Fierce Mountain Gnomes

In my first ski lesson with Bill 25 years ago, he taught me the importance of traversing.  When the slope down the mountain looks too steep, look across the mountain and ski to the other side.  I thought our evening out snow shoeing from the top of Sterling Mountain at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont would include traversing leisurely down a mountain. At the bottom of Sterling Mountain, we grabbed snow shoes and gracefully boarded the chair lift.  In addition to his snow shoes, Bill carried the small knapsack with our bottle of wine for dinner.  The winds howled as we crawled above the mountain to its top.  I kept thinking that the ride up is always the worst part of skiing: high above the slopes where there is no protection from the wind.  This would be the most unpleasant part of the evening.

At the top, we exited the chairlift and met another couple who had been on this expedition several times.  They led us to the warming hut where we would be having dinner.  We had a good laugh before our guides garnered our attention just before dusk to give us the evening’s itinerary.  We would put our snow shoes on now and leave them on for the rest of the night until we were at the bottom of the mountain.  The women’s facili-trees were out the door down a snowy path to the right.  The men’s were anywhere they felt comfortable.  I am confident that none of us women fully cloaked in snow shoes ever used the trees. 

Before dinner we were invited to go on a short, scenic hike to get used to our snow shoes.  Sounded like a grand idea.  I was all for it.

Bill and I, together with our newly found friends from NYC, were probably the most mature people there.  Consequently, we hung back and let those more youthful folks knock down the snowy path that hadn’t been traveled for over a week.  It was dark.  The white snow was interrupted with black trees and the contour of the path could only be seen by watching the lump of a human move in front of you.

 The path went up and down, curved right and left.  On the first hill up, we were like baby calves finding our new legs.  I ventured too far to the left and my leg disappeared into 18 inches of snow.  Simultaneously, a guide in the back called out, “Just walk like a duck to get up the hill!”  Well, my duck legs were stuck, so I could only flap my wings.  Which I did.  Then my laugh muscles sucked all the power from every other muscle in my body.  I soon sobered as I realized I had closed the path for 10 to 15 people behind me.  Tightening my core -- thank goodness I went to pilates two days before -- I heaved my leg up and back onto the path.  Then came the downhill.  Just as ridiculous.  I skated between trees following the guy in front of me who was cussing.  Short and scenic are not how many of us would describe this hike.  We ended up on a frozen pond that was covered with deep snow.  Now, Bill and I knew the extreme benefits of lagging behind and letting the others tamp down the snow.

We trudged across the pond, trooped up a hill, and stopped momentarily to see the lights of Stowe over the top of the mountain.  What was even more beautiful was the sight of the warming hut – until we opened the door.  It was a sauna in there.  I removed all the layers I could on the top.  One more layer and I’d be down to my black bra.  The snow pants weren’t going anywhere as they were anchored on by snow shoes.

Dinner was delicious; however, we couldn’t see anything but outlines and gray masses of what we were eating.  The warming hut had no electricity.  This was a true candlelit dinner.  While I really enjoyed the dinner, I realized how much I rely on my eyes to create the full gastronomic, gourmet effect.

After dessert in the dark, we started our hike down.  The first part was very steep, but I was confident that we would soon turn and it would get easier.  Downhill was hard work, and I was overheating.  I pulled my ski goggles off and gave them to Bill.  Then my gloves.  I kept waiting to traverse through woodlands where the decline would even out.  My knees screamed at me.

“OK, we are going to try to slide here!” called a guide.  “Walkers to the left, sliders to the right!”  The idea was to turn turtle, hold your snow-shoed feet up off the ground in table-top position, and slide down the mountain.  I watched thinking it might be a good alternative for my howling body parts, but no one could slide: there was too much snow on the slope.  I took off my coat and tied it around my waist.  Then my sweater.  My hip joints were raw.  I started to side-step every few feet to relieve the pain.

I can’t tell you how long it took to get down the mountain – whether it really was the 40-minute trip it had been billed to be.  I knew my face was beet red.  I kept thinking that thought I’ve had so many times flying when my boys were crying, “I will never see these people again.”  No, I did not take a picture of the aftermath.  Imagine your own version of a red-faced 47-year-old woman.

I wish I could say the landscape was beautiful.  I’m sure it was.

I wish I could say that I can’t wait to do that again.  I’m sure I won’t.

Sometimes my romantic expectations do not meet with reality.  The morning after this adventure, I mustered one line in my journal: “My thighs have been used as punching bags by fierce mountain gnomes.”

While I won't be going snow shoeing down a mountain again, we will definitely be going back to Smuggler's Notch for another family ski trip!  Skiing Smuggler's Notch, VT