Words by Megan Pierce
In New England, social media posts poke fun at how the end of winter unfolds. There is winter, fool’s spring, second winter, spring of deception, third winter, mud season, and finally spring.
You can imagine the emotional rollercoaster skiers go through. First you are sad thinking the season is winding down as you desperately try to squeeze in as many remaining days as you can, maybe you briefly feel excited about your coming off season activities.Then a warm spell or rain comes through decimating the snowpack and you are sad thinking you skied your last day. But then a week later a storm comes through dumping snow and you are ecstatic you get one last last day. Then you are really sad the season is over… and then surprise! One last big storm rolls through so you run out to get one last last last day. It feels just like the description reads- Chaotic and unknown.
However, when the offseason finally arrives, there are plenty of fun things to do to keep busy and keep in shape for next ski season… including continuing to ski.
If you can’t totally let go of skiing in the summer, you can switch over to the water and make the most of the melted snow. Water skiing gets my adrenaline pumping in a different way than skydiving or bungee jumping; it is the rush from feeling the competitive fire inside me ignite. There is a thrill in signaling to the boat driver to inch up the speedometer as you attempt sharper turns, throw larger rooster tails (walls of water off the ski), and whip across the wake. In all seriousness, I don’t usually have a hard time filling my time in the off season. There are so many fun things to do in the summer and skiers tend to be great all-around athletes who make the most of every season.
Hiking and trail running are great ways to continue spending time in the mountains, enjoy the true peace and quiet of being in nature, clear your head, and also push yourself as hard as you choose to. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is hiking with my dog Kenney (named after our favorite lake in New Hampshire).
Kenney is a shy, sensitive, and wildly loyal hound mutt who is easily spooked by garbage trucks, power tools, and anything dropping or making sudden loud noises. Although we live in a quiet neighborhood, she is never as happy as the days I take her hiking or trail running.
“In the woods, off leash she is visibly at ease and happy and it reminds me of how I feel that same shift inside myself. Unplugging from my work, setting aside my to-do lists and responsibilities, and enjoying the full unwind of being outside in nature is unbeatable.”
I frequently hike or get out for a quick run on local trails during my lunch break or after work, and on the weekends, I take advantage of the opportunity to get out for longer days or overnights often in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Occasionally I plan bigger adventures, like the backpacking trip my husband Sam and I went on for our honeymoon in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
All this isn’t to say hiking and running are just done for the inner peace experienced during your hours on the trails; you don’t have to go easy out there. If you want to push your pace, mileage, and vertical gain you’ll see the payoff when you jump back on your skis.
Unlike skiing, I didn’t grow up mountain biking, but was hooked when I started riding. I quickly realized why so many skiers jumped on bikes in the summer and wondered why I didn’t do it sooner.
“Mountain biking shares plenty of similarities to skiing like the feeling of flowing on the trail, needing to choose your line, and managing healthy fears as you increase the size of your challenges.”
The best part is the challenges are unlimited, this is likely what keeps so many of us coming back for more. You can set a goal for distance, speed, or technical challenge leaving you something to work towards and itching to get back on the trails. Personally, the small, missed opportunities are the challenges I want to overcome the most. It’s the skinny I rode around but could have tried, the big rock I didn’t ride over, the jump I failed to get air on, and the drop I didn’t muster the courage for that I want to conquer.
My favorite was the one my friend Josh termed the “ice cream bridge”. The ice cream bridge was a skinny A frame bridge over a large fallen tree. It had an intimidating approach, missing boards, and pitched to alternate sides on the incline and decline. The first day I rode the trail Josh warned me about bridge and said I should try it, but I refused. The second time we rode there, Josh, knowing my weakness, offered to buy me an ice cream if I succeeded. I love ice cream so this was a strong offer and had me excited to see the bridge again. As the bridge came into view, I decided I definitely couldn’t do it, and rode around the bridge yelling back “I’ll just buy my own ice cream!”. The third time was the charm. I broke down the challenge, practicing the approach a few times and finally committed to trying it. The first attempt I didn’t have enough speed and stopped right at the top where Josh, standing on my typical fall side, grabbed my handlebars so I didn’t pitch off the bridge. I knew I could do it after that if I committed to it. The next try, which had a bit more speed and conviction, got me successfully up and over the famed ice cream bridge. The satisfaction, excitement, and sense of achievement from these moments keep all of us coming back for more.
Group rides have popped up all over and provide a setting for anyone to get outside, hangout with great people, and have some fun. Lots of bike shops and local organizations offer a variety of rides for different experience levels like beginner, novice, intermediate, or experienced rides. There are also rides made for everyone at a mellow pace, rides to practice your technique/skills, and many more specialized rides. They allow you to meet new like-minded friends, become familiar with local trails, build upon your skills by learning from those around you, and get acquainted with your local bike shop.
The bike culture is similar to freeskiing: it’s social, most people have a laid-back attitude but still send hard, and both love après drinks. Mountain biking is a fantastic way to build muscles and improve your cardio as the next ski season approaches. If you haven’t started mountain biking yet, you should and I’m sure, like me, you’ll be thinking “why didn’t I do this sooner?”
Rock climbing may not utilize many of the right muscle groups to keep you in shape for skiing, but I find it keeps me mentally sharp.
“As I begin to build my skill set in the backcountry, I am constantly reminded of the power of nature and the technical knowledge required to make smart decisions.”
To remain safe climbing and in the backcountry, you need to continuously exercise and build upon your skill set which means reading, research, taking courses, and finding an experienced mentor. Climbing is also one more thing to do in the off season that allows you to spend more time in the mountains. Some of the best New England climbing, Cannon Cliffs, is on the backside of a ski area.
Writing this has me thinking longingly about the ski season so until the snow falls, I’ll be here making the most of the off season and impatiently waiting. My mom used to tell me that if I felt cold outside in the winter I should imagine laying on a beach in the sun. Much to my surprise (I am a logic-driven engineer), the power of positive thinking worked a little and I would feel some warmth spread inside me. Massachusetts just experienced two heatwaves. So I trudged to the closet, got out my down jacket and started thinking of snow.
Meg is an environmental engineer from New England who loves being outside and on the go. She is an avid skiier, hiker, rock climber, mountain biker, and boater who brings lots of energy and enthusiasm to her adventures. Meg is passionate about encouraging, enabling, and expanding access for everyone to participate in outdoor recreation.