Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Written by Jill McLaughlin
One March weekend after a winter of bad choices (wrong job, wrong relationship, wrong city), I headed to Sugarbush. I joked to my friend that I was taking the slogan “be better here” too literally, hoping for a magic cure-all, a life fix delivered by a ski resort. Sugarbush was MY mountain – I learned to ski on Mt. Ellen, filmed embarrassing home videos in a slopeside condo, threw snowballs from the side of Snowball – I knew these trails better than anything.
Now I was determined to see the back side of Sugarbush. I wanted to find the wild side, wanted to look down on the towns of Lincoln, Bristol, Jerusalem. Maybe it was because of this last town name that the goal took on a weirdly spiritual slant – I referred to it as a pilgrimage. What had started as a whimsical desire to see another side of the mountain I loved became an obsession; I was singularly focused on Seeing Jerusalem.
After a wonderful white-out day at Mt. Ellen (great for skiing, not great for scenic views), I arrived at Lincoln Peak before the lifts opened. It was another snowy day and I doubted I'd be able to see anything. I explained my pilgrimage to the man at guest services, who patiently answered my questions about the backside of the mountain. I demanded photos, he brought out his phone. He had some beautiful shots north toward Camel's Hump, but it was too 2-D, too limited by frame. And then he said the magical words: "You know there's a viewing platform at the top of Jester?” I was shocked silent. How many years had I skied here and never known this? Just rocketed myself into the bowls from the top of Heavens Gate Chair. They say you can always spot the locals in New York City because, unlike tourists, they never look up at the skyscrapers. I was too much of a local at Sugarbush; I had never looked up.
As the morning progressed, the clouds swam over the mountain. I bombed down Downspout and Domino, exhilarated by the fresh tracks made on every descent, even in late morning. But every time I looked at Heaven's Gate Chair, it seemed to be just that – a gate to a cloud-encased heaven. Finally I decided to try it. The top was less cloudy than I thought, so I took my skis off and hiked up through the powder. As I neared the peak the winds picked up and the snow skated off to reveal sheer ice right before the viewing platform. This is when my quest became strangely dreamlike; I was all alone, so close to the peak of this mountain, but blocked by wind, snow, and ice. Gritting my teeth, I crawled the last few feet to stand on the platform. The clouds blew past and over, and I could see the tightly frosted pines lining the swoop of the mountain, running down to the fields. My hands froze as I took out my phone to locate myself on the map. There it was, the road to Jerusalem. It's worth noting that Jerusalem is not technically a town – it's a "populated place" within the town of Starksboro. As such, it wasn't exactly like looking down from Twin Peaks at the city of San Francisco. There were a few farms, a couple houses, a pickup truck blinking in and out.
I'm not sure how long I stood there in the wind, staring down at the snow-covered trees leading to snow-covered farmland. I felt like I had conquered the dream by making it up there, by actually Seeing Jerusalem, despite the obstacles. I knew the Sugarbush side of this mountain so well, knew the trails and glades and rivers. But now I felt that I had met the other half. All my wrong choices and poor decisions lay below me in the valley, but I was okay here in the swirling snow above Jerusalem, and this was my full, complete mountain now.