In my earliest years, my family lived in Southern California, so I can distinctly remember the first time I saw snow.
I was around five years old when we traveled to central Massachusetts to spend Christmas with my grandparents, who lived in a simple home in the woods. Waking up our first day there I was greeted with the vista of a deep blanket of the most pristine light fluffy snow.
As vividly as if it were yesterday, I remember the feeling of riding next to my grandfather, perched on the cold vinyl seat of his old pickup truck. Tires crunched through the snow, creating a perfect impression of the tread patterns in two perfect rows as we traveled up and around the long gravel driveway. I remember the smell of the rusty old truck, mixed with gasoline and that indescribable freshness that you only experience in the woods after a snowfall.
The trees hung heavy, frosted with snow as the sun shone through the bluest sky ever. The experience was so magical and unique I remember thinking, “…this must be heaven.”
Some 42 years later, I found myself in that magical place again. I was at the Bretton Woods ski area in New Hampshire with two of my children.
The snow had been falling in giant fluffy flakes all night and it just kept snowing all day as we skied. We had worked our way off the groomed trails into the woods at the edge of the resort. There were no other people around. It was just me, Jake and Tatiana, darting through the silent woods, run after run after run.
The feeling of floating gently over the surface of the snow; of weaving effortlessly through the trees was so transcendent I remember again thinking, “…this must be heaven.” Except this time, it was even better.
My own joyous movement through this heavenly place allowed me to appreciate its beauty at an even deeper level. I had moved from being an observer to an active participant.
I’ve always loved skiing, but that day at Bretton Woods really kindled my interest in getting into the backcountry. Backcountry skiing is all about taking the experience out of the resort, away from chairlifts and into a natural environment where you are self-propelled up and down the terrain.
Once you have the right equipment; climbing skins and special bindings, your skis and legs become your mode of transportation both “skinning” up and skiing down. Freed from resort lifts, you can explore wherever your skill, desire and the right terrain take you.
In New England, this type of skiing goes back to the beginning of the 19th century when adventurers explored places like Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine on skis. In Scandinavia and Russia, traveling over the snow on skis dates back to the beginnings of recorded history.
The fairly recent invention of ski lifts made moving uphill on skis obsolete, but a longing for more challenging terrain coupled with advances in technology have resulted in a strong resurgence of this original form of the sport.
I’ve observed that something special happens to us modern humans, when we move out of the world we’ve created and into nature. In the setting of my normal life, I’m continually in an environment that has been
fashioned with me in mind. From the size of a doorway to the layout of my computer keyboard, my surroundings communicate to me that it’s all about me.
When I spend my entire life in the me-shaped world, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that I am at the center of my universe. This way of viewing things has the potential to disconnect us from the real world, other people and even our true selves.
Contrast this perspective to the experience you get when you stand in places like the floor of the bowl that is Tuckerman Ravine or admire a sunrise or sunset from the deck of The Cabin atop East Haven Mountain. The majestic scale and raw wildness of these places always make me feel very small and insignificant but at the same time extremely peaceful and grateful.
There is something extremely healthy about the reorientation that occurs in your mind and spirit when the beauty and scale of a natural environment reminds you that the universe does not revolve around you.
When [EHMI President] Bryan Wiegers invited me to The Cabin with the teaser, “there are backcountry ski trails…” I bit on the offer with the idea of creating a dream scenario.
I envisioned driving to Vermont on the eve of a big snowstorm, skinning up to The Cabin and hunkering down overnight. In the morning I’d loop the backcountry ski trails from the top and ski back to my car when my legs finally gave out.
While I’ve had the opportunity to realize this ski dream and experience the re-centering that its natural surroundings afford, the EHMI Cabin has given me another unexpected gift.
This gift has been the opportunity to share the place and experience of The Cabin with other people. The conversations and shared experiences in this place are special. Every time I go, I’m challenged by the people I go with; convicted and encouraged to be a better me through stronger healthier relationships with God, myself and others.
I believe that God has wired us to find connection: purpose, unity and joy in both the natural world and the people he has created.
For me, The Cabin is a unique place where this all comes together; a bit of heaven on earth.