Looking for spring skiing with good snow, we landed at Killington in Vermont on Sunday. I heard there was a 30-foot base of snow. The forecast was for 39 and sunshine. Mountain weather changes faster than Midwestern weather. It was cold, snowy, icy, and cloudy. The top of the highest peak was never seen from the base lodge by Malcolm eyes that day. In fact, the slope was barely visible from the parking lot as Bill and Will started the day trudging toward the gondola line.
We split as usual: 3 to the big mountain and 1 to the littlest mountain. In the gates to the quad chairlift for my second ride up the little mountain, I asked a mother/daughter combo if I could ride with them to the top. If an employee isn’t telling people how to load, I believe, from observation, that the socially acceptable thing to do is to ask if you can join a group. As we three approached the front of the line, we left an open space between me and them.
Just as we started moving toward the loading zone, where the chair would scoop us, a person zipped into the spot. We loaded and settled. Pulling the safety bar down in front of us, I glanced to the side to make sure no one’s poles were jammed in an uncomfortable position. I noticed our 4th joiner’s coat. It was a tatted trench coat that came down to mid-shin. The seams were ragged. The material was canvas-like. My eyes moved up to the head. It was covered with a black helmet which was covered with gray duct tape. A gator (half ski-mask) covered the mouth and nose. I could only see eyes through the goggles.
The eyes stared straight forward. No words. Shifting my eyes to straight forward, I chewed on the visual. This looked like a homeless person on a ski lift. I didn’t know if it was a male or female, young or old. All of us were silent on the quad, looking straight ahead. This could be the quietest five minutes of my life where small talk is supposedly still alive. Or, as with every other ride up, I could start the small talk.
“Is this your first day at Killington?”
“Oh no, I’ve been skiing for two weeks! This is my last day. I pay $59 for a season pass. Can’t beat it. This is the best mountain east of the Mississippi.”
“Oh! Where are you from?” I asked the man. And, how is it that you only pay $59 when the average adult season pass is over $1,000?
A little more ski talk moved to me asking, “Are you originally from Connecticut?”
“No, I was born in New York City,” ah, yes, I can hear that accent, “then I moved to Pennsylvania, before I moved to Connecticut.”
“Oh, I was born in Iowa and live near Boston now.”
“IOWA? I used to work in Iowa! I worked in Cedar… Cedar…”
“Yes! I sold industrial machinery to the corn mills.”
I chuckled, for I don’t know much about Cedar Rapids other than the mills. Or rather the smell of Cedar Rapids because of the mills. The city eternally smells like earthly grains being slowly baked. It’s the first Iowa smell that hits us after we land in the Cedar Rapids airport on our way to Mom and Dad’s. “Do you remember the smell of the mills?”
“Oh, yes! They used to tell me if I was hungry just to inhale!” Indeed, he knew Cedar Rapids!!
As we continued with our small talk, I noticed a plastic card fluttering on the sleeve of his jacket. It was his season pass with his head shot. The petite, gray head was that of an 80-year-old’s. But, surely no… could he be? Above the photo, were the words, “BEAST PASS.”
We wished one another well as we prepared to disembark. Did I notice the chair slow slightly as we approached the off ramp? We both skied to the right after exiting the flying chairs. I stopped as usual to sort myself out before heading down the slope. I tried to adjust my poles and gloves quickly so I could watch this skiing enigma move down the mountain, but he disappeared over the hill on a blue slope.
I scooted down the hill, thinking by chance we might pair up again on the lift, but he was long gone by the time I made it to the bottom of our little mountain. On the way back up the mountain, I spotted him skiing down right under the chair lift. He looked like he was born on those skis. As if he had sprung forth solidly from the mountain. With his long coat, he resembled a tree trunk traversing confidently, gracefully down the mountain.
With a little research, I discovered that there is only one way a person can pay only $59 for a Beast Pass to this mountain: as a Super Senior in the 80+ age group.
Greatest small talk of the season. Most impressive skier I’ve ever seen.