Friday, January 8, 2016

Under the Guns

If I concentrate, I can almost block out the roar of the snow guns, which are spewing manmade snow beneath an uncharacteristically bluebird New Hampshire winter sky. Soft as silk, the snow sifts to the ground, building cover on the snow whales, which rise like cresting waves in a perfect line down the hill: swelling white whoop-de-dos that offer up continued freshies, last run’s tracks filled in again in the time it takes to ride up the chairlift.

The bottom layer of manmade is incredibly grippy underneath the top layer of fluff, the combination of firm base and fake pow like some other version of hero snow. I push off down the steep trail, chairlift to the left, tree line to the right, goggles down, zipper up against the subzero chill, the bliss of sleek turns bigger than the blaring of the guns.

Western skiers would scoff at this zest for manmade snow. I know; I lived and skied among them for five long, lovely winters. I moved west after college with a lifelong ski buddy. We’d grown up together as ski racers on the blue ice and manmade granular of a New Hampshire mountain, in an era when ski racers weren’t encouraged to ski anything other than hard pack. Early in our first Colorado winter, we hiked out to Crested Butte’s Third Bowl. The snow was waist-high, and we hadn’t a clue what to do with all that powder. We flailed. Then laughed. Then floated as we figured it out.

She’s still out there, skiing the deep stuff, while I’m in my 15th winter back East. Turns out you can take the girl out of New England, but she just might come back to the mountains of home, despite the discrepancy in annual snowfall between there and here.

Manmade snow is an Eastern skier’s lifeblood, a necessity that allows us to carry on down the ski slopes, even if the grass is still poking through the shallow layer of white on the front lawn. Even in a season like we had last winter, where it snowed lots before Christmas, we relied on the manufactured stuff to keep skiing through a late-December rain, holding on until winter returned with a welcome and persistent vengeance.

Thankfully, manmade snow has come a long way since ski areas started lining the slopes with snow guns a half-century ago. This is not your grandma’s manmade snow. It’s soft and creamy and carve-able. I know it’s not the real stuff, the deep powder of a skier’s dreams. But with a start to winter like we’ve had this season, I’ll take manmade bliss over the alternative of no skiing at all. And while this is no powder bonanza, the skiing is good. With the super cold temperatures early this week, ski areas all over the region fired up the guns, blowing their own version of cold smoke.

My last powder day was Easter, the flakes falling fat and fast on the kids as they hunted Easter eggs. That April storm was a surprise, and we took advantage by heading out for a post-egg-hunt family ski day, introducing our third-generation Cannon kids to a favorite, slightly off-piste, not-entirely-secret stash. The kids whooped as much in delight of the new snow as in discovering an old trail through the woods, an adventure that is a local skiing rite of passage.

True to their New England roots, my kids love a good snowfall. Even a dusting of new white has them rushing out the door to sled or shovel or brush snow angels into the fluff. A mere couple of inches, in their minds, constitutes a powder day and has them clamoring to get out on the hill. And true to their New England roots, my kids are not thrown by having spent the first month of this ski season on purely manmade snow. Any day skiing is better than a day not skiing, whether powder or frozen granular, come rain or wind or snow or ice or, sometimes, cold sunshine.

I don’t know when the next powder day will be. Until then, I’m taking what I can get: a man-made blizzard, and the occasional face shot under the guns. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the January 8, 2016 edition of the Littleton Record.

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