(Ed’s note: This is the second of a two-part story—see part I HERE ».)
By Ryan Dunfee
Published: January 6, 2011
After sleeping in my buddy’s house in Maine with its impossibly-broken boiler—so a relaxing 37 degree room temperature for the night’s slumber—we packed the car for another late start and drove the long and winding backwoods route to Rangeley, Maine, where Saddleback Mountain awaited in the brightening dawn (11 a.m.).
Saddleback hails itself as a “big mountain experience,” and our crew was excited to test its hunch that Saddleback is Maine’s answer to Magic Mountain in Vermont, and especially to see what the week’s 34 inches of fallen blower would look like in the newly-thinned Casablanca glades.
Following our established protocal of poor calls, missed epic-ness and choice timing, we happened to arrive on a day of record-setting ticket sales for the mountain, and a day after the lifts to the Casablanca glades had opened. We made our way into a nearly-immobile lift line to work our way toward the Kennebago quad, which would be the staging point for our ill-timed attempt at shredding the fresh gnar.
The Casablanca glades, with a traverse even an Alta local would respect, had been shredded clean of any first tracks, but still held plenty of soft to take advantage of. The C-Glades consist of several shots with good pitch and the fourth one with good, open spacing that would have been killer… a day earlier. The traverse thins out a good number of people and we find ourselves with plenty of room to move and even a few good hits to send it off of.
While I’m naturally disappointed in our poor timing, lack of fresh tracks, and my newly-jammed big right toe, looking all kinds of ugly out of my sock, I’m comforted by the fact that some ski area bars sell drinks that don’t cost as much as the burgers. Saddleback’s Swig ‘n Smelt Pub on the second floor of the lodge serves up PBR tall boys for $2 a whack—amen to that.
Now that my right toe looks like an eggplant, it was time to not only miss prime blizzard conditions but not ski entirely—with limited sensation in my lower extremities due to a previous spinal cord injury, also suffered while blowing it on skis. I have to tiptoe (someone will note the unintended pun sooner or later so I’ll just call myself out now) around potential injuries until someone who spent a lot of time and money in school and learned how to stay up for longer than any other human while dealing with sick and injured people tells me everything’s OK. Not to worry—after packing the car full of food and other essentials from one of Maine’s proudly independent grocers, it’s time to head to Sugarloaf to meet up with a trove of college buddies whose enthusiasm for backcountry missions, and skiing in general, is fueled mostly by its association with a free place to stay while talking shit about each other and playing beirut on a tuning bench.
While the able-bodied crew makes its first and final foray onto the slopes the next day, I head down to the closest thing anyone with more than two floors in their building would consider civilization—Farmington, Maine—to join the New Year’s Eve holiday rush at the emergency room and get my toe checked out (damn you Sugarloaf for nixing your free clinic!).
After reading more about hockey than I could have possibly tolerated in any other circumstance and watching every ski movie stored on my hard drive, I am quickly seen by the physician and told my toe is fine (I’m a coward), and that I spent six hours of my life waiting for someone to tell me I shouldn’t ski for another few days.
While it would seem that my athletic mission had come to an end for the weekend, I was still able to compete amongst old friends in challenges of grit and spirit in Apples to Apples and wizard sticks. And while forbidden from ski boots, I still got to enjoy the thrill of Sugarloaf’s Birches Slopes trail, its wet, mucky slopes a perfect venue for our celebratory midnight elimination sled race on New Year’s Eve—starting at the Sugarloaf base lodge and winding around drunk pedestrians and weak sledders to a hairy finish at the end of the pitch-black tunnel separating Birches Slopes from Snowbrook. After enough laps to soak our best one pieces, we returned to the condo, somehow down a sled but up a ski pole.
On the East Coast, epic conditions come and go like home Celtics games, and you can miss them as easily as you can forget to pick up the paper in the morning. But I can now rest assured that when I miss the next storm, there will be another group of like-minded skiers and snowboarders who have also blown it, waiting excitedly in the bar to tell me how cheap the tall boys are.