stories is Clare Menzel, a New Hampshirite studying philosophy in her final year at the University of Pennsylvania. As it always happens in this close and familiar northeastern ski world, Clare’s parents are family friends—way back from the old college days in New England. She is the Women’s Alpine Captain of the Penn ski team and has written for Powder Magazine and Powder’s blog.