February Sun - Reflections of the ski season in Gatineau Park
By: Andy Jonynas (2013/02/14)
About 25 years ago, winter was a nuisance. Snow meant delays in getting to some fluorescently lit indoor event. Snow was snow, I did not notice its texture. Days only seemed to get longer when I drove to some regular event in the late afternoon. To alleviate the lengthy absence of any outdoor activity, I followed others to some compound in the Caribbean, where like a zoo animal I could , for a week and at great expense, do the things I did in the summer.
In the early 90's, I would make the odd forage to Gatineau park with skis I bought at a garage sale. One sunny day in February on the trail near Herridge, I realized how much I was enjoying the day, and wondered why I had not come up more times during that winter. In a note to self, I vowed to get into it next winter.
20 years and about 25,000 kilometers later, only severe weather, sickness or total exhaustion has stopped me on an available ski day. I was also very fortunate that my wife got into it as well.
It starts in late November or early December, when just a long range forecast of potential snowfall sets off a state of anticipation, the kind you had as a child at Christmas. After plodding through two months of the Dark Period, just the fact that it may be ago , gets the skis and boots out of storage, and speeds up the completion of lingering projects.
The Christmas holidays have morphed into the Maxfest. This is the time we do bake and cook, and the metric tonnes of calories in butter, flour, chocolate , mayonnaise, potatoes, meats, liquor, all that normally would cause us to expand and then explode disappear in the blast furnace driving the 200 or so kilometers of skiing over the break. That momentum carries over into January where the powerful tool of denial overrides common sense, otherwise known as not skiing at -30.
February blahs may exist in the minds of others, but it's my favorite month. Try telling that to people you see at the shopping mall. After a few overcast days , the sun appears, now way up in the sky. Having skied for a couple of months, there is an energy, pouring over into everything, something that tells you there are months of bright days ahead, and that anything is possible.
There are days when it's all too easy, where dozens of kilometers pass under your skis with hardly an effort, as if you are cheating. Then the conditions change and those kilometers seem to be paid for in blood, like the changing trench lines on maps in World War One.
On any given day, you may not want to go. It can be cold or overcast, or you are tired from this and that. Ok, it will be a short one, just up from P10, you can bail at any time. Your fingers are cold, body stiff as you assault Fortune hill. Then at the top, you hit the flats, start to sail and it feels like this, this is the only place you want to be, at this moment in time, ALIVE.
What sets skiing apart from other sports is that something that whitewashes your mind up there. Maybe that fact that it's up in a place Thor would look down from adds to it. Those big buildings in town now look like matchboxes, inside them there are thousands of people working, consuming or just existing. This is what you left half an hour ago, what you took with you in the car, the office politics, your mother's last hang-up, something strange your friend said. But up there, all that is now a million light years away. As you pause to rest, the sun come through the trees the forest, white, infinite, still and foreboding, unconsciously connecting you to the forest mythology you remembered hearing about from your East European parents. Your focus shifts to wondering what may be over the ridge in the distance. Despite a clammy cold and a measuring of how much pain the next little hill will inflict, you still don't want to go home. Further on you think of something that you forgot to do, but decide it wasn't important, anyway.
There's always something special about post ski. The music in the car always sounds better than it did on the way up. A new found patience dismisses delays caused by traffic. At home, consumed in a strange state of combined fatigue and energy, while cutting up vegetables, you note that the world seems... right.
Marches have often been cruel months. Those faux springs that you know are not real. And after the great snow mass has been damaged, you know that a dry cold will return, to absolutely no benefit. Hope dies last, and maybe a great late March storm like the one that closed down Montreal in 1971 will return, to add another week or two.
On an April day when you take off your skis and walk in wet boots for a few hundred meters to get to the next melting ice sheet, you know it's over. And while others may cheer the oncoming of golf, you have the fleeting wish to live somewhere far north, where winter doesn't end so quickly.
Andy and his wife enjoying a ski day.