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  • John Giuffo

Keeping the Stoke

Updated: Oct 20, 2018

It can be hard to stay stoked during swampcrotch season, but we’ve gotta try.

Saying a springtime goodbye to favorite trails, such as Killington's Ovation, can be difficult. Photo: John Giuffo.

Memorial Day is approaching and it’s only been a few weeks since my last turns at Killington. I don’t feel the junkie shakes yet but I know they’re coming.

I’ve been trying to distract myself with camping plans and by researching kayaks online. The thinking is: I’ve enjoyed kayaking the handful of times I’ve gone, so maybe it’s time to get my own boat. I’m desperate to fill the hole left by winter. I daydream about paddling out to one of the island campsites on Saranac Lake or Lake George and I try not to focus on all the not-skiing I’ll be doing.

Becoming a snow fiend a few years ago turned my world upside down: while others get excited about summer’s slow-boil creep, I struggle with reverse seasonal affective disorder. Melting snow bums me out. Not this time, though. I resolve not to slip into a summer depression and to find ways to maintain a minimal amount of stoke throughout the year.

Some downhill adrenaline junkies swap out their skis for mountain bikes, but rocks aren’t as forgiving as snow and while I love riding my bike, flinging it down the side of a mountain seems like a good way to knock myself out for the ski season. Some surf, others go rock climbing, and still others are content to just bake on a beach somewhere, but none of that is for me.

I love hiking, though, so as the weather grows warmer I’ve been hiking a bunch, mostly up and down various trails along the Hudson Valley and during a couple of trips to the Adirondacks. When I hike with Adam he will inevitably remark that he hates the downhill portions, and I will reply that I prefer them because they’re good for keeping my spring quads swole, but that’s not really true.

Adam and I hiked Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks, but all we could talk about were imaginary winter lines down.. Photo: John Giuffo

Honestly, I hate the downhills too. I just say I enjoy them because I have a doomed intention to keep my legs strong this off-season. I’m constantly worried I’ll roll an ankle, which has been a weak spot since I was twelve and fractured it while skateboarding (studies show that ankle injuries have lifelong impacts). I split the difference with Adam and we agree that going downhill on skis is much better, then we spend the rest of the afternoon talking about skiing, full-on spectrum-disorder style.

Now it’s June and I’ve pulled the trigger on a great half-off deal for a brand-new 13’ kayak. I’m paddling it out to islands on Lake George. I’m catching fish. It’s everything I could want from a kayak – half rec, half touring, two sturdy bulkheads, with enough space to pack a bunch of gear, and it tracks well – and yet while paddling I have to push away the thought that, sure, this is nice and all, but it’s not skiing.

I keep hiking to distract myself but the bug clouds thicken and the temperature grows by midday, so afternoons are a slog. When a heat wave hits New York City, I retreat into our air-conditioned apartment and settle into a Netflix black hole. My skis taunt me from their corner in the living room, and I decide to move them into the basement – out of sight, out of mind, or so I hope. But as I bring the first pair downstairs to stash in our utility room, I realize I won’t see them for another five months and I’m hit with a wave of separation anxiety. I leave them where they are; their presence soothes like a binkie.

Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the mountains in summer...but it's not skiing. Photo: John Giuffo

It’s mid-July and I can’t bring myself to click on any ski-related posts in my social media feeds. I grow resentful of the southern hemisphere, with its enviable tilt away from the sun. No, I don’t want to see photos from that huge dump at Portillo. Nope, I can’t handle those updates from Treble Cone right now. There are four months left and they might as well be four years.

By late August I’m crawling out of my skin, desperate to escape the endless heat waves. In my garden the tomatoes grow and rot in spurts, the peppers die soon after flowering, and the basil wilts despite daily watering. Summer’s bloodlust seems bottomless. Will this never end?

Then it’s September and the mercury is still hitting 90. My skis mock me from their corner. Are they even real? It seems impossible that I’ll ever use them again. Maybe it will just be 90 degrees all the time now, I wonder. The season’s first ski magazines arrive in the mail and I can’t bear to look at them.

Now it’s mid-October and I’ve finally unplugged the air conditioner for the year. Someone posts a video of mixed precip near the top of Whiteface – evidence of the season’s first snowflakes. Sure, they won’t stick but I no longer have the irrational fear that the Earth has been permanently thrown off its axis.

There’s a tingle in my stomach that takes me a while to recognize; is this stoke? Am I getting stoked? I binge ski porn, clicking on favorite edits, Japow-slathered vlogs, that new piece from that maniac, Candide, videos from last year’s road trip around the Powder Highway - anything to hold me over another month. Just one more month.

Sunday River posts a photo of their first snow gun tests of the year and I wish I could like it a thousand times.

I take one last camping trip for the season – a midweek writing retreat to North-South Lake in the Catskills – to watch the leaves change, light one more campfire, and hike along the Escarpment Trail to Artist’s Rock, the best view in the Hudson Valley. I want a grand autumnal vista. I want to watch Mother Nature strip for me, to tease with a peek of winter. I want to watch summer die in bursts of color.

There are few things prettier than watching summer die in the Hudson Valley. Photo: John Giuffo

Soon it’ll be November and I bring my skis into the shop for their annual pre-tune. Early-season turns require well-honed edges and I want to make sure mine are ready. My pass arrives in the mail and I hang it on my whiteboard so I’ll see it every day. I meet up with a group of friends to catch the new Warren Miller movie in Tarrytown, where a few hundred rowdy Hudson Valley ski junkies join us in a time-honored ritual, everyone whooping and hollering at the insane displays of onscreen pro-ski badassery. It’s a giddy vibe, almost pornographic, like a communal release of summer’s sweaty frustrations.

We leave the theater more excited than when we entered, and we make hasty plans to meet soon on a mountain. It’s cold outside and my anxiety melts as I realize that that I’m once again among my people: the upside-downers, the shredders, the lifers, the ski bums, the families that slay together, the powder junkies, crusty locals, park rats, weekend warriors, and snow fiends of all sorts. I’m not alone.

I’ve rediscovered my tribe and winter is almost here. I’m officially stoked.

© 2018 by ICE COAST MAGAZINE.

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