I’m Done Skiing Alone

When I was a little kid living on a farm, I’d play by myself in a big tractor tire that served as a sandbox. I developed a reputation for playing alone. “Harvey doesn’t need playmates, he’s happy all by himself!” It wasn’t true, down inside I didn’t like it, but I didn’t know myself well enough to push back.

“Trust me, this opens up down below.”

As I got older, I got more proactive. In high school, I joined the cross country team and made best friends for life. Twenty five years after that, I discovered skiing, and it took me another two decades to learn the lesson all over again, in a new setting. A single life-changing event twenty years ago — a solo backcountry ski tour — delayed my embrace of this lesson.

In March of 1998, I had a plan to go winter camping with my regular backcountry ski partner. For reasons I didn’t fully understand at the time, he backed out at the last minute. I was primed and ready to go, so I looked in the mirror and asked myself “can you handle this alone?”

I did it. I skied out into the Siamese Ponds Wilderness in a raging storm that dumped deep snow and then ushered in a sharp cold front and windy weather. The adventure required a singular focus on survival, and I did a lot of talking to myself, ostensibly to encourage good decision-making.

Chris and Ira rock the woods

I was proud of the achievement and chronicled it in my very first blog post: My First Winter Solo. Even the title implied that I planned to do more skiing by myself in the future. I was in a different place at that time and looking back on it now, I’ve decided I don’t want to go back there.

This month I had my first-ever day a Magic, the day after a big pile of beautiful new snow fell on the hill. Conditions were spectacular, but what put it into my top ten was the company. A core crew, some might say the core Magic crew, welcomed me and treated my like one of their own. It was so much fun.

That night, I drove to our place in North River, and next day I skied at Gore. So much of my focus and planning had gone into the trip to Magic, that I didn’t take the time to line up a ski partner for the next day. The problem was compounded by the fact that so many of my friends at Gore are locals, who ski mid-week and work weekends.

Chris deep in Oz

I skied the morning alone, uninspired, and a bit down. I’ve never really felt this way before. I left the mountain at about 1pm and headed back to our cabin, to sleep. I woke in the late afternoon, skied in our woods, and then headed into town for dinner. Again, solo.

I crashed early and woke before dawn to drive to Plattekill on Sunday morning, arriving before first chair. I booted up and as I was heading out I ran into Chris who informed me of his plans to venture into the sidecountry. “Lap the double until I come out, ski under the chair, so we don’t miss each other.”

We had an incredible morning in the woods. Chris had to jump midday, and as I got back to the lodge at noon, it was deja vu all over again. I ran into Sean Riley and he repeated the same conversation. “Hey Harvey, come back into the woods with me.” The adventure continued all day, until the sun went behind the mountain.

Brant Lake Ed’s first ever run at Plattekill

The contrast from Friday at Magic, to Saturday at Gore, and then back to Plattekill on Sunday was striking. I’d had two days that ended with me driving away from the mountain singing at the top of my lungs in the car, and one day that left me down. The next weekend the pattern was repeated and now I can’t deny that the truth about how I feel.

I know there are practical reasons to ski with a partner.  When the snow is deep and soft we tend to venture farther out, and the consequences of any kind of accident rise. Having a partner, or more precisely having two partners, can help mitigate the risk. This weekend I fell on my shoulder in some deep snow. I was grateful to have Ed with me to size me up, make sure I was ok, and ski out with me.

Still, I’m being disingenuous if I don’t acknowledge that what is really driving this change. There’s nothing more exciting than connecting with a knowledgeable mountain guide with fire in his eye. The excitement is an added adventure, all it’s own. For me, the March ’18 parade of storms will be remembered as the best in a long time. Thanks to Chris, Riley, MMP, Rusty and all who’ve led the way.

20 comments on “I’m Done Skiing Alone

  1. I think coming across your prose has inspired me to write a book.

    I couldn’t wait for every next thought in your post as you described your days at ski areas I have major a fondness for.

    While I know it’s stupid now, I fell in love with skiing alone and had probably 300-400 hard charging days in and out of bounds from when I was 25-35.

