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Last Day of the Season
Throughout my 20s (and early 30s), I skied drunk. I wouldn’t get on the first chair unless I had 4 beers on me. Any jacket or pants pocket with a zipper became a receptacle for as many cans as you could stuff in there.
I remember it being really important not to litter. We’d finish a can, squish it down flat and stick it back in our jackets. We put everyone on the mountain in harm’s way by skiing under the influence, but litter bugs we were not. By the end of the day, all of the little drips and drabs and backwash from the squished cans would seep into the lining of your goretex. You’d marinate in a concoction of sweat and last sips of bud light all day. We must have stunk like a bottle and can redemption center. I apologize to any skiers from the singles lift line who joined us on the Summit Triple in those days.
This is a story about the last day of the ski season. I always wanted to be on the trip for the last day of the season. There’d be warm weather, funny outfits, live music, and pond skimming.
The vast majority of my weekend ski trips happened out of Conway, NH. We always stayed at my friend Jerry’s place on the Saco River. His dad built the house by hand over the past four decades. It’s everything you picture when you dream about owning a retreat in the mountains. Any weekend that Jerry’s folks were not going to be at the River house, we’d dash up there with 4-6 car loads of people. Hiking and canoe trips in the summer and ski trips in the winter. We showed our reverence for this holy place by blasting music, chugging alcohol until the sun came up, and swimming in the river nude.
Friday nights at the river house were about arrivals. People would make the long drive from MA and NY and arrive at all hours of the afternoon and evening. It was always thrilling to see a new set of headlights splash across the dining room wall. Friday night parties went deep into the night with guests stumbling off to bed until there were only few left standing. I was never the last one up, so I relished the morning debrief about Owen singing Frank Sinatra at 3am in the kitchen with no pants on.
I was usually the first one up on Saturday mornings. I could never sleep in, no matter how late I stayed up the night before. The booze always triggered worry and anxiety. I’d take a shower and start organizing my gear for the day making as much noise as possible in hopes of rousing the rest of the troops.
The house would slowly come alive with activity as we tried to get out the door. The bigger the group, the harder it was to get out the door. We’d load skis, boots, poles, and a human casket sized fishing cooler into cars.
Once everyone was up and our convoy was rolling, the first stop was at Patch’s Market. Patch’s cranks out stacks of english muffin breakfast sandwiches in the morning. Fried egg and cheese sandwiches with your choice of ham, bacon, or sausage patty that you’d burp up all day. The sandwiches got lined up in rows (organized by meat product) on the front counter for easy pickup. They looked like a platoon of little diapers with their white waxy wrappers. I’d grab two sandwiches to lay down a foundation. To go along with the sandwiches, we’d get 4 cases of beer and 6 bags of ice. We lugged our supplies outside after a few troubled looks from other patrons.
I always rented from Andes ski shop on the way to Attitash. I was the only one renting skis, so I’d pop out of the vehicle before it fully stopped and jog inside. I hated feeling like I was holding up the group. The rental shop guy became my arch-nemesis during this period of years. He was the type of retail operator who hated customers. He always seemed inconvenienced to help someone with a transaction. Definitely don’t tell them that I sent you. We’d have the same conversation a dozen times over the years.
“Do you know what size skis you want?”
“I think you’d be much better off on something in the 150s.”
“I’ve been skiing for 20 years. I rented 170s from this shop two months ago.”
He’d sigh and disappear for ten to twelve minutes knowing that I was in a rush to get out the door. He’d reappear and angrily jam one of my pre-fitted boots into a binding and make a couple adjustments. He’d take fifteen minutes to do three minutes of work.
The people on our team of skiers was always changing. That morning, in the ticket line I was standing with my cousin Bill and one of Jerry’s friends from school (Ashley). The rest of the group had season passes.
“Wait. I’m confused, Ashley says. Why did we get so much beer? We’re going to be out skiing all day. What are we going to do with that giant cooler?
“We’re going to fill it with ice and beer and then drink all of the beer,” Cousin Billy said.
A stranger in front of us with his two small kids slowly turns to Ashley and nods his head a couple of times in agreement with Cousin Bill. It looked like he was considering dropping his kids in ski school for the day so that he could join us.
I added some context for Ashley. I told her about the MacTavish’s house on the mountain and how we’d park there and take some breaks during the day to have a cocktail without needing to fight the crowds in the lodge.
The MacTavish’s were old friends from high school. As long as they didn’t have a full roster of guests, we’d park there for the day and treat their immaculate house like a personal ski-in, ski-out bar room. I always pictured them quietly sipping coffee and reading the paper while a bunch of scumbags are in their driveway stuffing a fishing cooler with beers. We’d tuck the cooler just off the trail so you could have a quick one and add two to your pockets without stepping out of your skis.
