Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snowboarding then and ... now?

The last time I tried to hike a "mountain" and then snowboard back down it was 1999 with Jeff Stebbins. The mountain was Campgaw, "The Mighty Gaw" of Mahwah, New Jersey.

Jeff and I used to shred the man-made-snow hills of New Jersey and southern New York with the best of them. We were sixteen. We thought skiiers were the lamest of the lame.

One weeknight when conditions at The Gaw were even more icy than usual, we decided to hike to the "park" (which at the time was one hit that had maybe a thirty-foot runway ... into grass ... in January) in lieu of lift passes. If it sucked, we go home or to the diner, more money for CDs or whatever we wanted that our parents wouldn't spring for. We walked about halfway "up" the hill before we were stopped by a snow patroller on a snow mobile. Jeff flashed his "pass" -- a 1998 season pass he had altered using whiteout, changing the "8" to a "9." (Sidebar: 1999 was the first year Campgaw used computers to print lift tickets. The previous years they had just written the date in marker on the pass. We'd buy a ticket on 1/7 ... then change it to 1/17 then 1/18 then 2/18. We'd pay maybe three times a year. We'd been doing this since we were 13. Campgaw was getting ripped off by a bunch of clever 13-year-olds.) Jeff was off the hook; I had nothing. I told the patroller we were only going to the park and didn't plan to ride the lift. He accused me of theft of services. What? He radioed the manager of the "slope," the manager answered, "I'll call the cops. Bring him down." The patroller escorted me "down" the hill, riding alongside me on the snowmobile, and then took me into the lodge. Jeff waited outside with the boards. The manager told me the cops were on the way and that I would be charged and fined for theft of services. (I can't remember if he mentioned anything about my permanent record ... I think he did lecture me about "How things work" in terms of paying for something versus stealing -- and walking up this hill without paying to do so was "stealing.") Then the phone in his office rang. He told me not to move and went into his office, closing the door behind him. I looked around, the patroller was gone. I bolted. I ran out, grabbed my board from Jeff, and we dashed into the woods behind the lodge. We hid out for a bit and eventually snaked our way back to the parking lot and to his car.

For a week, every time my parent's phone rang I got scared thinking it might be the Mahwah police ... even though Campgaw never ID'd me ... and I think the only ID I had at the time anyway was a novelty "driver's license" from a long-gone go-cart track ...

We never returned to The Mighty Gaw again ...

I don't think I've ridden more than 10 times since.

I snow-shoed up, and snowboarded down, Big Mountain on Saturday for the first time. (It's legal, so I didn't get hassled.) The 2,352 feet to the summit was hard, way harder than I had anticipated. (Topographical note: Vertical feet to be shredded at Campgaw? 270.) Between the board lashed to my pack and about four feet of fresh powder, the especially-steep ascents felt even steeper. Toward the top I could only take about twenty laborious steps before I'd have to stop for thirty seconds to catch my breath. It took about an hour and a half from base to summit.

Growing up in New Jersey, I think I snowboarded powder once. And it was maybe six inches worth. And, the more I think about it, it might not have actually been powder, it just wasn't man-made. Coming down Big Mountain in four feet of legitimate Mother Natured powder snow was awkward. And it was only the second time I've snowboarded in almost ten years. But it was fun. It was really, really fun.

There's a mountain eight miles from my front stoop; I need to accept the fact that I live in a "ski town" and take advantage of it. This winter isn't getting any shorter, this snow isn't man-made, and, most importantly, I'm not getting any younger.

(As usual, no photos.)

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