A Christmas Ski Trip, Prelude: The Plan

A great way to avoid holiday headaches.

This was the first Christmas holiday in my life that I didn’t have plans to visit family or friends. I’d gotten a number of invitations — all of which required out-of-state travel — and for various reasons, had to turn them down. About two weeks ago is when I realized that I’d likely be alone for Christmas. But rather than be glum about it — as people who need companionship might be — I rejoiced in the freedom it gave me.

Yes, for the first time in my life, I could spend the Christmas holiday the way I wanted to.

Fond Remembrances of Christmas Past

Oddly, my favorite Christmases were the ones I spent alone with my wasband, either at home or at our cabin on Howard Mesa. At home, we’d exchange gifts and do something during the day, like a Jeep ride with cameras out in the desert. In the evening, we’d settle down after a good dinner in front of the fire.

The Howard Mesa trips, like this one, were especially memorable. I remember one Christmas dinner in El Tovar’s private dining room at the Grand Canyon when we were joined by people I thought were friends; one of them looked ever-so-sexy in a kilt.

Simple Christmases were always the best, especially when you could spend them with people you loved.

No responsibilities, no traffic, no pretending to enjoy the company of people I’d simply prefer not to be with. No buying gifts for people I barely know, no receiving gifts from people who feel a need to spend the budgeted amount on me and don’t really care whether the thing they give me is something I might like. (Hint: Save your money; I’ll like/respect you more if you skip the gift than if you give me something stupid that I hate.) No listening to complaints or arguments or political rants, no dealing with kids or grandkids or misbehaved pets. No eating “casseroles” that came out of a bunch of cans; no eating desert that includes Cool Whip or other petroleum products. No guests that complain incessantly about their accommodations — when they refused to stay in your home and expect you to pick up the tab for their hotel.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve had many pleasant Christmases with family and/or friends in the past. They’re usually relaxing and fun with the emphasis on enjoying each other’s company and taking pleasure out of sharing just the right gifts. Alcohol is often involved.

But I’ve also had some remarkably crappy ones, some of which were with people I’m very glad I’ll never have to see again. And they’re likely just as glad that they won’t have to see me.

Why do we pretend to like the holiday bullshit when we so often don’t? More times than not — at least in my past — it’s been an ordeal better skipped.

And that’s the best thing about being single: not having to “compromise” with a partner so his responsibilities become yours.

But the question remained: what would I do for Christmas?

The Plan

It didn’t take long to come up with a plan. I definitely wanted to go away for the holiday, but I didn’t want to go far. I wanted to go someplace that wouldn’t cost a fortune, someplace with a mix of privacy and small crowds. Someplace I could get out and do something active — I’d been spending far too much time this season sitting on my butt.

The answer came from a friend. She knew I was itching to get out on my new cross-country skis and snowfall had been unseasonably low in our area. “Have you checked out MVSTA?” she asked.

MVSTA LogoA tiny bit of research led me to the website for the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association. The MVSTA is, as it proudly proclaims on its website’s home page, “the Nation’s Largest Cross-Country Ski Area.”

The Methow Valley is a long, beautiful valley that runs up the Methow River. There are a few towns along the way: Methow and Carlton, which really don’t have much to offer, Twisp, Winthrop, and Mazama. Winthrop, which was the big town in the area, was about 50 miles up the road — route 153 and then route 20 — and just 90 miles from where I lived. Driving there would be the equivalent of driving to Sedona from my old house in Arizona. If I continued on route 20, the scenic North Cascades Highway, I’d wind through the Cascade Mountains and end up north of Seattle. It’s not possible in the winter when snow closes down the passes, but I’ve got a friend who’s promised to do the trip with me on motorcycles in September.

I’d been up the Methow once before. Back in 2008 I’d spent 10 days working in Pateros, WA, on a cherry drying contract. Pateros was the little town at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia Rivers. It was summer then and I’d driven with my wasband 65 miles, all the way up to Mazama, with stops at Twisp and Winthrop along the way. My wasband had bought me a little handmade silver ring in a gallery in Twisp. It was the last piece of jewelry he ever bought me.

Revisiting the area would be a good idea. I’d make new memories on my own terms. The fact that it was winter instead of summer and I was going for more than just a day trip would help. Besides: there was plenty of cross-country skiing in the area on groomed trails. I’d never skied on groomed trails before and looked forward to it.

I made a few phone calls and wound up booking a loft cabin about six miles outside of Winthrop. I chose the place because it met my requirements for quiet and privacy and it allowed dogs. And it wouldn’t break the bank. I took it for two nights — Christmas Eve and Christmas — and paid in advance.

Then I called around to see if I could get a cross-country skiing lesson on Christmas Eve. Sure, the first company I called told me. They’d be open Christmas Eve and probably even Christmas Day. But there wasn’t much snow yet; there might not be enough for skiing.


But there was no turning back. I could see from the MVSTA website that even if there wasn’t enough snow for skiing or snowshoeing, there were still plenty of trails for hiking. When life gives you lemons…


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