Skier-Aron Brophy-Location_Jay Peak Backcountry, Vermont. Photo: Lenny Christopher
Skier-Aron Brophy-Location_Jay Peak Backcountry, Vermont. Photo: Lenny Christopher

The East Coast Gets Redemption

Returning from a bad snow year, there’s nothing like deep pow deliverance

Thanks goodness for the return of deep days. PHOTO: Lenny Christopher

It's 7:15 a.m. and the combo of sand, gravel, and salt that coats New England roads from November to April is no match for Mother Nature's last performance. The season's first Nor'easter has delivered 24 inches overnight, leaving the roads slick, and pushing Western Maine into early winter hibernation. Snow blowers are just revving up along the access road, and as I roll into the Mount Abram parking lot, I'm one of the first cars pulling up to the main lodge.

But while the outside world hits 'snooze', the Abram snow globe is in hyper drive. A brigade of shovelers works to clear the lodge pathways as snowmobiles whiz by. Back in the parking lot, the area snowplow carves out a second row of parking, and then a third. In the middle of the madness, General Manager Dave Scanlan directs his operations orchestra with one hand, holding a fat pair of pow sticks in the other.

He knows what today means, and he's not about to miss it.

More Skiing as Craft: Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast.

Just as economic recession hits small towns the hardest, its meteorological equivalent takes a shot at the gut of small ski areas, hills that rely on a little natural intervention to keep the bull wheel spinning year after year.

Last year, Abram, along with the rest of the East Coast, weathered the lack of snowfall the best it could. With only 28 inches of natural snow all season long, it bunkered down, turning up the snow guns just enough to keep the night league races going and high school ski teams competitive.

Sure, the diehards kept coming, but every weekend started to turn into every other. After all, it hurts to watch something you love in pain.

But winter folk have a funny way of finding common ground in commiseration. When the snow doesn't come, you don't just hear it from the skiers, you hear it from the innkeepers to the plow drivers. It becomes a kind of shared obsession, the anticipation of an atmospheric pulse that might break the dreaded dry spell.

Can't be any worse than last winter. Remember the winter of ’89? I hope we never see one like that again.

Today that yearlong drought has been shattered with a sledgehammer, and 20 or so of us are here at first bell to watch it fall. Just a few inches short of the tally for all of last season, Mother Nature's one-night performance carpets the hill as Abrams' signature double rumbles to life.

Ski patrol crackles over the radio—there's so much snow, they're worried people won't be able to get from the top of the lift to the fall line.

That's enough to make the eyes around me light up, eyes that watched storm after storm roll in warm last season, eyes that winced when their Christmas-gifted skis finished the year in a storage closet, unused.

Another Essay on Skiing: The euphoria of speed and stopping on a dime.

Everyone in this line has rehearsed their powder day ritual no less than one million and two times. Today it's time to perform.

Skate left off the chair, keep enough speed to hook right past the poma, and drop left into an untouched Upper Rocky's Run. Send it Hollywood, roll fall line under the lift, pop off that stump and let everyone on the lift know that powder skiing is the best thing—ever.

Not one turn is going to waste today. Not. One. Single. Turn. Catharsis in the carve, redemption for a last year that wasn't. As we rise higher, the howls of the day's first skiers grow louder. This is it.

A pack of young skiers size up a cliff that they've been eyeing for a full 365. One by one, they drop, and one by one they catch their tips and roll into silly puffs of white, leaving behind a wake of skis, poles, and goggles. It's been a while, and the deep snow landings are a little rusty.

I watch as one of the little senders scrambles to retrieve his ski. He can't stop laughing. Winter is back, if only for today.