    Now I’m 43 with 2 young kids and I’d like to say that I’d never do that again…. but I don’t think I could stop myself on a powder day.. maybe it’s a good thing my back is f’d up and I have no time to ski?

  2. Wow… that is crazy. I met GQ earlier in the season and actually picked up his book. I’m originally from the Hudson Highlands area, Mt. Beacon was local for me, and yes his book offers a wonderful history of the Catskill region, and so out of curiosity on pg. 104, is that the same Sean? I live in Wash DC and love taking skiing trips through Cats, Adks, and N.Vt. Cheers…

  3. @Suzanne FTW: “Because we love to ski and go when and where the snow is good, we often find ourselves alone rather than waiting on others’ ability to join us.” Good insight and great comment overall. Hey if you meet people who say they follow NYSB and they like it, tell them: “Comments are the compensation bloggers seek, so post your input!”

    @Skidadl: George Quinn runs the ski shop, and can often been seen just outside the shop making music with his buddies. (GQ is on the right.) He has also written a book with some cool old photos called Skiing in the Catskill Region. Where do you ski most?

  4. @Skidadl, would that be Quinn the storm or Quinn the Plattekill Legend, or both?!
    Yeah, I was referring to the storm. So who is Quinn the Plattekill legend? The wk before the storms came through, Sean Reilly was kind enough to tour me around the woods. How ironic. Thanks again for your blog.

  5. What a lovely and thoughtful piece, Harvey. Because we love to ski and go when and where the snow is good, we often find ourselves alone rather than waiting on others’ ability to join us. This past Saturday at Magic I was talking to a young man who met you the day you skied it, and when I asked him how he knew it was you, he said because he followed your blog, too. Despite a big St. Patty’s Day crowd at Magic and only one working lift (30-40 min wait on line), the mood was good, and I rode the lift and met many wonderful folks. That’s the spirit of Magic, and I’m glad you finally discovered it, too.

  6. Woah! thanks for the comments, the feeling is almost as good as pow.

    @Chris you da man. Your passion is a primary driver of this piece.

    @Skidadl, would that be Quinn the storm or Quinn the Plattekill Legend, or both?!

    @Greg IMO you are the magic glue that holds it all together.

    @Jeff, kneepads ordered and coming, thanks for the tough love.

    @sig, insightful, you nailed the trigger, but the lesson remains valid IMO.

    @MikeT… I’ve always believed in partners in the trees, this is bigger than that. I don’t even want to be alone on Plunge. Platty Patrol ROCKS.

    @Ed, you are the salt of the earth, thanks for saving my ass. So pumped I could intro you to Plattekill.

    @Roman… trying for this weekend!

    @Dom… Mt Peter Powder day tomorrow. Git some!

  7. I’ll ski with you anytime Harv! (Though next few years it will be mostly Belle).

    I am teaching my kids early for two reasons: (1) I don’t want them dragged to the top of X icy east coast mountain for the first time in college with friends (if they go to college) and (2) I am very purposely seeking out an experience we can share together now and in the future.

    I told my 4 yo we were going to Mt Peter (first time there) for this Saturday and she was super happy.

  8. Great read, Harvey, thank you! Hope to ski Oz with you and Sean before the season’s out, that would be icing on the cake!

  9. Harvey, always great to share a ski day with you. Friday was the best, Saturday also. Nice pics and yeah knee pads.

  10. True words.
    I have skied alone quite a bit. It is always more fun to share those moments with a ski partner.

  11. Never ski alone, wise wise advice. Thank you for putting that out there!

    Mike Taylor, Patroller
    Plattekill Mtn Ski Patrol

  12. Harv I think a couple of things were stacked against you on Saturday. First you were beat to shit and probably should of taken the day off. Between all the driving and the fact you are always first one to the hill you had to be gassed. Second, conditions at Gore let you down a little. That Friday at Magic was special and anything else would most likely be a let down. Magic on a good day will rival anything. Glad to see you moving around. As much as I love Gore variety is a nice thing.

  13. All you have to do is show up and keep up. Actually, we’ll wait. Nice read Harvey, good skiing with you.

  14. You never have nor will you ever ski alone @ Magic. Good stuff Harvey. See you next time for sure.

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