Taking chances--finding pure joy. PHOTO: Kene Sperry
The kids stopped at the sign announcing SKI AREA BOUNDARY, paused for a photo, then gleefully ducked the orange rope, passing into unchartered ski territory. I'd crossed this line for the first time 30 years ago, in this very spot, with the same excitement. And I know once the line is crossed there's no turning back.
They hunted Easter eggs that morning engulfed in a surprise blizzard, snow sifting steadily from a gray sky to cover the flamboyant plastic orbs in winter white. Eggs gathered and snow report checked, it wasn't hard to convince my three children to eschew chocolate bunnies and sugar-coated marshmallow chicks for something even sweeter: spring powder.
By the time we were geared up and headed back up the mountain, the sun had evicted the clouds, leaving a pristine blanket of fluff in their wake. On this day of religious importance for many, we worshipped at the altar of Ullr, heading to the church of snow and mountains and preparing the children for a local skier rite of passage down this out-of-bounds trail.
Narrow and winding, carved through the forest in the 1930s, back when all skiers earned their turns, this was one of the first ski trails in the East.
We started them skiing young, and so at ages 6 and 8 my children already know their way around a mountain that has been home hill for three generations on both sides of the family. They've found hidden stashes all their own, as kids always do, slipping into trees too tight for the grownups, exploring glades with the uninhibited merriment of skiers whose boards are a mere 110 centimeters long, tackling steep trails and the infamous Eastern boilerplate with the confidence of those who have skied for as long as they have walked.
But this--this was a new skiing milestone. Ducking the rope to ski out of bounds. Breaking the rules, at the urging of the very people who normally enforce them. This was their reward for leaving the lift service behind and lugging skis up a short bootpack: a few minutes hike that seems an endless, grueling march for a kid.
As soon as we crossed that line, the drudgery of the hike was replaced by the pure joy of untracked, off-piste powder.
"This is the best ski trail I've ever been on," whooped my daughter.
We were on an old trail, one too good to be forgotten by time and progress. Narrow and winding, carved through the forest in the 1930s, back when all skiers earned their turns, this was one of the first ski trails in the East. In the decades since, it's become a semi-secret trail, branching off a well-traveled run accessible via a short hike from the main hill. The lack of lifts here means the masses stay away, or at least head down the not-so-secret stashes linking back to the main area.
Easter Day we had the trail to ourselves, with only the ghosts of skiers past sharing the woods. The spring powder was knee-deep on the kids, boot-top for me, white poofs floating with each turn into the sunshine that followed the storm.
We glided from soft bump to soft bump. The trail's 13 turns spiraled away from the ski area, past rocky outcroppings where bobcats dwell. Down, down to the valley and the gentle traverse out to the trail's forested end, two miles away from the base area, at the dead end of a back road.
My mom, who first led me out of bounds and down this trail 30 years ago, met us at the bottom, our shuttle driver for the day. Kids and grownups, five skiers together, piled into her car with grins and all our gear. We rode out of the woods, smelling like a sloppy mix of sweat and melted snow, with crooked goggles and giddy giggles, back to the ski area, where nothing ever felt quite the same.