The Mansfield Pull

The Mansfield Pull

By: Dave Hatoff Comments: 3

There is a real pull that Mt. Mansfield and the surrounding peaks has over me that seems to be always present, year-round.  In the winter, its very obvious why. The snowfall, terrain, skier comraderie and over all ski stoke feed my brain daily.  The more I get, the more I want. Endorphins give me energy to face the rest of the day at hand after a morning of bliss whether it be earning my turns or going for hot laps off the Quad.  What's the best ski day or ski season that I have had?  In my opinion, it’s the next.

For roughly the last 25 years, my daily commute to work involves a partial or full drive-up Route 108 where the mountain always comes into view.  In the winter time, I step out my door in Nebraska Valley and turn left onto Barrows Road. My first glimpse starts from the farm fields off Luce Hill Road which give you the Mansfield, Spruce and Chin tri-fecta view, illuminating in their glory when you happen to get a sunny day.  Then making another left on to Route 108 by the church, you're near the rec path corn field maze and the Mansfield view seems to get magnified and gets even bigger. Your heart races a bit and anticipation builds.  As you work your way up passed Topnotch and Mountain Ops, you can see the mountain in background with the big red barn of Mountain Ops in the foreground, a classic Vermont setting.  You can start to see the defined snow line when it snows more on the upper elevations than the bottom half of the mountain as it does at certain times of the year. The snow banks begin to get a bit higher and the trees become heavily coated with snow and sag as you drive underneath a now snow-covered canopied Route 108 as you crest Harlow Hill.  When you reach the Cross Country Center and the Inn at the Mountain, the wind picks up and you can see the trees moving and the snow swirling on the road.  From there you hope to see the Over Easy Gondola overhead running, a good sign that the Quad will be going too.   Anticipation continues to build as you enter the parking lot, being one of the first few cars there.  You turn up the volume on your car stereo a little louder, getting you amped up to ski as your rock out to your favorite tune.  If you hustle and get all of your gear on quick, maybe you can be one of the first in line for the Quad opening at 8am.

Or let’s reverse things a bit, its 8am and you have already skied and are on your way back down the mountain road after an early morning skin, still reveling in the turns you had as you pick ice build-up from your mustache or beard that has frozen to your hairs from the face shots you that you just got.  As you see the traffic line up the road in the opposite direction waiting to get into the parking lot, you have a shit eating grin on your face as you feel like you got the best turns of the day all while everyone else was still sleeping.  A tug off your insulated coffee mug gives you an even better feeling of warmth, coziness and satisfaction that that 4:45am wake up was well worth the effort.  Stoke is still high, your cheeks are still flushed from windburn as your cars heater finally warms up to take the edge off of your cold hands.     

That "feeling" is what makes starting each and every winter day that much better in the morning, and it helps carry you through the rest of the day, whether its work, play, chores or family time.  You have more over all energy to get things done, you feel an extra skip in your step and a zest for life feeling. Ski season is in full swing, and the daily routine of drying out boots, gloves, skins and clothing becomes a welcomed norm.

But what happens when it’s not winter, does that feeling go away?  It does for some but not for me.  This time of year, for every time I ride up Route 108 either in my car or on my gravel bike, you can start to see the leaves beginning to change and a coolness and temperature drop is felt as you gain elevation.  All of those bike rides, hikes and or runs have your lungs and legs in good shape ready to start another season, as off-season sports like mountain biking or hiking give us similar feelings to skiing in the woods, earning our turns or making high speed carves or skiing zipper line bumps.  Just about each and every time I ride my bike either in the woods or go for a hike to reach one of the many summits around here, I think of skiing.  That perfect powder day deep in the backcountry, discovering new lines that you have never skied before, nailing that trick, or envisioning dropping that cliff that you have been eyeing for years.  Will I be able to do top to bottom runs out of the gate when the lifts first spin? Is my fitness level and strength where it needs to be for an efficient climb up the mountain for the first time?  Have I done enough training or do I still need to keep working?  Only you know these answers.  Each and every year that passes you have to work a little harder, trying to stay ahead of the aging curve.  Time will tell if you put enough work in the off season to match your goals with what your body is telling you is possible. 

The pull is certainly real, for all ages and walks of life.  In the summer, its why we jump off bridges into rivers thinking we have skis on our feet keeping our bodies tightly coiled to stick the landing or practicing that grab, spin or iron cross trick.  It’s why in August my daughters and I put our ski clothes, goggles and boots on and walk around the living room imagining that first real snowfall of the season.  Once fall arrives on a crisp, cool day, we chop wood, see our breath in the air, and fire up the wood stove for the first time.  It’s that time of year for a hot cider, hot chocolate, hot toddy or dark beer while we watch ski movies and dream of skiing in remote, far way places where the snow is deep and the lure is even deeper.  We put on puffy layers, winter hats and await the seasons first snow.  If you are lucky enough in the fall, you get a “Snowliage” event, when it snows and the leaves still remain on the trees to give you a sight that is certainly worth photographing.  You dust off your winter boots that have been stored in the closet for the last six months.  You head into the garage, shed or basement and look at your skis for the first time.  Why are the edges all rusty?  Do I need a tune, or maybe even a set of fresh, new sticks. Your first issue of Backcountry Magazine sits in your mail box come mid-September. Ski trips are talked about and planned. 

Then as the days get even shorter, the temperatures drop even more, the mountain begins to blow snow and Mother Nature does her part too with hopefully producing early season snows and a base that will carry us through winter freeze-thaw cycles and climate change. Winter’s pull is getting ready to go into full swing.  The question is, are you ready?

Comments (3)

Charles Schaefer
Posted on 2023-11-11 02:13:18
Mansfield just touching the tree line is what has always stood out to me I suppose. I visited as a young kid in winter on a ski vacation from Philly. Decided to center my entire life around this mountain.
Dave Hatoff
Posted on 2023-10-16 14:29:32
We appreciate the props! Thank you!

Posted on 2023-10-13 00:15:13
What a wonderful piece to read in anticipation of snow season. Your prose really delivers that imagery. Now I'll start noticing those weather indicators and catch myself performing the pre-season rituals. Here's to winter on Mansfield!
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