Dickerson: Offering praise for the white stuff

I hesitate to use superlatives in writing, especially when describing any sort of sporting activity or weather phenomena. We live in an age of hyper-sensationalism when blizzards are given names and every other snowstorm is hyped up to be the storm of the decade (or century), when any athlete who makes a decent play is called a “hero,” and when a football that loses a bit of air pressure due to a drop in temperature gets national media attention for a week and prompts calls for public executions.

OK. I exaggerated a little regarding the “execution” thing. But only a little. And it may not be an exaggeration to say that the past few weeks have offered the best, most consistent and prolonged Nordic ski conditions in several years.

I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, going to high school about 40 miles west of Boston in the late 1970s and early ’80s. If there is one thing that provides common ground for conversation, commiseration, or just reminiscence, for anyone of my generation who lived anywhere near Boston, it is the famous Blizzard of ’78. More than the Larry Bird championships of ’81, ’84, and ’86. More than the Carlton Fisk game-six-winning World Series homerun of 1975. More than the ’76 Patriots playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders thanks to the infamous phantom “roughing the passer” call, or their 1986 Super Bowl blowout loss to the Bears thanks to Chicago just being way better, or simply the misery of two decades of terrible Patriots teams in every year not ending in six. More, even, than Billy Buckner — though that might be close.

Ask almost anyone who was living in eastern Massachusetts then about that storm and they will tell you in excruciating detail exactly where they were and what they did throughout the blizzard and its aftermath, how many days (or weeks) their local school was closed, and just how deep the snow was — not in inches or feet, but in relationship to buildings, automobiles or body parts.

Actually, you don’t even have to ask them. Just mention any particular blizzard you remember in any location in any year, and they will tell you it was nothing compared to the blizzard that raged from the morning of Monday, Feb. 6, through late in the day on Feb. 7 of 1978. Then they will start reminiscing.

I know, because I’m one of them. It was a great storm. My little regional high school was closed for an entire week. My brother and I built massive snow forts, sledded for hours on end, and cross-country skied nearly every day that week. Since my parents were snowed out of work, they even joined us for the skiing part (though not the sledding or snow fort building).

And relative to other Massachusetts school kids, I was one of the unlucky ones. My wife was living about 45 minutes southeast of me in a larger town closer to Boston. (Of course she wasn’t my wife then.) She says her high school was closed for the rest of February. Three weeks without school. And since it was declared some sort of state disaster, we didn’t even have to make up the snow days in June.

Although that record-setting snowfall was tragic for many Massachusetts families — about a hundred people were killed and several hundred more injured and it cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damage — my only personal negative memory was the sad irony that my high school alpine and Nordic races were canceled for the entire month because of too much snow. Even after our own school opened, we had no races because the schools we raced against were still closed. That was after several races being canceled earlier in the season for too little snow.

Still, as mentioned, my family made up for it by going out cross-country skiing in the woods around my home every day that week. This was before the age of Nordic grooming machines and ski-touring centers. We broke our own trails through the hundreds of acres of our neighbor’s woodland property, making use of his tractor trails or just cutting across familiar ridges and circumnavigating the ponds and swamps we knew from summer frog catching. Because of the rocky terrain, it took quite a bit of snow to make for good skiing in our woods. Many years we never had enough. That year we did. More than enough.

Which brings me back to the present. My wife and I knew we had a chance for a memorable year when we made use of our family passes at Rikert twice before the month of November was even over. Still, early January thaws and a lack of snow made conditions dreary for a while. I was starting to get in a bad and grumbly mood about the lack of Nordic skiing. Then the snow came. And then more came. And then some more. Now those patches of barren ground are a distant memory. You can’t find a bad trail if you look for one. The near perfect ski conditions are enough even to make up for the hassle of frozen pipes (we’ve had to deal with them four times in the past two weeks) and the extra scarf I have to wear around my face when I walk around town.

Meanwhile down in eastern Massachusetts they have been getting hammered with even more snow, as several storms that dumped a few inches on Vermont were busy dumping a foot or two at a time in southern and coastal New England. Indeed, they have received so much snow that my wife and I may have finally lost our bragging rights. This year Boston finally surpassed the 15-day snowfall record set back in February of 1978. 

And what does that mean? I’ll tell you. Some 37 years from now, an Addison Independent writer and flatland transplant is going to start reminiscing about the good old days of 2015 when Massachusetts was buried in snow. And if I’m still around, I’ll counter with my memory of the Vermont winter of 2015 when we had two straight months of perfect Nordic conditions.

Then I’ll ask him if he ever heard of the famous Blizzard of ’78.

 

 

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