I missed a full season of cross-country skiing last year. I’m not an every-weekend skier, but Deb and I like to head into the woods when we can. Last winter, though, my innards and lowereds were still settling into place post-surgery, so the prospect of stretching and tumbling on skis was all-around off-putting.
We started skiing around here about 20 years ago. I can pin it down to a near-exact date—January 2001—thanks to an article I wrote for The Stanstead Journal on the Stanstead Ski Club. Its handful of members maintained an extensive network of trails off Laperle Road in Stanstead East, and I took the family along to sample them in preparation for the story. In the article, there’s a picture of James, just 5 years old, plowing through the snow like a trooper.
I marvel that he and the girls—or any of us, for that matter—could plow at all let alone stay upright considering the nature of our equipment. They were hand-me-down skis with those three-pin bindings that clamped onto the toe of your leather boot, ever prone to unclamping. This frequently led to cross-country swearing.
Nonetheless, they served their purpose for the short period we used them. Not long after that article appeared, the family headed out again to the trail for a mid-afternoon ski.
Maybe it should have been early afternoon.
I can’t remember what happened; the trails were well marked and we surely had a map. But somehow we got turned around. Or maybe we took a trail that was longer in practice than in theory on the map. We ended up in parts unknown, far from the car as the sun began to fade, Deb four months pregnant, three cold and tired children under 10, and me, in the dark, actively thinking about The Shining.
I just now texted the kids and asked if they remembered it.
“I have an extremely vivid memory of this event. I still dream about it,” Katie wrote back. “I remember you had to climb a big-ass hill […] to get an idea where we were and then we had to walk through a [tree] tunnel of sorts. We were scared to go back in the woods but we did it.”
“I remember it as a pretty good time because you let us do all kinds of steep hills you wouldn’t normally let us go down,” wrote Emily, revealing that this traumatic episode was a sort of psych test for personality types.
“Five-year-olds cross-country skiing is traumatizing enough if you think about it,” wrote James. And I rest my case.
Anyway, that was the last time the children came skiing with us.
Undaunted and equipped with modern gear, Deb and I took it up again about 10 years ago. By then, the ski club had met its demise, and most of the trail network with it. However, we could still access remnants off Curtis Road that would took us through a section of the old trails, still marked and ostensibly maintained, through the woods, across a field, past a sugar shack and looping back to the road, a fine jaunt.
The last time we were up there two years ago, it was apparent that there was logging going on, with new roads and four-wheeler tracks, but we could still get around on our old trail.
This Sunday was our first time back, and if someone had been maintaining the trails in the past, they didn’t seem to be anymore. There were no ski tracks at all in the recent snow, making the going difficult—not so much skiing as trudging—and treefall after treefall blocked our path, leaving passage barely wide enough for a cat.
But Deb and I are of the mind that conditions are always likely to improve just ahead, even when “We’re on the trail” becomes “I think we’re on the trail” and ultimately “Where’s the trail?”
Trail or no trail, we forged ahead because, worst case, we could turn around and follow the breadcrumbs of our tracks back to the car. Plus, unlike in 2001, we had a mobile phone and weren’t putting the lives of our progeny at risk.
“Pretty sure we’re trespassing,” Deb said. Oh, definitely we were trespassing, but in such a low-key, quiet way.
And I kind of liked that. The decline of the ski club is one of many declines around here. When I think of all the services and organizations we’ve lost in the past 20 years—including the newspaper I wrote that article for—my spirits sag. But the woods are still there, beautiful and quiet, and we can still find our way around them, despite the lack of official guidance. We’re still here too, older, a bit stiffer, but finding our way, blessed with good children who seem not overly scarred by parental carelessness.
We’ll be back to those woods again. Maybe someday we’ll take our grandchildren. In the early afternoon, of course, not mid.