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Matt Dickerson: The Pi Day blizzard of 2017, an ode

The last weekend in March I went cross-country skiing at Rikert Nordic Center for what I thought at the time was almost certainly the final time of the 2016-17 winter. A month or so earlier I had gone skiing and feared it was my final ski of the winter. But then came the Pi Day Blizzard of 2017 — the glorious, delightful and beautiful Pi Day Blizzard, also known as Category 3 Winter Storm Stella.
Before I continue in praise of Stella, and of the resulting conditions at Rikert, let me begin with condolences. My son Mark was let out of work early on March 14 because of the blizzard and the resulting road conditions. Somehow a storm predicted at one point to drop a half-foot of snow in the Champlain Valley kept getting upgraded, and eventually it dropped closer to two and a half feet. It became one of the largest blizzards in Vermont’s recorded history. A winter “superstorm” some called it. On his drive home, Mark saw a landscape littered with cars and trucks that had slid off Route 7. If one of those was yours, I feel badly for you. Many businesses were also closed, which I’m sure in rural Vermont can be an economic blow to business owners. If you are one of those, I’m also sorry. I recognize you won’t appreciate an Ode to Stella.
I also apologize to readers of this column who like outdoor sports in general but don’t care much about fishing, and who endured columns about fishing in the middle of the winter because … well, because by late February there wasn’t any snow on the ground anymore and my cross-country ski season had seemingly come to a disappointing end.
In fact, a few weeks earlier my old ski boots had started falling apart. A small crack opened up on the sole of both boots. It grew to a large split going all the way across my boot. When I skied, snow and water squished into my feet from the bottom. I committed myself to eking out one last half a season with them. A round of Shoe Goo didn’t save them. I tried Duct Tape. Not even that cure-all worked. I was a hair’s breadth from giving up on the season and throwing my boots in the trash to wait for a 2017-18 reboot.
And then came Stella. So here is my restitution. Just days from opening day of trout season and I’m writing about skiing.
Unfortunately, my wife and favorite ski partner, Deborah, was out of town. Early in the afternoon on Wednesday, when the blizzard had petered out, she boarded an airplane bound for Nashville to help care for a niece who had just given birth. Fortunately, my son Peter was out on break from college for the week. Within 24 hours of the end of the snowfall, we grabbed our skis and hit the trails.
Conditions were lush. The evergreens were laden with snow. Branches lay bent to the ground or even broken off from the weight. The woods were quiet and muffled. It felt like the lamppost scene in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Most importantly, the ground had the best covering of the winter. Peter and I did our first trek around the Brandy Brook trail — a loop that through much of this artificial-snow-dependent winter hadn’t had enough cover to ski. On this day the snow was so deep that if I skied too close to the edge of the trail my poles disappeared when I planted them.
The trip and beautiful conditions only whet my appetite. Most of our skiing earlier in the year had been confined to trails with snowmaking. Now every kilometer was open. Looking ahead at the forecast, I saw warm weather and rain on their way in. March had turned the corner, and the wonderful conditions would not last. So two days later I returned with Peter and one of his friends for my final ski of the year, which also proved to be my longest. It was spring conditions at their best: T-shirt and sunglasses weather. We wound our way around much of the outer perimeter of the groomed portion of Rikert, including my first time around Gilmore and Crooked Brook. Conditions were still excellent most of the way, but a few patches of bare ground were already showing and the T-shirt weather was growing them quickly. The end was near.
A week after Stella visited and then departed, my wife returned from Tennessee. She was jealous of the skiing she had missed — jealous of the photos I’d posted to Facebook. But plenty of bare ground was showing, and rain and mixed precipitation were in the forecast. I feared I’d already taken my “final” ski of the year, I told her.
At Rikert, however, that mixed precipitation turned out to include three lovely inches of fresh snow. So Deborah and I hit the trail for another “final” ski of the year, arriving just as the snow was letting up. Those three inches proved just enough. The bare patches were covered, as was the crusty snow caused by the warm days. It was another nearly perfect morning of Nordic skiing.
So perfect that two days later, on a Sunday afternoon, we returned for my third final ski of the year. Light mist fell from the sky as we made our way out on our annual visit to the Frost Cabin. For the most part the ground still had good cover, but the snow was crusty and in a few places it was icy. In other places the crust and ice gave way to bare ground. Despite the falling mist, we were glad we made the trip.
Returning from the third final ski outing of the year, I checked the forecast. A week of rain. I pulled off my boots and threw them in the trash. And I bought a new pair of soles from Vermont Field Sports for my Korkers wading shoes. Did I mention fishing season opens on Sunday?

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