by Amy Stanfield
“Our simple goal: spend some time ringing in the new year with fresh tracks, great company – and let’s not forget the champagne.”
Some of us wore snowshoes that clacked loudly against the snow-veiled talus. Others skied just below the ridgeline, where the wind had deepened the snow. The skiers scoffed at the “knuckle draggers” on shoes. Our sturdiest and most willing friends pulled sleds of holiday cheer. The varying modes of transportation, fat packs and one new puppy made the going slow but enjoyable. We were a caravan of mountain gypsies off to set camp at our new home for the holidays, the Benson Hut in the High Sierra. Our simple goal: spend some time ringing in the new year with fresh tracks, great company – and let’s not forget the champagne.
Among our group of holiday orphans, some had forgone airplane tickets home for new boards, skis or skins that, for the powder junkie, offered more satisfaction than even the most glorious spread of mama’s home cooking. Others were simply left stranded in this small mountain town by lack of funds. We all led less-than-career-oriented lives, but no one minded being the black sheep in this white landscape. It was where we wanted to be.
On the way in most of us kept a mellow pace, one much more leisurely than our usual frantic scramble to the top. Some of us found our way to the hut only with headlamps and a faded, after-dark track. The earlier arrivals, with the voraciousness of 19th-century settlers on the plains, staked claim for their sleeping pads. The boots came off. Sounds of unsnapping buckles followed by sighs of relief filled the room, and we lined up the socks by the fire to dry. No one expected to see stockings filled with candy, toys or even coal. We just wanted them dry for the next day’s turns.
It didn’t take long to fill our backcountry orphanage with laughter and warmth. In the crowded but cozy hut everyone relaxed with conversation, a warm meal and the first bottle of champagne that we’d so painstakingly hauled in. The festivity warmed and reddened our wind-chapped cheeks. We held onto the last moments of the year, exchanged hugs and kisses and a Happy New Year. Not long after the clock struck midnight, voices went from a roar to the occasional whisper and eyelids sunk to half-mast. The day had finally caught up with us, and one by one we slipped off to bed. We slept soundly that night in our little makeshift home as visions of powder danced through our heads.