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Backcountry Skier

Chance Encounter with a Local Legend

You ever have one of those moments during a conversation with someone you just met when suddenly you realize just who it is you’re talking to and then you spend the next 20 minutes replaying the entire conversation in your head trying to figure out if you said anything stupid?

I know I’m not the only one.

Happens all the time around here. In fact, it happened just the other night when Dave and I were grabbing a bite to eat at the Ausable Inn. We had just gotten back from a hike and we were soaking wet, muddy, and in a general state of dishevelment. A tall, lanky gentleman, mid-50s with a graying pony tail, walked into the restaurant and sat down at the table next to us. He glanced at our dripping rain gear and mud-streaked faces and immediately asked, “You guys go for a hike today?”

He asked us where we’re from. Do we bike? Do we ski? How were the conditions up high today? (It was warm and sunny, cold and rainy, sleety, snowy and windy with a chance of rainbow, if you’re curious.) He offered up some great local tips.

The whole time I couldn’t get rid of the niggling thought in the back of my brain that we should know who this guy is. But I don’t know who anyone is around here, so how would that be possible?

When we were done with our meal, we headed over to his table to say goodbye and introduce ourselves, “Hi, I’m Jess, this is Dave. It was really nice to meet you and thanks for all of the great info.”

“Yeah, sure, no problem. I’m sure we’ll see each other around. I’m Ron… “

His last name was lost in the din of the restaurant, but Dave caught enough of it to flip the switch.

Once we were outside he turned to me and said, “So that guy is, like, pretty famous around here.”

“I knew it!” I said. “Wait, so who is he?”

Turns out we had been talking to Ron Konowitz. Legendary backcountry skier. The only person to have skied up and down all 46 High Peaks. Member of the infamous – and controversial – Ski-To-Die Club that gained notoriety in the 70s for its supremely hardcore ways. 5th grade teacher. And, apparently, super nice guy.

I’m sure this means absolutely nothing to most of you reading. Who cares, right? He’s just a 5th grade teacher who likes to ski in the mountains. Well, yeah, I guess if you want to be technical about it.

But he’s also a local legend.

“We didn’t say anything stupid, did we?” I asked Dave. He assured me we did not… well, maybe, but he didn’t think so.

That’s the thing about living here. Everyone is someone. You can’t go to the pub or The Mountaineer or the post office, hike a mountain or climb a cliff, without being next to someone who has achieved some sort of impossible feat, whether it’s a crazy speed record, first ascent, or something else entirely that I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around.

Inevitably, Dave and I get to talking with these people, at first not knowing who they are. And then something triggers in one of our brains and it dawns on us that this is so-and-so who hiked 1,145 miles over 248 mountains in 38 minutes and 42 seconds in whiteout conditions last winter. And we TOTALLY read all about it on the internet. And then we feel like we have to acknowledge this spectacular feat somehow, so one of us dumbly says, “Oh yeah, I read about you on the internet…” And they, of course, graciously acknowledge our acknowledgement and then resume the conversation like a normal person. Meanwhile, it’s all we can do to not throw ourselves at their feet and exclaim, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

But, really, they’re just regular people. Local legends or not, they’re simply living their lives, enjoying the mountains and the outdoors the best way they know how – just like me and Dave. The only difference is, they have way more talent and experience.

And I’m cool with that. Because maybe someday we’ll be local legends in our own right. People will say, “Dave and Jess are amazing, they never say anything stupid.”

Yeah, right.

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