I've called myself a snowboarder for quite some time, but nothing could prepare me for the monstrous mountain known as Whiteface.
If that mountain could talk, it would have said to me: "Kayla, you better up your ante."
Bob Ross painting.
As my boyfriend and I walked toward the ski lodge, we passed skiers and snowboarders of every age, bundled up in brand-name pants and jackets. I looked through the windows and up at the mountain; the freshly groomed slopes were bound to test my skills and endurance.
I laced my snowboarding boots and secured my lift ticket to my jacket. I put on my gloves, hat and helmet. I zipped my jacket and took a quick glance at the map. A sense of excitement creeped through my veins as soon as I threw my snowboard under my arm and began walking toward the gondola.
I had never ridden a gondola on the slopes before; unlike a ski lift, the gondola is an enclosed capsule of sorts that requires you to part with your snowboard or skis rather than have them strapped to your feet. I put my snowboard in the appropriate slot (rather hesitantly, I must admit) and we boarded the gondola with three avid skiers, who shared with us their impressions of the slopes.
"Oh, the snow is wonderful," one of the skiers said. "Just wonderful."
"This is the best resort in the East," another said.
As the gondola took us higher and higher up the mountain, I looked at the tops of the trees and the large rocks, many of which were covered in thick, yellow-colored icicles.
When we reached the top, I felt as though we were on top of the world. I retrieved my camera from my pocket and snapped photograph after photograph. The mountain was so picturesque; I wanted souvenirs in the form of photographs. I wanted my snowboarding friends to see what I saw.
But I didn't have time to waste: I had to stop being snap happy and make my first run of the day on the most beautiful mountain I had ever seen. I buckled both feet into my snowboard and felt the powder give me power. I carved my way down the trail, which was lengthy and full of opportunities to turn left or right or onto other trails.
There seemed to be lifts at every corner. One lift, called the Summit Quad, took brave souls to the highest peak: that's 3,430 feet, to be exact—the highest vertical drop in the Northeast.
We decided that we were brave souls.
Riding the Summit Quad was a thrill. Part of me felt a little nervous, but the other part of me desperately wanted the bragging rights that came along with boarding down such a steep slope. I knew it would make me feel as though I earned my Legit Snowboarder badge; it was all about feeling like the "real deal," a small-town snowboarder who wasn't afraid to up her ante and conquer that mountain.
I zigzagged between the pine trees and eventually made my way down to the bottom of the slope. We rode the Summit Quad a few more times, and I would be lying if I said that each ride didn't give me butterflies; you can't help but look over your shoulder when you're almost near the top and realize that you're higher than the trees could ever wish to grow.
One memorable trip to Lake Placid later and I still feel like I'm on top of Whiteface Mountain, looking around Lake Placid and giving a nod to all the Olympians who competed there in the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Games.
I'm no Olympian, but it's hard not to feel like one after giving that mountain all I had, and leaving my snowboarding marks on the trails that I hope to return to again someday, Legit Snowboarder badge and all.
(Kayla Pongrac works at Laurel Arts, Somerset. To read more of her work, visit www.kaylapongrac.com.)