Fifteen minutes to our south in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it is currently illegal to be on the road. Beacon Hill declared the activity punishable by fine or even jail time. Here, on Route 101 West in New Hampshire, our libertarian tradition permits reckless self-endangerment of many forms, like starting a drive through the maze of winding back roads at dusk with a storm due to drop over two feet of snow coming the other direction.
As the snow thickens, we dip below the speed limit in four-wheel drive, no one else on the roads tonight, and the turns of the “thoroughfare” we’re supposedly on are indiscernible from private driveways. The only objective, sane voice in this darkening madness is the pale yellow line on the GPS screen marking our planned route.
We don’t see the lights of Crotched Mountain until we are nearly in the parking lot. The reach of their glow is cut short by the spinning winds and snow that envelope skiers, riders, buildings, trees, everything. We head out into the storm. If skiing is an escape from reality, then night skiing is an escape into a temporal reality, one that ends at the edge of the light and exists nowhere else. There is no horizon.
The end of the storm, when the skies pop blue, is a depressing moment for me. After the final snow stake measurement is taken—in this case 26”—it’s a violent and shockingly quick flow back to reality as the “product” of the savagery, the deep curtain of snow, is torn to a billion pieces by the time we show up in the parking lot the next morning.
It’s better to be there in the most hostile part of the storm, turning into a deep night as inches 17, 18, and 19 swirl. Things change every time I drop from the summit ridge. At first, a furious headwind beats any forward movement to a halt, and then a vacuum opens, the wind suspending the snowflakes in the air. I’m sucked downhill, my speed no longer a product of my decisions, accelerated through a bright patch in the ride, and spit out into a series of exploding turns down the wind buff. The only choice is down and forward by feel. Skiing feels more like exploring.
Once we’re back in the car, searching through the blizzard for a place to stay, we turn nauseous and irritable as we desperately imagine a warm room for ourselves in this rabbit hole of an evening. Finally John, the flannelled owner of the Inn at Crotched Mountain, introduces us into the safety of his fairytale New England farmhouse just before midnight.
The New York Times reported that along with the cuddly animated fish of the same name, Captain Nemo, the enigmatic scientific genius and commander of the Nautilus submarine in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, also provided inspiration for The Weather Channel to name this particular Northeastern blizzard as it did. When Captain Nemo claimed Antarctica, he raised a flag featuring his signature capital N as well as the motto of the submarine Nautilus—Mobilis in mobil—that roughly translates from Latin to “moving within the moving element.” I think back to Friday night, when instead of hunkering down in the safety of shelter, we entered into the gullet of the storm.