This year wasn’t much of a winter for snow, and ski season is pretty much over. I ran into a friend of mine recently, and he was talking about family ski weekends at Gunstock. His kids are just starting. “Great skiing and no crowds,” according to him. “Mostly manmade.”
I got to thinking about our first ski winter, back when only God made snow. I think it was 1947, when I was eight. It seems like yesterday.
My mother was a good sport, but no athlete. She played bridge and mah jong and did needlepoint. As I look back, I marvel at the fact that when she decided my sister and I should learn to ski, she did too.
My mother drove us across the bridge from West Claremont to Mount Ascutney, where they had two ways of taking you up the hill, a rope tow for beginners and a snow cat for those courageous enough to go to the top. Our skis were long, straight, and made of wood.
I don’t think my mother got very far beyond the snow plow, and I wasn’t much better; certainly not good enough to try out for the Stevens High School ski team. Besides, I was always thinking ahead to the baseball season and didn’t want to risk getting hurt. Little did I know.
I told my middle-aged friend about my early days on skis. He confessed that he’d heard of rope tows but had never actually seen one. “You haven’t missed anything,” I told him, remembering the wet gloves and the aching shoulders. He said something about riding on a magic carpet. I said I’d never seen one.
After that first Ascutney winter, we went to a brand-new ski area called Mt. Sunapee. They had rope tows too, but instead of a snow cat, a single-seat chair lift to get to the top. Going up, it felt like taking your life in your hands, and getting off was scary too. I still can’t believe my mother did it. And she was old – nearly forty!
I still remember the names of the trails at Mt. Sunapee – Beck Brook, Hanson Chase, Lynx, Chipmunk (my favorite) and the dreaded Flying Goose, which I avoided.
A couple of years after that first Sunapee season, I went to Stowe – my first and only time there. My friend and I weren’t old enough to drive, but his mother had a white Cadillac, and she took us. That was around the time the Trapp family opened their ski lodge, but the only sound of music we heard in Stowe was word that Josef Stalin had died. Another thing, someone broke into my friend’s mother’s room and stole all her jewelry, proving that not all hazards were on the slopes.
In later years, we skied at the usual places, and eventually I took my kids to many of them – Pat’s Peak and Crotched Mountain nearby, Killington, Wilderness and Sugarloaf farther afield. I never did take them to Suicide 6 in Woodstock, Vermont. I once got taken off that mountain on a ski patrol toboggan and swore I’d never go back.
I also gave up on Cannon Mountain. Going on the tramway the first time, I thought we were at the top only to see that there was another half a mountain still to go. The ride up was pretty, and a lot more secure than the old Sunapee chairlift, but when I got off I thought I was at the North Pole. Coming down was nothing but bumps; I kept wishing I was at Sunapee on the Chipmunk trail.
It has been a while since I went downhill skiing, and I don’t know whether I will do it again. I do remember the day my mother’s skiing career ended, to my great relief. It was on my sixteenth birthday in the winter of 1955. That was the day I got my driver’s license.