The First Snow

There’s something about the first snow of the season that’s always different. I’ll tell how it happened to me. The first tip came from the weather forecast –a strong chance of snow, it said. But would it actually happen? I thought of my skis still in storage in the barn; little reason to get them out yet. I pushed the thought of snow out of my mind and concentrated on normal activities.

A few flakes drifted lazily to the ground.Inwardly I was rejoicing because the conditions seemed perfect for a nice snow. The ground was frozen cold and the sky was heavy gray. The air was still and crisp. Soon the ground was white with snow. Still the flakes fell. Dark came and found me gazing out a window, entranced by the pure flakes materializing out of a solid void of sky. I went to bed dreaming of a snow day.

In the morning I awoke and flung the blinds aside hoping to see a white neighborhood. Nothing was changed from the night before. The grass in the lawn was still covered by only a thin blanket of snow. I resisted the urge of going to the barn for my skis and making parallel lines across the yard. The practical side of me told me not to make tracks -because that would spoil the snow, and also because there was hardly enough snow to ski on. Tonight I would slip into the barn and take my skis to the trail and glide effortlessly through the quiet wood, the only noise being a barely perceptible whisper as my skis laid down miles and miles of perfectly parallel stripes. Ohh… that would be grand!

All day I practiced skiing in my mind while waiting for darkness to come. Forgotten were last year’s episodes with the ground. After all, there was snow, and the snow completely covered the ground. But the ground was still there, as hard and as frozen as ever.My skis were freshly waxed and small snowdrifts formed around my boots from the snow that was whipped up by my skis speeding through the powder. I gazed around me at the dark tree tops and listened to the silence of snow. Soon many miles of perfect stripes were behind me, and I continued into the night… All day I practiced complicated moves in my mind, and by supper time had perfected my technique enough so that I could glide effortlessly on the soft white snow with scarcely a whisper.

I went home for supper. It wouldn’t do to take my skis out of the barn yet. I would eat supper and then just quietly get dressed in my finest non-cotton, and then retrieve the skis from the shed and go to the trail and ski all night. I found my ski wax and a soft cloth, then put a headlamp, a Clif bar, and a Nalgene bottle in my pack and went out into the chill, clear air. I found my skis where I had left them last spring and put them into the back of the pickup. I backed out of the driveway and was gone. Soon I would be gliding through the silent wonderland. I adjusted my poles one by one while stopped at traffic lights. I laid the poles on the dash in front of me to be within easy reach when arriving. My gloves were laid at the ready on the seat beside me. I parked in the empty lot at the trailhead. I went behind the pickup and clipped my shoes into the skis. *So far so good. *I slid across the icy parking lot and clambered over two sets of curbs. I duck-walked across a patch of bare asphalt.

Soon I was on the trail. But I wasn’t gliding, and it wasn’t effortless. Alas, my skis seemed to be unhappy with snow and silence. They forced me to push them ahead one at a time. They made an uneven rasping noise. My poles jarred uncertainly against the frozen ground just inches below the white. I turned my headlamp on high beam and pushed back the silent wonderland and concentrated on keeping the tips of my skis separated and in front of me. My mind strayed from its purpose a few times, but quickly returned when my tips locked together. During mental practice my ski poles had barely touched the snow whizzing by under my skis; I now found that my poles were very necessary to keep a balance of sorts with my ski tips conniving against me. At times it was all I could do –and indeed I did some wild gyrations- to keep from falling on my back in this pure snow. I leaned on my poles to rest and to catch my breath. I looked down the hill and watched lights coming and going in the parking lots. I listened to the steady drone of cars and apartment buildings. The snow on the trail was tracked from runners and skiers. One set of stripes in particular caught my eye; a perfect parallel ribbon vanishing into the darkness. I set off, determined to match and outdistance that pair.

I shuffled along in this manner for quite some time. I somewhat relaxed in the monotony of sliding my feet along and began to romance about the treetops in the dark snowy night. My skis were still being obstinate, and again reminded me to focus sharply on the tips. I stopped to catch my breath. I looked behind me and saw that I was not far from the parking lot. I looked the other way, at the trees. I thought of the poem about the skater and the wolves, and smiled. I like the part where the skater goes faster and faster, coaxing utmost speed from his trusty skates. But I shuddered when I thought of the hobbles that were on my feet, and hoped I wouldn’t have to go fast. I stopped and practiced operating the release mechanism because I knew I could walk or run faster than I could ski. I pushed on into the night.

Ahead I saw cars whizzing across the trail where there was a road crossing. But before the road was a hill. My pace somehow slowed even more as I began to climb this mountain. With each stride I tried hard to keep my skis from losing ground and sliding backwards. I finally reached the top. I looked both ways for headlights and made an effort to quickly get to the road, waddle across the bare asphalt, and get out of sight before the next car came around the corner. I was almost across when a big diesel pickup came around the corner and blew its horn at me. I didn’t mind though, because I was ready to go downhill now. I pushed off with both poles and coasted -to an abrupt halt. I pushed off again, and this time my poles frantically scraped along beside my skis, trying to get a purchase on the barely covered frozen ground. Somehow I made it as far as the first mile-marker. I leaned on my poles and wandered how I would get back to the pickup.

The air was nice and chilly. Each breath left a noble-looking cloud of fog. I thought of other things I could be doing – would be doing- if I were not out here in the middle of the night. I would probably be reading a book under a blanket, a cup of hot tea close by. I might be reading a short story by O Henry. I could be shopping somewhere or relaxing at Starbucks. But this was where I wanted to be. Winter is made for more than reading, shopping, and hot drinks. The trees around me were silent –in agreement, it seemed. The stars were there above me, as bright as ever. I could almost hear them twinkle. The night really was beautiful. I wouldn’t have traded the moment for anything. That is why I like skiing.