Not too long ago, while cruising teamusa.org I came upon Karen Price’s interesting piece about Alex Deibold’s “post-competitive season comedown” and it hit close to home.
While I’m clearly nowhere close to being an athlete of any shape or form, the concept of “Transitioning back to real life” after the end of a ski season was never an easy one for me. The crushing, almost debilitating letdown following five months of anticipation, preparation, execution, exhilaration, and yes, even routine, affected me profoundly (it still kind of does)… some of us are more susceptible than others to this phenomenon… and allow me to stand up and be counted as one of those who, some late spring, suffer from ski-season withdrawal.
As a recovering ski bum who spent many, many winters working full-time as a coach, instructor, patroller, and event manager for major on-snow events, the switch to summer after a full ski season was never accomplished without some considerable amount of angst.
While later-on in life I managed to turn my on-snow passion into a semi-successful career as a purveyor of superlative ski gear to discerning customers, the “end-of-season blues” have always been omnipresent as spring chugged along towards summer. It’s a struggle with which I have coped (at that time of year) for most of my life. While most sensible humans are filled with joy and anticipation as temperatures rise and the scenery grows green, people like me are also slightly bummed at the fact that my favorite season is over.
During those misspent years as a young full-time ski instructor (after the passing of my parents), the end of a ski season also meant the annual loss of my adopted family as every spring my entire tribe would scatter to the wind… Not only was the white stuff gone, so too were the brothers and sisters that had kept me company during the winter months. Gone also were the customers that provided me with a sense of impetus throughout my winter. I’ve often said (to anyone who’d listen) that throughout my life, through thick and thin, through tragedy and accomplishment, the one constant has always been skiing.
This incredible sport has not only provided me with incredible experiences and memories that many would kill for, it’s also given me purpose, provided me with joyful experiences AND a wonderful career. Skiing has introduced me to the world, it’s given me friends, an industry that I adore and a community that I belong to… Dare I say it’s given me a family. I guess that one could say (without too much exaggeration) that everything I hold dear I owe to snow… and likely, because of that fact, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a problem letting go of each and every ski season.
Every annual thaw signals the dispersal of buddies, the melting of my playground, the putting away of my beloved skis, and the dreaded arrival of warm weather.
Whether living in a ski town or in the Prairies (as I did for 16 years), the months of March, April, and May were never easy… and they still aren’t, especially with the advent of social media.
When in late March or early April I see folks on Facebook and on Instagram announcing their last day on skis -when there’s perfectly good skiing to be had at Sunshine Village, Jay Peak, Mammoth, Mont Sainte Anne, and Killington- I wonder what’s wrong with them… Could it be that these people have a balanced life with a healthy relationship with a sport that is more of a pastime than a dependency? (more on that at a later date)
This is also the time when my Facebook feed explodes with news of late-season snowstorms, early shutdowns, or “one more weekend” announcements from the hundreds of ski resorts that I follow religiously. The ones that make me smile are obviously the ones that, likely out of sheer madness, won’t give up. These are the ski areas that push snow from stashes over brooks and brown patches, these are the resorts that capitalize on massive snow reserves or late season storms, these are the operators that believe that a long season means solid bookings mid-season, these are the ones that aren’t in it uniquely for the dollars and cents.
Having been on that side of the fence, I have a pretty good idea of what these guys and girls are going through, I know the internal battles between the passionate keeners who want to make it to May and those pragmatic (accounting-type) folks who have had enough of the season and advocate putting an end to the white stuff as soon as possible.
When I hear of ski resorts shutting down with plenty of snow left (yes, I’m talking about you Bromont, Stowe, and the majority of Western ski areas), I wonder: could it be that resorts that shut down “early” do so because it’s no longer economically viable because most of their customers have well-adjusted lives that do not revolve around a sick addiction to skiing or snowboarding?
Of course not.
Conspiracy theorists would surely opine that resorts that shut down “early” are most likely doing so with the specific intent to punish us fanatics who depend on the white stuff to give us purpose, focus, and gnar to shred… That or maybe early-closing resorts are simply wrong.
While I’m at it, why are we still clinging to the fantasy of decent pre-Christmas skiing? With this whole climate change reality, why isn’t the entire industry coming together to shift ski seasons over a month? (more on that in another article).
This is why I have so much respect for resorts like Saint-Sauveur, Sunday River, Jay Peak, Mont Sutton, and Killington in the East and Whistler, Snowbird, Arapahoe Basin, Mammoth, Timberline Lodge, Squaw Valley (oops, I meant Palisades Tahoe), Winter Park and Breckenridge in the West… Resorts that provide respite from the inevitable. Resorts that try as best they can to stay open despite overwhelming odds both financial and meteorological.
These dedicated and magnificently foolhardy resorts like Jay Peak, whose General Manager Steve Wright recently wrote in an open letter announcing that they were going to stay open as long as they could in 2022: “It’s obvious we won’t make any money as most day-trippers have done tripped, but our Season Passholders who have already given us their dough, deserve the show, so we’ll do what we can”.
These amazing ski areas deserve our support and I, for one, salute them. I salute them because I was often in the office when the decision to go (or not to go) for one more weekend was made… To try to extend a season or to simply shut down because Lillian had decided the enough was enough and had taken the cafeteria cash registers and all the pots and pans from the ski chalet to the golf course… (that’s how the season ended in the amazing bountiful spring of 2014 at Owl’s Head).
So yeah, this is the time of the year when folks like me start dealing with the withdrawal. That time of year when we check out webcams, feeds, and posts, where we track how far-away resorts that we love start winding down their seasons.
When we start counting down the days until our local resort starts up again.
If you’ve got the blues, there’s a cure for that: Go support one of these resorts that’s fighting to stay open late: Last year I skied on the last lift-operated day in Canada (at Sunshine Village), and two years before that I did the rounds and skied on the closing day at Sutton, Burke, Wildcat, Jay Peak and then shut down the season on June first at Killington. It was an amazing adventure filled with bittersweet moments and the soulful, loving appreciation of every single last run… Until I got to the bottom and noticed that the lift was still spinning… and headed up for another.
But if that kind of nonsense is not in the cards for you, it’s ok, you’re not alone… Just gain some comfort in knowing that the letdown is real, that the sense of loss is real… at least until Jay, Norquay, Killington, and Saint-Sauveur start blowing snow again next season.
Now, where’s my bike?