Winter: How I Became a Skier

Mirna Valerio out on her skis smiling before she heads down the mountain

The apple doesn’t fall far from the frozen apple tree. Does that even work as a metaphor? Because apple trees don’t freeze, right? Ok, well you know what I mean.

My mother loves the cold weather. As soon as that first truly chilly day happens, she is all smiles and nesting and cooking warming foods like cabbage and chicken soup. She loves donning her biggest, puffiest, longest down coats and jackets – you know the ones with the big, furry hoods and many pockets inside and out and big metal snaps and thick zippers. She loves putting on thick socks and boots and heading out into the cold weather, whether it’s snowy or not. See what I did there?

I am my mother’s daughter. She hugs trees; I hug trees. She taught me to feel the warmth and beauty emanating from them. She marvels at the snowflakes that land on her nose, and I make my eyes cross uncomfortably trying to look at the lone snowflake that has made its way onto my nose. She is in wonderment when there is a hush that falls over the usually very noisy Brooklyn, where I was born and raised. I am in awe when I stand in the silence of a pine grove deep in the boreal forest I often find myself in.

Slow Snow Days

When I think of winter, I think of those beautiful days in my early childhood reading A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, or watching the Sesame Street version of it on a surprise snow day – back when we only got them for actual blizzards*!

*Don’t worry, I’m not a hater. As a former teacher of 18 years, I appreciate any snow days or delays (But really? A delay? Just cancel the entire day!) because those were the days I got to sleep in, and my kid would be in a great mood and hop around the house singing IT’S A SNOW DAY, SNOW DAY!

Remember blizzards? If you happened to be in a safe place inside, you’d look out the window and watch the snow coming first down, then sideways…then there would be thundersnow. Thunder? While snowing? WOW, and also WHAT A FRIGHT!

Everything and everyone would slow down. We’d drink hot chocolate and heat up a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, and we’d slurp it and dunk toast with cream cheese in it, making milky swirls, and then settle down on our beds watching cartoons all morning. Then we’d get dressed to go outside and play if the snow had slowed down, or if the sun happened to come out.

Historical Gear Ups

Grown up Mirna wearing snow gear for running, including merino wool socks

We’d put on our thermals, then two pairs of cotton socks (because we didn’t know anything about wool then other than the fact that back then it was itchy, *sigh* - nowadays there’s Merino). Then we’d put on our clothes and coats and gloves.

Our mom (or I, because I am the oldest and the best), would slather our faces with Vaseline – look I now know about Bag Balm, but we didn’t have that in Brooklyn back in the 80s, okay? And then we’d put on our boots from Payless or Thom McAn, and head outside to this bright world – snow covered streets and stoops, snow-covered wrought-iron fences, and foot deep snow atop the garbage cans in our building’s front yards.

We carefully avoided those pesky yellow, steaming patches that we’d happen upon every now and then. The snowball fights would include the entire block, and even the grumpy neighbors from across the street joined us. They’d be happy too, and their smiles often revealed something deeper about them.

We made snow people and snow mounds and snow angels. We’d be out for hours, with the occasional break in the foyer to heat ourselves up just a little bit before heading out again to make more snowballs to hurl at that one annoying kid up the block.

Fun Trumps Cold... (Not Really)

Mirna looking spunky on a cold winter day, out on the town

When our fingers and toes were frozen, our faces and eyeballs burning from the cold, and our shivers uncontrollable, we headed inside with warnings not to track snow and ice into the house ringing in our ears.

We stripped, drank hot tea, and warmed our damp feet and hands, then settled in for more TV – this time for shows like Different Strokes and The Facts of Life. Remember that time when if you missed an episode of a show, it was gone forever? Yeah.

I went to a boarding school for high school and our dorms were on a big, long hill, so when we had a snow day, we sledded ALL DAY on actual sleds (and also on lunch trays) for hours upon hours, with the frozen Hudson River and Palisades Cliffs as our view. I often had to force myself to head back inside because fun trumps cold, amirite? (Actually, no I’m not right, head inside, warm up and dry off, and then go back out!)

Finding My People 

Mirna on a winter day making a goofy pose in front of snowy mountains

I am in love with winter, and I have an intimate relationship with the cold and grey that this season offers. I adore running in the snow with spikes or running snowshoes and hearing my crunchy footfalls; I love walking in the snow with my latest and cutest Darn Tough Vermont socks on and my fluffiest Bean Boots.

I love the cold hitting my face, even when it activates my asthmatic lungs. I can feel myself living, viscerally expressing the vibrancy of life among what looks dead, although we know nature is only at rest.

I moved to Vermont on an impulse. I was here visiting a friend in Barre for a winter adventure that included hiking, running, a snowboard lesson at Bolton Valley, and great food and wine, when a certain quiet urgently called to me.

From the inn that I stayed at in Montpelier, I watched as several runners passed, running in the dark in 6-degree temperatures. These were my people, I decided, and I was sold on Vermont in early 2019, if only for the durability and quirkiness of her people!

A Cold Start

Mirna on top of a ski slope, smiling back before she heads down

A few years later, I got an email from Jen Gurecki, the owner of Coalition Snow, a woman-owned and operated ski company. She had read articles about me and mentioned that I was everywhere, at Outdoor Retailer, in magazines, on TV, and didn’t I need a pair of skis?

I didn’t really ski at that point (there is a story about my very first ski lessons on an icy New Jersey Mountain and having to be rescued from the embankment of a narrow trail by ski patrol ten years earlier, but I digress…) We agreed that I would learn to ski at Bolton Valley and that I’d share my learning, falls, and frustrations with my community on Instagram.

After a few weeks of tears (because A. I did not yet know that I shouldn’t leave my ski boots in my car overnight, B. my still wonky post-surgery knee’s anger with me, and C. the -20-degree wind chill days), something clicked.

Guy, my instructor – who is a national treasure – tricked me into being okay with skiing one day when my knee was protesting and my heart wasn’t convinced I was doing the right sport. Yet somehow, I ended up having the best ski day of my life.

Meant to Be

Mirna's feet clad in purple and blue darn tough ski socks

I got hooked. I forgot about all the effort it took to get all my layers on, force big plastic boots on my feet, and strap them in with numb fingers.

And when I was finally able to slide down the mountain without worrying if I was going to crash into the orange fencing, or get stuck at the edge of a run, and when I was able to quiet my breathing and stand at the top of Sherman’s Pass and look out at the High Peaks of Adirondacks of my home state on the other side of the lake in their blue, white, grey, and silver splendor, I knew that on top of snowy mountains, on skis, with my nose frozen but fingers warmed by hot hands in my big ski mittens with other people who loved and experienced the same, was where I was meant to be.

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