Our last season together

Our last season together

As we gear up for another ski season in CNY, a Syracuse student reminisces on the one cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Published: December 27, 2020 | Updated: December 29th, 2020 at 12:44 pm
Mikey MacKnight grabs his ski as he airs of the last jump at Labrador Mountain in Truxon, New York. Mikey grew up skiing in the Syracuse, New York area and is one of the better local riders.
Syracuse local Mikey MacKnight grabs his ski as he airs of the last jump at Labrador Mountain in Truxton, NY.

Every year, while most students at Syracuse University loath the snow and long, cold, dark months that accompany it, a small group of skiers and snowboarders on campus eagerly await the first snow every year. Last year, that day was Dec. 7.

On the eve of the first snowfall, our group set out to Thornden Park and began digging homemade rails and jumps into the powdery snow. As my friends and I poured water over the newly built features so that they would freeze before morning, we realized this might be our last time skiing together — at least for those of us who were seniors.  For the younger guys, this was their last chance to absorb the energy of the group to carry on in future seasons. One last chance to build features in backyards, drink cheap beer, eat burgers and hot dogs off an old charcoal grill, and ski surrounded with our best friends.

Although the snowfall was less than we expected, we were still able to get in a string of great ski days through January and February as my final semester at Syracuse unfolded. We filmed clips, photographed deep powder days at Toggenburg (a small ski mountain 30 minutes from Syracuse), drank beers, got covered in snow, and had the winter we had all hoped for. Looking back, I am so thankful for that short string of normal days since what followed was anything but normal.

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Jake Kastrud rides into a rail backward as his friends watch during a backyard rail jam in Syracuse. During the winters in Syracuse, Jake and his friends build rails out of old wood and pipe. They dig the rails into the ground of their backyard before the ground freezes and then ride them once the snow starts falling.

On Feb. 21,  I shattered my right collarbone while photographing in the park at Labrador Mountain (another small upstate ski mountain). I woke up after the surgery with two titanium plates and 11 screws surgically implanted in my shoulder. I thought my season had come to an end. But three weeks post-operation I felt strong enough to stand and continued to try to make photographs (please don’t tell my doctor). I couldn’t snowboard or ski, but I was able to hold a camera in my left hand and adjust its settings with my broken arm.

Though I wasn’t able to ride, I found joy in the fact that I was still able to photograph and experience the remainder of the season with my friends. A week or two later the pandemic hit the U.S. and we weren’t sure if we’d get another chance to ski together before we all went our separate ways after graduation. 

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Ethan Brackman rests on a box at Toggenburg Mountain in Fabius, NY after hiking the rail section with his friends. The term “hiking” refers to riding a skiing feature (rail, box, jump, or halfpipe) with no lift or rope tow to assist your trip back to the top of the hill. At the end of each run, the skier has to stop, take their skis off and hike back up the hill.

Luckily my friends and I were able to remain in Syracuse and quarantine together despite SU closing and most students leaving campus for the year. For weeks we sat inside, played ski films, and watched as not only our ski season but the end of our senior year disappeared before our eyes. In early April, we decided it was safe enough for us to all travel into the woods together in our pod to try and continue the ski season as best we could. We only had two days of skiing before the snow melted but those days were unanimously the greatest days of the season. We hiked down the closed Labrador Mountain where I shattered my collarbone a few weeks earlier, to the abandoned terrain park with shovels, snow rakes, and skis dragging behind us. We dug leftover boxes and rails into the patches of snow that remained on the mountain. The snow was slush, the beers were warm under the hot sun, the grill was too big to bring on the mountain, and the skiing was sketchy. But none of that mattered. These were our last days together on the hill. Our last days of hooting and hollering after an almost-failed backflip. The last days of our last season together. 

By late April all the snow had melted, we graduated on Zoom in May, and my collarbone was completely healed by June. These are the frames that resulted from our last ski season, a season of unfortunate events. 

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Alex MacKnight (Right) and Brekken Bozzi ski in Thornden Park near SU's campus after the first snowfall of the 2019/2020 winter season.
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Kyle Losty crashes into the top of the landing of the last standing jump at Labrador Mountain while his friends, Ben Read (left) and Alex MacKnight watch.
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Alex MacKnight (left) and Brekken Bozzi talk before dropping in during a rail session at Labrador Mountain in Truxton. Labrador Mountain is one of the few mountains with chairlifts available to Syracuse University students. The season passes are cheap, the terrain parks are barely taken care of, and the iced over ground hurts. Still, for the kids like Alex and Brekken who grew up loving skiing in upstate, this is home during the winters.
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A close-knit group of SU students joke around with each other after a day of hiking rails at Toggenburg Mountain. These friends spend their weekends during college dragging heavy metal rails around icy hills. In the Syracuse area the mountains are small, and the ski community feels even smaller. The locals who ski have adapted to the conditions and work hard to find ways to still ski in the hills of upstate.
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Brekken Bozzi (left) and Kyle Losty share a chairlift ride to the top of Labrador Mountain in Truxton. Brekken is a freshman at SU and Kyle is a senior. The two are part of a small group of skiers who spend their winters at school skiing the small hills of upstate New York. Although Brekken’s college experience is just starting and Kyle’s is about to end, the freezing cold days and nights of skiing in rough conditions brought the two guys together.
Avatar for Gavin Liddell

is a photographer for The NewsHouse.