In Defense of Slow Travel: Winter in New England

MARCH 6, 2013

At least half of the appeal of skiing in New England is the atmosphere that surrounds you just getting there.  If you need any encouragement to step outside your comfort zone and throw yourself across a sheet of ice, let this be it.

I learned that lesson on the third day of the new year, an appropriate time considering it had been some 12 years since I last stepped boot on a pair of skis, and about the same amount of time I had spent meaning to take it up again.

New year, old sport.

I meant to arrive in time for the 10:00am lesson.  But that meant leaving at 7am, which meant waking up at 6am, which was an impossibility.  To compensate, I armed myself with some resurrected knowledge of how to finagle a telemark turn (courtesy of YouTube videos), along with a primer outlining why cross-country skiing is superior to alpine (and not just my lame way of easing back in). With my Turtle Fur and long underwear packed, I pulled out of the driveway at 9:45am for a solo day of skiing in Dover, VT.

The cars on the road tapered off as the elevation and number of moose-crossing signs grew. Here, somewhere along VT-9W and VT-100N, the roads really do wind. They really are tree-lined, and there actually is only one lane for each direction of traffic, whether or not you’re on a median-free expressway. At one point, I was driving in my winding one lane that happened to be both tree-lined and alongside a mostly frozen yet somehow still bubbling brook.

This was all new to me, despite the several ski trips I took in Northern New England growing up.  The few memories I have consist of frozen toes, unwieldy snowsuits, and the promise of hot cereal soaked in maple syrup. Trying to keep pace with my older sisters, I had hopelessly been the lowest on the totem pole, merely along for the ride because there wasn’t another option and because I had no say.  But now, alone in a car without the faintest idea of how my day would look, all of that had changed. From deciding out of the blue to make the five-hour round trip in a day to electing to forego my iTunes library, leaving me alone not just in the woods but also with my thoughts, everything about this experience was to be done on my own terms.

And, not for nothing, I’d be doing so while darting past very sizable trees and confronting my newly formed adult fear of having a terrible sense of balance. It was also, with a 5-degree wind chill, the coldest day of the season.

I wish I could say that on the trails of Timber Creek Cross Country none of that mattered. Quite the contrary. It took me a full 30 minutes to realize that those tracks on the side of the trail were ones I was actually supposed to be using. But, when I fell the first time, no one was around to witness it (also true for falls two through six). I was able to press on; my ego wasn’t so bruised, the limited momentum meant pain-free falls, and sufficient layering made 5-degree weather feel like 50. Plus I was getting a good workout.

Above all, it was quiet. It was slow. I could actually see the trees as I was going by them. I could take photos at will and not have to worry about being crashed into or being inadequate, even when I was. As much a vacation for what it was as for what it wasn’t, cross-country skiing afforded welcome relief from the noise and one-upmanship I associated with downhill skiing — and that we see enough of in daily life anyway.

I had feared the wintertime sport of my childhood had inescapably become all about speed, flash, and boozy hot tubs for someone my age. But not here in the middle of these Frost-approved woods with no one determining my fate but me.

It’s been said that the ability to be comfortable alone is a critical stage of emotional development. In this sense, cross-country skiing is a restorative venture unlike any other – a chance to be alone, surrounded by the silence that only a blanket of snow can provide, and feeling completely at peace with nature – both in the larger sense of the word and also with your own.

Luisa is the senior editor of Rollinglobe. You can see other ski related stories and packages at www.skiandsnowdeals.com 

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