December means two things to me: Christmas and ski camp.
Many Dartmouth teams have a December camp: The swim team was in Maui, and the rowers were in Florida. I just returned from Monte-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, where we have camp at the same time and place every year.
As soon as finals ended, all sixteen members of the women’s team piled into a minibus and a Sprinter van with our giant duffel bags, five or six pairs of skis apiece, and boxes full of meal ingredients from the BJ’s in West Leb. The drive is about six hours, and we napped most of the way up.
When we arrived at the Chalets Montmorency, where the Dartmouth team has been staying for almost 30 years, we unloaded our bags and claimed bedrooms as fast as we could before piling back into the bus to go ski.
That first afternoon is always heaven, since there’s rarely much white stuff in Hanover in early December. This year it was a winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow. There was so much powder that the groomer couldn’t pack it and we kept falling through, sometimes up to our knees. The pink sunset bathed the snowy forest in magic.
Our first dinner was self-assembled burritos. After the meal we had a team meeting and got down to the nitty-gritty of camp.
Every other morning, we did a short jog and strength routine. Breakfast was always at 8, and it was always a big pot of oatmeal and some English muffins. The bus left at 8:45 for the morning ski. Lunch was on your own, everyone crafting different concoctions in the oven and on the stovetop.
During the afternoon break we worked on skis, napped, or did some other quiet activity. Then we were back in the bus at 2:45 for a second ski, followed by a short break and dinner at 6. We all went to bed early.
Camp is predictable. We ski, a lot. We watch the same movies over and over. We eat ridiculous quantities of food. We sleep, a lot. We don’t work on our skis as much as we could.
But the most memorable times at camp are the days that break the routine. One of my favorites is the day we do our long ski, then join the men’s team for a Thanksgiving-style dinner.
This year, we scheduled a long classic ski. The goal time was three to four hours, but I was hoping for five, because there are enough trails at Mont-Sainte-Anne to ski that long with no repetition. The snow had been great packed powder all week, and I was excited.
Unfortunately, when we woke up that Monday morning, it was pouring rain. The snow was melting and waxing classic skis would have been a nightmare; even if we had found the right wax, it wouldn’t have lasted the whole ski. We switched the workout to skating.
I skied up Lac-Sainte-Hilaire with Kristin Dewey, our co-captains Courtney Robinson and Hannah Dreissigacker, and our Development Coordinator Martin Benes. The trail winds up and up and up, and soon I was skiing in only my race tights and a polypropylene shirt. If it’s warm enough to be raining, it’s warm.
We saw the Lebanon High School team heading down from the top of the trail. I recognized a few of the skiers and waved to Les Lawrence, the coach.
We had been hoping to ski up to a cabin on top of the ridge, but the final section of trail was not groomed and in the wet snow we didn’t feel like forging our own way. That section is rarely groomed and in the three years I’ve been to camp there, I’ve only made it to the cabin once. We turned around and headed down the hill.
I took off on my own on a long, only somewhat groomed trail along a smaller ridge. I was making third tracks on the trail, which was slow going. Wet snow built up on top of my skis, and the downhills weren’t much faster than the uphills. But the woods were quiet except for the sound of the rain, and it was peaceful.
I crossed under the massive power lines which are so prevalent in Quebec. There was a strong buzzing as the rain hit the lines and evaporated. I thought of the studies suggesting that living next to power lines increased one’s risk of cancer.
After skiing for two and a half hours, I was completely soaked and too cold to keep skiing. I got on the bus, where I found Ida Sargent, one of our most talented and dedicated skiers. I felt better about ending early once I knew she was, too. There was no point in making ourselves sick.
Most girls skied back along the power lines. Some skied longer than we did, some shorter. As we trickled in we all took hot showers, ate lunches with hot cocoa, and crawled into our beds to warm up. I took a nap before the next portion of the day got started: Thanksgiving.
For this event, we split cooking responsibilities with the men’s team. Max Hopkins, a former Hanover High teammate of mine, is the master of the deep-fat fryer, where he cooks five turkeys. The boys also prepare stuffing (from a box), cranberry (from a can), and carrots (in lots of honey). We girls are responsible for pies, mashed potatoes, and green beans.
It was chaos as we try to fit three tables, thirty-four chairs and place-settings, and five turkeys into one condo unit. But we were eventually all seated somewhere, and began loading up our plates. Max rehearsed a poem and an irreverent version of grace. Every part of the meal was delicious, especially the turkey. Chatter filled the room.
Besides training, this is the point of camp: with no more academic responsibilities, we can relax and get to know our teammates better than we ever have before. Just like any other Thanksgiving, this one felt like it was with my family. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing better for a team than that.