The snows blanketed Michigan early and hard in November but left as quickly as they came, morphing most of the region into a soggy gray and brown mess of mud and fallen leaves. The snows we see in Houghton don't evaporate all the way and the clouds stay without the precipitation. Daylight only changes when the sun comes or goes for the day, and night's thick fog shrinks the world to a fifty-yard radius.
The murk weighs on my enthusiasm when we arrive at the base of Marquette Mountain's 650 feet of elevation. I know the meager 144-acres here better than any mountain I've ever skied. My first turns were taken here only 11 seasons ago, on a pair of neon pink Blizzard straight skis, rear entry boots, and eventually an orange cold weather flight suit I purchase for $10 at Goodwill. After my first season I quit school sports and got a job at a ski shop so I could afford to make turns here. Shortly after, I upgraded to twin tips, a pair of Rossignol Soft Boots and began watching the Weather Channel. To cut a long story short, Marquette Mountain ruined my life. Time traveling adjusts my attitude favorably, but I'm not expecting any new adventures.
Defying the gloom, Marquette's lights punch holes through the night. I find myself chasing a few locals through the outer-reaches of halogen bulbs and into trees that smack jackets, breaking the otherwise near silence of a cloudy Northern night. It's easy to tell that they love it here from their careful attention to the way snow falls on certain rocks and bushes all winter long. The ever-changing snowscape creates a dynamic experience of travel options only noticeable if you're looking.
Behind the locals though, and in front of my fear of stick impalement, I find myself working to move quickly while flying through the trees. The mountain hasn't changed, but the way I work my way down it changes with every “follow me.”
Every little line we ski would look like hell on a POV camera, and we're not going to get any epic pow turn photos, bro, but it's not bad for a Tuesday night. After two more days and a half-dozen meetings with local guides I know two things; the first being that I'll never really know a mountain, and the second is that the winter might be garbage, but the skiing isn't.