Pondering more than bruises on a recent Gore outing
By Klarisse Torriente
We got to Gore around noon on the second Saturday of January, parked in the last available parking lot, changed into our warmest outfits, and boarded a shuttle. We arrived at what felt like a quintessential winter sports fest, a mountain village of families, children and people in all sorts of snow gear, the colors of their outfits like ornaments against the white backdrop.
I’m not around children a lot. Here, it is impossible to ignore their presence. I highly enjoy that aspect of snowboarding—the opportunity to observe kids being kids—vulnerable, risky, daring, adventurous, silly. The adults too, as they cascade down mountains. It is endearing being around people making memories and making them yourself with people you love. Beyond the warm clothes and wintery ambience lies a culture that I want to understand more.
I was nervous driving up the Northway, sweating, getting anxious, regretting not watching more “tips for improving your boarding” videos. I ran through things that could go wrong, or embarrass, or even worse, hurt. Today was my first day on a board this season. I only started snowboarding consistently after purchasing gear secondhand from Play it Again Sports in Latham two years ago. Before then, my snowboarding was sporadic, trauma-filled, pain inducing blows to my athletic confidence. I took lessons, and got out about 11 times last season, gained board control, and some faith.
This sport is expensive, perhaps purposefully out of reach. Becoming a snowboarder was an investment for me. I left last season feeling good, but what would Gore show me? Each mountain is unique as is each day.
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This first appears in the March/April 2022 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine.
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By 12:30 p.m., the lift lines were long. The friendly, attentive staff directed many people who seemed to be performing in a survival of the fittest competition. I have never witnessed so many people okay with visibly and forcibly cutting.
We watched the vast array of skill levels on boards and skis, some snaking down with ease, others more reserved, and those who were obviously novices. My heart began to race as we edged toward our first chairlift drop, which can feel like the entrance to the gauntlet. Will you make it through a winner, or will you tumble as your pride slides down the mountain? Will people hoot, holler, and cite you as the reason they’re caught on the lift?
We got off just fine, and I began to feel my shoulders relax, and my muscle memory kick in. We headed down Sunway, dodging humans left and right. The trail was sheets of unforgiving ice, the results of a warm spell and a blast of low temperature. With the amount of people skiing, and how late it was in the day, the conditions were to be expected. I felt good, for a while, as my partner zoomed ahead of me, like a pro. I was trying to work my program, not compare, focus on myself, and feel the movement on my board again. I was no Olympian on that first run, but I was satisfied.
I still felt shaky. I am an athlete. I work out most days, I roller skate, I run, I hike a lot. But, as I get older, my body needs more time to warm. In the long lines, most people wore their masks, even the tykes. I felt like I was trying my best to settle in. Yet no matter how much I prepare, the scene is anxiety provoking.
We rode the gondola with a talkative mother and a teenage boy who wanted nothing to do with her conversation. I live for this relatable generational interaction. But I still felt tense and out of place. We headed down our first blue trail. It was more difficult, by definition—steeper, with sheets of ice. It was not long before I clipped an edge transitioning. I slammed my left knee and slid like a seal on my belly with my hands up for what felt like forever. I flipped over my board but recovered to gesture to anyone watching that I was “safe” as if I had crossed and scored at home plate. The mountain was so icy, I could see well defined and shiny patches.
I felt embarrassed; I just wanted to be good. I also immediately felt a lot of pressure to rejoin the upright people. Some chairlift passengers above heckled me. I did not feel like I belonged as I recovered from the pain and the shock of the abrupt and hard fall. I felt as if I would pass out or throw up. Nonetheless, to prevent more injuries to others or myself I got up and made it the rest of the way down. I hated the feeling of failing here where few look like me.
I feel like my failure is expected, or I feel abundant pressure to perform well, to be accepted, and normalized here. I had seen only one other Black person. Gore lacked representation on this day. So, I tried to breathe the pain away, consider my privilege and remember joy is why I am here.
We took it easier the rest of the day and enjoyed a beer at Saddle Lodge. We parked ourselves near the windows and took in the breathtaking view of the High Peaks. I felt beyond blessed, despite the hematoma on my left knee. I am progressing. The many times my mind, body, and board are clicking are musical.
The Gore outing made me think deeply about snow riding and its culture, the $100 lift ticket, the amenities at the lodge, the training needed for proficiency, the brief season and the weather uncertainties. There’s pressure to get your money’s worth. You see big families. I can only imagine the effort and cost. Maybe that is only a concern if you are of a certain socio-economic level.
Then there’s the expectancy that a boarder can ski fast and error-free. If you fall, no one, unless they are in your party, helps you up. But someone is often there to jeer, as those lift riders did to me. How can they be comfortable with bullying?
And I wonder how snowboarding can be more welcoming to those unable to afford season passes or ski lessons. What can attractions like Gore do to make this sport more inclusive? Is it a part of the culture to cater to people who push to the front of the lift line?