First Decents- Part 1: Sniffin' Out the Suburbs // Ski Stories
Three years ago I found myself 400 miles west of the quite beautiful and snowy backcountry of Northern Vermont. There I was standing on the cold grass in the suburbs of Rochester, NY. I had moved here with my wife to be with family and advance our careers. Western NY is not exactly what you would call a ski mecca, and thus it was a decision I grappled with for a long time.
I grew up skiing on a small mountain in central New Hampshire, where my father was the marketing director and I got my first taste of freedom and exploration. Then in high school, after becoming bored with the small ski area, I started exploring a neighboring abandoned ski resort via an old hiking trail. Vividly, I can still see that cold February day, when I reasoned that borrowing cross country skis was a good idea for a ski tour into the backcountry. I made my best effort to make telemark turns on cross country gear, but mostly I'd muster two turns before face planting.
After a little college, and a brief stint being a tagalong friend to a rock star wannabe in California, I returned to NH and decided what I liked best was skiing. So, I took classes and was certified as an EMT, enabling me to become a ski patroller and continue skiing. In love with the sport, I spent year after year of skiing over 100 days. So as you can imagine, I wasn't the most receptive when the talk of moving to Rochester started. Eventually I gave in, packed my bags, and left the great state of Vermont along with my ski-bum-esque lifestyle.
Despite moving to an area that more closely resembles the Mid-West than the mountains of Vermont, I've been unable to shake my passion of ski adventure. As a result, I've had to somehow find my fix in the hills and parks of my new surroundings. Here, I hold true to some of the lessons I learned from sniffing out new terrain in Vermont. Of course many things are vastly different. North facing is still the aspect, although the elevation has changed dramatically, and so has the pitch. I now seek out low angle glades, sledding hills, embankments, small hills, logging roads in parks, and anything that'll allow at least 4 turns. Snow depth has changed too. We don't get a lot of snow here in Rochester, and most of the time it'll all melt out before it snows again. But when the stars align and a solid snow does fall, I manage to get out and ski what I can. I call them my, First Decents. Not descents. More like decent, as in "that was decent enough."
With the recent Snowvember to remember in Buffalo, I was once again ready to search out a new Decent. Unfortunately, here in Rochester, just an hour's drive east of Buffalo, we only got a couple inches each day, while Buffalo received a whopping 7 feet in the 4 days. The highway was closed, roofs were caving in, and the National Guard was activated to help handle the situation. Here in Rochester, I wasn't so lucky. Over the course of the storm, we received just a few inches of fresh snow.
The jonser in me wanted to blow off work, and head west into the fray of trucks, and stranded cars- deep into the land of 7 feet of snow. I wanted to head west to search out the sledding hills, the parks, the embankment next to a church, golf course hills, power lines, whatever I could find. But alas, that wasn't happening. So instead I did what I've done for the last 3 years. I sniffed around my new home town. I was desperate, and even though only an inch had settled with roughly 3 inches on top, I knew where I wanted to go. On a new route that I've been taking to my kids' daycare, I'd spotted a grassy embankment at the local elementary school. The slope grew from the close end to at least 1 turns worth at the far end of the slope where it terminated in the teachers parking lot.
It wasn't the best conditions, but there was enough snow to glaze the grass into a nice sliding surface. I set the skin track and after my first run, I deemed it worthy enough to farm out another half dozen runs. I was satisfied. It was Decent.
I will return to this spot for sure. Hopefully next time it will have a bit more cushion- but I realize that might be a pipe dream. Still I'll add it to the growing list of Decents I've made here in my home away from home.