Ah, November. The return of cold weather, Eastern Standard Time, antifreeze and -- best of all -- skiing!
But will there be anywhere near here this Thanksgiving weekend?
Maybe, if 5 1/2 hours' driving to two slopes with machine-made snow counts as nearby skiing. That would be at Snow-shoe, in West Virginia, if their hopes come true.
If that seems a bit far, don't despair. With the first of the mid-Atlantic ski areas teetering on the edge of winter, the annual rush to the slopes, some as near as 65 minutes away, is about to begin.
But before you throw your skis on the car, better call first. Early-season skiing is iffy, despite the machines that can cover a slope overnight with up to eight inches of almost-the-real-stuff.
Remember that most ski resorts start the season as they end it, with a mixture of rocks on the slopes. So if you're lucky enough to have an old pair of skis, use them until snow cover is deep enough, probably around mid-December, to let you carve up the slopes rather than vice versa.
You may decide that for the next few weeks your best skiing will be in your mind, those pre-season fantasies common to those of us who love the absurdity of sliding down a mountain on a couple of boards. So put on your boots, grab your poles, carve a turn across your living room and think of skiing.
Think of the grace of sweeping turns on packed powder, or the tight wedel on down through the moguls, fighting ice and grit all the way. We all tried the moguls last year, rarely got them perfect; but taking them on was impressive, wasn't it? And remember the speed, the times nearly out of control, the recovery.
Recovery: when you started working on that, it told you that you were getting good, that you could pull out of problems: that you could take a spill and roll out of it without ever stopping to dust off; that you could be too far back, going too fast and headed for ice, and still cut a turn before the ice while sinking down and forward to set your edges into the frozen boilerplate. Remember those edges -- they ought to be sharpened after the beating they took last spring.
Remember how quiet it was on the mountaintops, the wind in your face and snow in your collar? You and family together; or perhaps you alone and on the prowl, hoping to boogie on down the mountain by day with the high-rolling folks on the slopes, while you boogied by night, too.
Think of the nightlife: fashionably cool, sometimes banal, sometimes raucous.
And remember the prices? My God ... a buck forty for a hamburger, a full eighth-of-a-pounder. What a rip! Think of skiing and sooner or later you'll think of prices. You'll pay more this year for your equipment, high fashion and cold toes. And the lift lines, remember them? Prices and lift lines: skiing's two greatest faults. Maybe this year you'll start thinking of cross-country skiing, and see the forests and wildlife as you've never seen them before -- during winter. Think cross-country and get your body in shape and forget about high prices, high fashion, lift lines and cold toes.
Either way, alpine or cross-country, imagine the places you could be. Imagine Vermont and New Hampshire: Killington, Mad River, Wildcat, Cannon. The names are memories, from Stein Erikson at Sugarbush and the beginnings of the American ski boom to the Kennedys at Waterville and the excitement of a youthful sport. Imagine the Rockies: the catwalk in 70-mile winds at Aspen Highlands, Winter Park and the first time west, Brekenridge and the family together in gold country, Steamboat with good snow and cowboy hats, or Alta and Snowbird and their bottomless dry powdery snow that drifted across your goggles and through your hair as you blasted across mile after mile of snow and wide open spaces. Imagine the French Alps with the specter of Chamonix, or Austria and Germany and a tide of beer and song, or Scandinavia and the history of a thousand-year-old sport. Imagine Banff in Canada, rumored to be great but still unknown to most Easterners.
And imagine yourself, the grace we all have, and the glamor the ski industry tells us we all can if we only buy all its gear. Imagine pushing yourself to your limits of speed, skill, endurance and perhaps pleasure and exhaustion as you carve turns on steel edges or glide through the forest on long touring skis.
Imagine skiing this winter.
There, you've done it. That's better. Now have another bite of turkey. Pretty soon we'll all meet on the slopes, working off the turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce together.