Travel: New England Traditions
Finally, when our feet tire, we head back toward the door. Pulling on our coats, we step into the slush and drizzle. Some of us have bunches of pussywillows, an orchid, another dahlia. These aren’t souvenirs of the show–they’re our tickets to spring, the one we know now is just around the corner.
–Roger B. Swain
The Delicious Time
Maple weekends offer a taste of the sweet life.
Sugaring season is fleeting, and sugarmakers, those who rush to the woods to collect sap, know this. When leaf buds sprout, the sap gets bitter. And that’s it. But, for the rest of us, this year’s celebration of liquid gold has just begun. When the sap starts flowing, sugarhouses across New England open their doors to the public, sharing the tradition with young and old alike.
These days are a gift to our senses. White clouds billow from sugarhouse chimneys, dotting the rolling landscape. The air holds a faint scent of sweetness–the kind you pour all over a stack of pancakes–as 40 gallons’ worth of sap gets boiled down to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. The grownups sample the grades (depending on when the sap was collected, it might be fancy, grade A, or grade B), contemplating the nuances of the flavors, while the little ones sneak a couple of extra shots and start running circles around the maple creamie stand. We sample maple in all its different forms–sugar-on-snow, sugar candy, cotton candy, syrup on waffles. Our hands get sticky, just like the little ones’. Maple doesn’t discriminate. And we all smile with delight. Maple makes life more delicious.
Going wild and woolly at the bottom of the slopes.
It’s pond-skimming day on this late-March afternoon at Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont. It may be 29*, but the sun’s out, and the fans arrive, wearing tutus and togas, bikinis and beads, leis and lace. They’re dressed as hot dogs, pizza slices, and Chinese takeout; lions and tigers, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Elmo; Darth Vader and Captain America. And they’re all wearing skis and snowboards as they slide down the 100-yard in-run at the base and brace themselves for a splash.
Sugarbush’s Lincoln Peak hosts the longest continually running pond skim in the Northeast. Back in 1968, and for many years after, it was held on a real pond, the snowmaking one. Now it’s at a temporary pool of turquoise water, as pretty as any Caribbean sea but nearly as cold as the air: 34°. Making it all the way across requires three parts speed, two parts stability, and one part fat boards underfoot.
That’s not always the point, though: Witness the belly flops, the pirouettes, and the spins. Those who skim successfully pump their fists and mug for the cameras; those who don’t will flounder, panic, and sputter until a ski patroller helps them out of the frigid water with a hook or buoy.
See, the spectacle is the skim, but the real story is not only the hundreds of skiers and riders, but the spectators as well–grandparents, teenagers, Baby Bjoern-wearing moms and dads … The smell of beer and barbeque hangs in the air, and there’s just enough giddiness to inspire some of us to try it next year.
You don’t need to ski to take in the thrills, pageantry–and even danger– of Tuckerman Ravine.
On a mild New Hampshire day in late April, I strapped skis onto my pack, as if walking with a teepee over my head, and set off, heading for Mount Washington to ski breathtaking Tuckerman Ravine. Just days earlier, snow and ice were still covering the three-mile trail that climbs toward Tucks from Pinkham Notch, requiring skis and/or crampons to reach the bowl. Half a mile up, the Crystal Cascade sign was enough of an invitation for me to take a short detour to this impressive waterfall and catch my breath.
Then onward. Once I reached Lunch Rocks, a tumble of stone on the right as you enter the ravine, I dropped my pack, slathered on sunscreen, and stretched out, taking in the scene. A few skiers wiped out and slid at impressive speeds till they tumbled to a stop in the patchy grass on the floor of the ravine. Cries of “Ski!” and “Rocks!” and “Ice!” rose above the voices and the music throughout the day. When you hear those words, take cover. Gravity is turned way up at Tucks. Rocks and ice let loose without warning. More than a nuisance, these projectiles can be deadly.
With skis over one shoulder, poles in the other hand, and before I could lose my nerve, I marched forward, digging the toes of my boots into the soft snow, heading up the steep and narrow steps made by skiers who’d gone before me. When the fingers of my outstretched left hand nearly touched the slope, I knew: high enough. Next, the task was to lay my skis down and click into my bindings without tipping over into freefall. I had no fantasy of looking good. I hoped merely to survive. I’d use all the real estate I needed. Nice big traverses.
In my own inelegant way, I got down. I skied over to Lunch Rocks, stepped out of my bindings, and have never stepped into a ski at Tucks again, though I’ve returned many times. The thing is, you don’t have to ski Tucks to love it.
The magic of spring here is so many things: the camaraderie of friends and strangers on the trail; dogs chasing Frisbees; beach balls being batted around; the soulful, funky notes of a saxophone floating on the air. A kind of snow-bowl theater in the round is within reach of anyone who can hike the three miles to the floor of the ravine.