David and I have been staying in the White Mountains for the last several days, cross-country skiing at Jackson XC, “The #1 Cross Country Ski Area in the Eastern United States,” according to their tag line. Jackson has long been a favorite cross-country ski destination for me.
Decades ago Eric and I came to Jackson to ski at least once a year, often with our friends Alison and John and often for multi-day ski trips, like the one I’m on right now. In those days we looked for maximum downhill thrills, taking a gondola to the top of the Wildcat ski area whenever the conditions were right and skiing down the backside of the mountain, on a cross-country ski trail. We were using long, wooden, Bona skis, which had to be treated with pine tar and then waxed, and we wore wool knickers and long socks, wool hats and mittens. Yesterday at the Jackson XC center I walked up to a display of wax and the young man working behind the counter asked if he could help me. “No,” I said. “I just want to look and remember all those years of waxing.” Now we’re on fiberglass, waxless back country skis, outfitted with wicking fabrics and soft shell jackets and the only wool we’re wearing is in our socks.
As we drove north on Saturday it started snowing, and kept up for more than 24 hours. With over 6″ of fresh snow since we’ve arrived, the skiing has been quite fantastic. Yesterday we skied the East Pasture Loop, following the tracks of several skiers before us, one of whom had cut graceful, sloping curves of telemark turns in the fresh snow. Today we climbed a long, gradual ridge up the shoulder of Popple Mountain. We skied the Maple Mountain loop at the top of the ridge, climbing to an area with sweeping views of Iron Mountain to our south, the cloud-shrouded mountains on either side of Pinkham Notch to our north.
While I’ve been fully present in the moments of the last several days, enjoying the fresh snow, the kick and glide of well-groomed trails, and views of mountains whenever the snow clouds cleared off, I’ve also been remembering those ski trips from 30 years ago. I’m beginning to understand that one aspect of aging, beyond less willingness to ski the steepest slope I can get to on my own, is how past experience enriches what is happening right now. I can still go out and ski 20 kilometers a couple of days in a row, and I can still climb over 1,000 feet on skis and manage the fast sweep back down, and for that I’m grateful. But I’m also grateful for how past memorable skis layered under today’s quick trip back down a hillside after a long climb up, and the realization that some joys can come again and again.