NISKAYUNA – For the local outdoor enthusiast, hiking the 46 Adirondack Peaks is a rite of passage, but hundreds of people have climbed each one and thousands have taken part in at least some.
Niskayuna resident Heather Mason decided to make her own path in outdoor history, in her own, unique way.
In September, Mason, traversed all 20 ski mountains in Vermont in 62 hours on her mountain bike, documenting her three-day journey in her first book, “Biking the Vermont Ski Summits.”
“I really like to get to the top of the mountain and to see the view,” Mason said from her home in Niskayuna. “For the past couple years because I travel for work, the entire Northeast, I would drive past these ski slopes and I always have my bike with me. I would get out and I would ride the gravel access road to the top if there was an access road or I would make my own path.
“With COVID this year, we’ve really been trapped, a lot of people have been recreating and most of the time by themselves, very safe,” she said. “I started thinking I needed something, I needed to do something big.”
With her eyes locked onto her laptop she surfed her way onto the Vermont Ski Association website that lists 20 official slopes.
“Wow, I’ve done a couple of these [five], but how cool would it be to just go and do them all at once, as quickly as I could?” Mason said.
During the interview, while talking about the planning and exploits from her historic trip, more came out about why 2020 became the year for her adventure.
“My brother, Jeremy, passed away years ago (1992), he was 16, I was 13,” Mason said about the accident that claimed his life. Jeremy Mason was struck and killed by a car crossing the street in front of Niskayuna High School, walking with Heather at the time. “Him passing so young has been a presence in my life to go after things and make stuff happen.
“Early on when COVID hit I started writing a little journal about every day and what I was doing, watching people lose their lives, it really hit hard. I thought this was the year to do something really memorable and go for it because you don’t know.”
Mountain biking is in her blood, she traveled to Vermont with her father when she was younger.
She helped establish the current 15 mountain biking trails in Schenectady’s Central Park and managed Plaine and Son, the shuttered bicycle, ski and snow warehouse at 1816 State St., Schenectady for more than 15 years.
Her initial goal was to bike the 20 summits; the book came later.
“I was sitting at home the next day thinking back to the weekend, everything I had seen,” she said. “I talked to a couple girlfriends about it, hearing their feedback from the stories, I was like this might be a story other people want to hear and it might actually inspire them. It was so original.
“I sat down, and it just flowed out of me. Writing the book was quicker than I thought it would be. The edits, revisions took a lot longer than I thought they would.”
Mason’s brother, Vermont resident, Kurt, initially passed on the 20-summit biking adventure.
“He has historically done a bunch of things with me,” she said. “You have to be a great athlete, know how to deal with my brain, I have to have a plan and stick with it. He backed out because he thought I was crazy, and he is usually in for everything.”
She then asked her friend, Niskayuna resident, Sean Duffy, to join her. He had no reservations.
The two complimented each other on the three-day trek, Mason a former professional cyclist and endurance athlete with Duffy, who operates at a lower physical gauge than her on the trip.
Duffy can’t claim credit to all 20-summits, giving Mason the honor.
“I was able to have someone with me and still have the experience a couple times to reflect out there by myself,” Mason said.
Mason chose a good weather weekend, survived a few small spills, a few mechanical malfunctions and adjusted to several mapping errors to accomplish the 20-summit goal.
“These mountains are not designed for biking and they don’t all have clear slopes up [to the summit],” Mason said. “Even with the best research the path we had chosen wasn’t always the best, but then also we have this much time, we’ve gone this far.”
Mason planned her attack of the 20 summits, mapped the drive, mountain routes and more – all without the express permission of each mountain.
“Many of these mountains don’t clearly mark that they’re OK to be riding your bike, so it was a bit of a big question mark,” she said. “Along the way I was taking photos on social media and tagging the mountains. Interestingly enough the mountain businesses staff were replying Way to go! Great Job! They were resharing what I was doing over the course of the weekend.
“I was a little bit nervous about that. I don’t want to be trespassing. We were met with only really positive things from mountains.”
With 19 summits down, the final mountain climb was the most ambiguous regarding permission.
“The Hermitage Club is a really fancy, kind of boutique resort” in Wilmington, Vt., Mason said. “They had a sign that said no trespassing, but no one came out and said anything, but I was very nervous being there. I didn’t feel great about that one because there were clear signs.
“Every other mountain was more than accommodating. We even saw people working on the mountain and they would wave, which was really cool.”
The toughest climb was the Jay Peak Resort in Jay, Vt.
“It is a mountain I have always wanted to go to, and my expectation was that it was going to be a challenge,” she said. “The biggest surprise was just how big and massive that mountain is.
The journey to the summit was limited to less than 30 percent cycling, the remainder was carrying their bicycles or pushing it up the steep, gravel slopes.
“On top of that mountain, the Vermont Long Trail passes on top of the mountain and there are a bunch of hikers up there and everyone looked at us and were like you are up here with bicycles? I thought it was going to be tough, but it was much tougher than I expected, but definitely worth it.”
Mason’s favorite summit, Sugarbush Resort, became the cover photo for the book.
“The colors were perfect and riding down we were on 100 percent beautifully manicured single track mountain bike trails.”
Mason said she could expand her ski summit treks and possible next publication to the Empire State.
“The New York ski summits, I did think about that,” she said. “I have done some of the Catskills already.
“It is a bigger state to drive, so there are some mountains out West.”
Mason’s book “Biking the Vermont Ski Summits” is available on Amazon in paperback for $11.99 and as a Kindle ebook. Visit her website at www.heathrmason.com.