The clock strikes 4:00 AM and I awake to the ding of my alarm. With eyes closed my hand swats and taps at my nightstand hoping to touch down upon the snooze button. Finally, after a few failed attempts and a spilt glass of water I force myself to get up. I look out the window into the darkness. The only light I can see is the dim street lamp shining down on the row of parked cars outside my house. A perfect, untouched, blanket of beautiful snow sits below my window. The feeling of dismay is replaced with excitement. I run to my closet to quickly throw on my base layers and bibs. I call my friend Forrest to see if he’s still “in” but am greeted by a voicemail. I try once more and this time I hear a very muffled “I’m up.”
I packed my bag the night before but run through the checklist one more time in my head; helmet, goggles, Buff, beanie, bottle, lights, snacks, skins, boots, skis, poles. I make a quick breakfast and a cup of coffee for the ride. Hoping to not make too much noise I carefully place my skis and poles in the Thule box on top of my car. Like every other person in Vermont, I hop in my Subaru and hit the road.
After a brief stop at Forrest’s house, we are cruising down 89 South heading for the hills. We reach exit 10 and turn left at the light for Route 100 North to Stowe is the way we choose to go. The mountains, still hidden in darkness, loom to our left in the distance. At last, we reach the Stowe parking lot and pull into a spot. The clock reads 5:30 so we better get moving. We throw on our boots and stick skins to our skis. Looking up we can make out the shape of Mt. Mansfield staring down at us. With skis and poles in hand we make our way to the bottom of Gondolier. Even in darkness the snow still shines on the trail before us, but it is our headlamps that really make it sparkle. We set the pins on the bindings into the boots and begin our ascent. We know that for some time the only sounds we’ll hear are the gliding of skins, nature, and friendly conversations between the struggling breaths of exhaustion.
Fifty minutes go by and we’ve made it to the Cliff House at the top of the trail. At this point the darkness has been greeted by the light from the east. While the sun has still not crept over the white mountains we know it will be arriving soon. Now we make our way up the little path to the right of the lift into the Mansfield backcountry. We are out of bounds and out of breath but we must keep pushing if we want to enjoy a sunrise on the Chin. The excitement grows as we continue to make fresh tracks in snow that must be nearly waist deep. There is enough light to make out the fine details of objects around us. We pass hundreds of small alpine trees turned completely white from ice and snow; It feels almost as if we are on another planet. I keep looking down in front of me imagining the summit when suddenly everything around me begins to glow. The white snow has now turned a beautiful shade of orange and yellow. I quickly turnaround to see the sun just sneaking over the ridge in the distance. For we did not reach the Chin in time for the exact moment of sunrise, but this rush of color was well worth the hike. A few minutes later we reach the summit, take a moment to sit down and enjoy the beauty in front of us. It is hard to describe this setting, for words simply do not paint the picture of what we see before us. This is a moment I wish everyone could experience. The sun slowly rising over the hills just kissing the peaks with light while the valleys remain in shadow; a magnificent contrast between light and dark. I pull out my Hydroflask and take a sip of coffee still piping hot after a few hours in the cold. Forrest breaks out a few homemade chocolate chip cookies and we relax in the morning light.
Once the sun sat higher in the sky we began to make our descent. There are many ways to ski down but we chose the route most familiar to us so we traversed over to Rock Garden. We stood overlooking the cliffs below us and marveled at the untouched powder. We rapidly removed our skins, flipped our bindings into ski mode, and stepped in. Now came the toughest decision of the day; who goes first…We each pulled a hand out of our mittens and looked at one another. “Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!” There in front of me I see Forrest’s flat paper hand descending upon my poor rock.
“Best two out of three?” I utter.
“No chance Bud.” He replies.
“Dropping!” Forrest exclaims as he taps his poles together and slides forward towards the cliff. He drops off and lands down below; his impact is met with a large white puff of snow gleaming in the sunlight. From there he continues to slash a few more turns before stopping to wait for me. I do the same except I attempt to create new lines to experience a similar untouched glory as he did. We continue to cruise through the deep powder and make our way to the trail. For time sake, we rip down Gondolier as the sun shines down on us. I could not wipe the grin off my face no matter how hard I tried. A few hard turns and we got our face shots as we zoomed down the trail. This was by far my best Gondolier run to date. The feeling of joy ran all throughout me and I felt lifted; like I was just floating over the snow. Then again it may have just been the powder skis.
We finally reached the bottom and managed to ski all the way to the car. In the distance, we could hear the Forerunner Quad spinning. It was almost 8 AM and we needed to hit the road. We swiftly packed up our things, hopped in the car, and proceeded back to Burlington. Other skiers hoping to get a few morning runs passed us on the access road as we headed towards town, one lap was all we needed.