We got ready to ski. There was not much snow left on the hill. If you looked at shots from a drone, you’d have seen white-ish runs that held the last of the snowpack, rocks and grass showing in spots. Between the ski trails there would be brown runs which were just dirt. The whole place would be alternating brown and white stripes.
After a couple of runs and a handful of lift beers, I was feeling confident on my rentals. Every run we made was an unspoken race back to the lift. Lot of straight lining it. Very few turns accept for edgy carves to try and pick up more speed as you bounced out of a turn. I was trying to see if I could lay my shins down on the snow with each turn.
On maybe the 5th run of the day, I had an idea. If I got up enough speed, could I skim across 30 feet of mud to link two snowy patches together? I made sure that I had an audience as I cranked up my speed and set my line. I caught a small piece of air as I left the snow to attempt the stunt. I went from 57 mph to 0 mph in an instant. The force of the stop ripped both skis off and flung me face down into the dirt. I remember my vision being glazed and shiny when I slowly got to my knees and sat back on my heels. I could see 3 of my buddies had pulled over to make sure I was all right. Turns out, no, you can’t skim across 30 feet of mud and dirt.
T, you alright? - Jerry
I think so. Am I bloody?
Naw, man. You look fine.
Are you sure?
I could see some blood on the ground where I’d fallen. I pulled off my gloves and checked my face for a moment and yanked a twig out of my chin. I made my way back to the snow with my skis in one hand and poles in the other. I set my skis onto the snow. I felt like I was underwater slowly coming up towards the surface. I bent over to snap the heel piece of a binding down so that it would receive a boot and that was enough to spill a dark red puddle onto the snow.
Are you sure I’m not bleeding? I asked Jerry.
Oh, maybe a little.
I called a brief huddle with Jerry, Owen, and cousin Bill. “I think I’m fine guys. Let’s keep skiing.” I didn’t want to be the reason that anyone’s day was cut short.
“Whoa, man, Owen chimed in. I think we gotta take you down and get a couple zippers put in your chin. You’re leaking pretty good.”
I followed Owen to the Aid Station. It looked like an oversized backyard shed where they splint busted bones and patch up cuts and scrapes. If you need more serious care, they package you up and ship you off somewhere else. There are a couple of observation tables, a few chairs, and two rolling chests of stainless steel drawers that hold medical supplies. Owen and I took a seat. We were the only two people inside the shed. We waited for about eight minutes. I’m not sure if we were supposed to ding a bell or call someone. Another 4, 5, 6 minutes. Still no one. While we wait, Owen starts taking crushed cans of beer out of his ski coat and putting them in the trash. Still, no one shows.
“I guess no one’s coming, Owen said. Let’s just get started.”
I’ll just patch you up and we’ll get the fuck out of here.
Are you sure we can do that?
Owen’s been trained in first aid for work, but I’m not sure we should start our own trailside triage unit. He takes off his coat and washes his hands. He wheels over a chest of drawers next to where I’m sitting and sets up shop. Jerry and Bill pop in to see what’s taking so long; Bill deposits seven empty cans into the same bin. The medical trash can now has an entire case of crushed empties in it.
Jerry’s standing in the door way with the door propped open.
“I’ll keep an eye out,” he offers. Somehow the situation feels as tense as a bank robbery. We are drunk in the ski patrol aid station rifling through medical supplies. What will happen if someone shows up?
For the next 15 minutes, Owen cleans out the cut and patches me up with sticky butterfly strips. Up until this point, his work was solid and efficient. I think he was unsure how to finish the job so that we could return to the slopes. He grabbed a thick roll of white gauze and did a few laps around my head. He taped the end down. He stepped back to look at me and accidentally giggled.
“That should hold for the rest of the day.”
Somehow, no one ever showed up. We left the aid station and got back on the lift. I got a lot of sideways looks, but we continued skiing and drinking until the lifts shut down for the day.
I ended up taking one more fall that day. I was coming around a tight right hand turn on a narrow run when I caught a phantom bump. I was airborne and going fast. As I gained altitude, I drifted off course and landed in a tight group of young trees. The trees flexed and bent and cushioned my landing. I wasn’t hurt but the spill must have looked bad because a woman skied over to where I entered the trees to check on me.
“Oh my gosh, Are you okayyy?! Should I get ski patrol?”
I told her I was fine and started crawling out of the nook and collecting pieces of yard saled gear. I made it out to where she was standing. She made an audible “oh” seeing that I was bloody and pre-bandaged coming out of the woods. That must have been a shock.
We finished up for the day and met back at the MacTavish’s house. People wanted to know what happened. I had to repeat the story each time a skier showed up after their last run.
We left the mountain and I returned my stuff to the rental shop. I entered the shop and triggered one of those bells announcing my presence. Ronnie Rentals took one look at my battered and bloodied face and a huge grin slowly smeared across his face.