Matt Dickerson: Short sleeves, spring snow and sweetness

Like the maple sap that until recently had been flowing, this past week of cross-country skiing had plenty of sweet. Spring skiing conditions had come to Rikert, and those are good conditions. Yes, the snow is a bit soft. Maybe it isn’t the fastest snow of the year. Maybe I almost wiped out a few times coming down a south-facing hill when I hit a patch of slow snow and had my feet suddenly decelerate while my upper body continued on at the same speed. But it was all good, for no matter how many times I’ve done it, skiing in my t-shirt still feels as surprising as it is delightful.
With Middlebury College on break last week, and a bit more flexibility in my job, I managed to get out four times for afternoon ski outings — three of those times with my favorite ski partner: my wife. The last two times, the temperature was around 50 degrees. With the body heat generated by skiing, that is definitely short sleeve weather. Despite that spring warmth and the recent rain, however, plenty of snow still covered the ground among the trees up in the hills even on the trails with no snowmaking. As I said, conditions were wonderful.
We cruised around the Battell Trail — our usual warm-up trail — and cut over to the Gilmore Loop without seeing a single patch of bare ground. Any crustiness from the previous night’s freeze had softened nicely. On the last day, the sky was dark blue and cloudless. The occasional jay fluttered around the tops of the trees, which were already laden with the signs of a new season’s worth of buds waiting to explode into green four or five weeks from now. Even the dead trees, littered with woodpecker holes, had a certain beauty. My wife, who loves the looks of trees in winter as well or better than their leafed-out summer versions, stopped to take photos. I was reminded that dead trees are an important part of a living forest, just as the barrenness of winter branches are.
Not until we looped out around the Frost Trail did we have to skirt to the side to avoid a few patches of bare ground. But once back onto the race course, which had a deeper base from a winter of snowmaking, the bare ground disappeared again. It was hard to believe it was the last day of March.
The sweet was also tinged with bitter, however — like sap before the niter has been filtered out. The bare patches of ground and the warm air is a reminder that the season will be ending soon. This is the last weekend that Rikert will be open. The base layer on the race course should keep the skiing good through Sunday, but then it’s done. We’ll be packing up our boots, and with a certain amount of melancholy setting our skis in a corner of the garage for the next eight months.
This is particularly poignant for my wife and me this year, as we missed the whole month of February. Just as the conditions got wonderful around Ground Hog Day, with an abundance of fresh snow covering the state, we caught one of the nasty cold viruses going around the country and got laid low for about two weeks. We’d wake up in the morning and think maybe we’d get out for a few minutes late afternoon. And then later afternoon would roll around and we’d want nothing other than to fall asleep on the couch. Just about the time we began to feel better the snow disappeared in a rush of rain and warmth.
And then it was March. And thankfully, March came in like a lion this year with a series of blizzards dumping snow on our favorite trails. It was a resurrection of sorts. And we enjoyed the new life. Yes, we’ll be putting our skis away in just a few short days. But it will be a lot less painful because of the past week.

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