A rusty bullwheel from an old T-Bar at Otis Mountain is slowly being lost to an ever encroaching forest.
According to most calendars, the spring season officially arrives during the month of March. However, in the Adirondack region, where the average weather is always a bit extreme, winter tends to linger a little longer than it does in the rest of the state.
Although the loitering winter weather often suppresses the timely transition to spring, it also provides a fortunate opportunity for local winter sports enthusiasts, as well as others who travel north to enjoy the ice and snow.
Last weekend, I enjoyed an opportunity to join forces with supporters of both entities, as locals and visitors alike joined together at Otis Mountain Ski Center in Elizabethtown to celebrate the 11th Annual Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival.
Hosted by The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, proceeds from the annual festival are used to benefit the NYS Ski Education Foundation’s Nordic racing programs and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, custodians of the popular Jackrabbit Trail, which connects communities from Keene all the way to Paul Smiths.
The weekend program offered an assortment of ski clinics, guided backcountry ski adventures, a demo day and a wonderful dinner at the Keene Valley Lodge. The event culminated with an assortment of slide and video presentations that were enjoyed by a lively group of active outdoor enthusiasts.
The guided tours in the High Peaks offered extreme skiing adventures on some of the mountain slides created by Hurricane Irene, while others sent skiers down the winding wooded trails of Mt. Marcy, Wrights Peak and Johns Brook Valley.
However, I chose to participate in a more exciting adventure, which brought me back to the more modest ski slopes of my youth at a Demo Day event hosted at Otis Mountain in Elizabethtown. Formerly a public ski center, the small hill is now in private ownership.
When I arrived in the late morning, there was already a sizable crowd assembled around the large display of demo gear.
It was a cool, yet sunny day, and I couldn’t wait to get on the hill. So, I strapped on an old pair of wooden skis and headed straight to the rope tow, operated by the property owner, Jeff Allot.
Like many locals, Jeff and his siblings grew up skiing at Otis. It’s fortunate he’s been able to revive the old haunts, to restore some sore ski legs and let some of us be kids again, if only for a day.
I stepped out of the line, and bent over to grip the old, wet rope. I squeezed it and with a jerk, I began a short journey back in time.
The ride only took about a minute, but when I reached the top of the hill, the old rope had transported me back to a different era.
It was exciting, and I could feel myself giggling.
I looked around nervously, trying to keep it contained inside, and hoping nobody would notice.
I first stopped to savor the view across the Pleasant Valley of the Boquet, with the cliffs of Cobble Hill looming in the distance. I knew that many things had changed, and yet it all looked so familiar.
For the moment, I was a kid again, back in a time of complete freedom, when my only problems were soggy mittens, a runny nose or the encroaching darkness that threatened an end to another day of fun. Nothing mattered, it was time to play.
After savoring the view, I continued climbing further up the slope to the top of the adjacent ‘big hill’, which had been serviced by a T-bar in my youth.
As I skied along the old connector trail, which was well grown over, it reminded me of many other things that had ‘grown over’ in the four decades since I had last been on the hill.
Fortunately, like those memories, my enthusiasm for such youthful adventures remains intact. As I made my way through the silent woods, I was able to recapture some of the laughter and freedom of those days.
They certainly were simpler times, when parents would drop off their children in the early morning, and return to pick them up at dark, without a care or concern.
It was a time when freestyle skiing was known as ‘hot-dogging,’ and a 360 was called a ‘helicopter.’
Moguls weren’t yet named, they were just bumps, and skis didn’t have brakes. Skis were attached to the boots by leather safety straps.
You could break a leg if you fell, but you’d never loose a ski. We’d often tape old, Life magazines to our legs to stuff into the back of our low top, leather boots, so we could sit back while hot-dogging down the hill.
Tim Drummond, a local kid, was one of the best skiers on the hill and it was always a thrill to see what spin or flip or stunt he would come up with next.
He was a very talented athlete, and it’s fortunate there were no snowboards around at the time, ‘cause some of us probably wouldn’t be around today.
I traversed to the top of the big hill and climbed higher. By the time I finally reached the bullwheel at the top of the old, T-Bar hill, I was a youngster again, and that old, daredevil spirit was back.
After a few quick photos, I skied off and dropped into a tuck heading down a small chute through the woods.
Quickly, I gained speed and my skis were chattering on the crusted snow as I flew down the hill.
I was moving pretty fast when I decided to cut off on a short, steep connector trail which would take me back to the small hill.
Soon, saplings began to encroach on the route and I had to bail. There wasn’t much of a choice, so I headed for a small opening off the trail.
I hit hard and ended up crumpled like a lump at the base of a big cedar. It knocked the wind out of me.
A quick inventory revealed my skis remained intact and nothing was broken. However, there were certainly a few parts and pieces that were going to be sore. My ego was a bit bruised but not my enthusiasm!
As I grappled with a cedar to get back on my feet, it occurred to me; I grew up here in these woods, just like that tree.
I’ve never been accused of being a ‘tree-hugger,’ but as I wrestled with that tree to get back on my feet, I hung on just a bit longer, and I laughed a bit harder.
Maybe, a few years from now, I’ll come back to visit with the tree again, to discover which of us has grown older.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.