Smuggler's Notch

Winter 2015 Ski Report -- It's a Wrap!

We still have an 8-foot snow bank next to our steps on the north side of our house.  With the melting, raining, warming, then freezing, it is more aptly termed an ice bank.  A land glacier. On the inside of our Massachusetts house, the hallway is still lined with heavy duty winter equipment.  Hard plastic ski boots.  Hard plastic ski helmets.  Wool socks.  Over-sized ski bags.  Given the amount of snow still on the ground, I don’t have the heart to pack it all away, but I’m 90% sure the Malcolms are done with ski season.  This is my official Winter 2015 Ski Report.

The first ski attempt for Liam ended in tears before he even got on the slopes.  We were coaxing him to put his feet into his ski boots – the ones he wore last year.  We rented boots and skis that weekend after that torturous experience.  If I knew he wore bigger shoes than last year, why didn’t I assume he would need bigger ski boots??  I don’t know.  Perhaps because the ski boots look three times bigger than our feet.

Trading in the ski boots and skis from last year, Liam and I made a new friend in the young owner of the nearby ski shop.  I was set on buying used equipment.  I don’t mind if the skis are purple and the boots are orange.  With growing feet, we will get by year-to-year with mish mash.  “Look at these, Liam,” the shop owner was holding a pair of green and blue skis.  I noticed they matched Liam’s coat.  “Both ends are tipped, so you can practice your tricks going backwards down the mountain!”  Liam’s eyes reflected the sparkle in this young mountain man’s eyes.  My Iowa eyes went stoic and my Iowa lips pulled into a thin line as my flatland heart skipped a beat.

Liam proved they worked while he and I were on a run together.  “Look, Mom!” that sparkle was in his eyes, smile, and backward-facing skis pointed downhill.  Fine.  That’s fine because there is a ski patrol on this mountain.  Then, waiting in line for a chairlift, Liam’s face tilted up to mine.  “That was a sick ride, wasn’t it, Mom?”  Simultaneous thoughts: Liam is talking like a 14-year-old but he’s only the height of a 9-year-old & how do you spell that kind of “sick”?  On the way up the mountain, Liam clarified that it was most likely spelled “sik.” Here's a little skiing clip of my skiing grammarian beast.  Note the nice cross-mountain traverses until he's away from me... then his skis point straight down the mountain.

We skied at Smuggler’s Notch over winter break.  Will is in the highest level ski class, and there were only two or three kids in his class each day.  And they all wanted to ski the same place: the glades.  For my fellow flatlanders, that translates to “through the trees on steep hills.”  I ski one level:  the gentlest, easiest runs, the greens.  Trails marked by simple green circles.  For this reason, skiing is the one place in Will’s life that I am completely hands-off.  No choice: I’m on green circles, and Will is on black diamonds.

We received an email from the ski instructor the evening of Day One to let us know how Will had done that day.  They ski with GPS gadgets that also monitor speed.  Will’s top speed that day was 31.7 mph.  Must they torment me?  “Will, you would be breaking the 20 mph speed limit in my hometown!”  A grin in return.  Day Four, Will returned ecstatic.  “We went down the triple-black diamond!  The Black Hole!”  I calmly congratulated him.  That evening, I Googled “triple black diamond.”  What is the first thing that pops up?  The world’s scariest triple black diamonds in the United States. Number one, the Black Hole – pitched at 53 degrees – at Smuggler’s Notch.  The only triple black diamond east of the Mississippi.  My beast, Will, thinks it is spelled "sic."

After this short recollection of the Malcolm ski season, my heart is beating quickly.  Erratically?

Tonight, I’m packing up the ski gear for the year, for I feel a little sick.

(Have you read this Malcolm skiing adventure? Ski School.)

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

Glamour Aside

Outdoors is an equalizer.  If you do the outdoors, your body sweats and your hair is a mess.  This is Smuggler’s Notch, not Vail.  These are outdoor families and people that feel real. I like places like this and people who are comfortable being like this.  Dog walkers in Breakheart; bare-boaters sailing independently & living on a boat; scuba divers vacationing to dive all day & night; skiers on green runs; snow shoe-ers descending a mountain in the dark.

This is my outdoors persona this week:

I liken my look to Olympic “shredders” – even though I’m gliding my skis on gentle greens.  I know.  I’m taking extreme liberties in borrowing that term.  I’m 47.  I don’t snowboard.  But I do like pulling off the balaclava and knowing that massive hat head is OK here.

Much like Spring’s Gate Girl.

Skiing Smuggler's Notch, Vermont

This is February school break week, and we are skiing at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont.  I booked the trip in early fall, superseding Bill’s trip to China this week.  He will make that trip early March instead. Good material for writing, but everyone in my family is within ten feet of me this Tuesday afternoon, so I’m writing in sentences.  Not stories.  Not even paragraphs.  Perhaps more fragments than sentences.

We skied in the northernmost part of winter storm Rex today.  Rex sat on top of the highest mountain here for most of the morning, looking like a gray mountain on top of the mountain upon which he cast his shadow.  That’s the mountain where Will and Bill skied.

I can be openly happy about snow here.  It’s a ski resort.  Happiness is snow.

There was no line at the entrance for the magic carpet (aka: conveyor belt up the bunny hill), so I skied the bunny hill after putting Liam in lessons.  Lessons that would take him halfway up the mountain with Rex howling.  I felt a little guilty about that.

I nearly fell over once, making my premiere entrance on the magic carpet.

After five or six times down the bunny hill, I nearly cleared out a class of 4-year-olds.  I felt a little guilty about that.  I crossed over to the chair lift.

New stress: Please, don’t let me wipe out my chair mate when I get off the chair.  I didn’t.  Manhattan and I rode up together twice.  His wife was on the same big mountain as Bill, and their 8-year-old son was in lessons.  We agreed skiing green runs is relaxing.  And this green was lovely and gentle.

I fell over once, tripped up the steps going to the condo to get my phone.  Ski boots work best in skis, not on narrow stairs.

Red-cheeked Liam was waiting with his instructor after my second and last run of the day.  Gloves off, Liam was eating snow.  This child has been eating snow since his first winter in the U.S., 2007.  I joined him last snowfall; I had forgotten how a big mouthful of fresh, white snow makes a snowball in your mouth.  Liam lies dazed on the ground sucking these as if they are the sweetest candy ever concocted.  While asleep, his vision of sugar plums must be pure white.

More fragmented thoughts from now, Wednesday morning.  At the dinner table last night, we shared highlights of our day.  Liam only ate snow after ski lessons; his group of 13 worked on turns, particularly j-turns which bring you to a stop if you are going too fast.  No, I did not make a special request to the instructor for Liam’s lesson.

Will skied through trees and needs poles.  He skied through the “glades” where you aren’t allowed to go unless there are three of you.  He knows triple-black diamonds are out of the question because there also need to be three people skiing together to go down those.  I don’t think he’s worked out why “three” is the magic number.  I just did.  Ski math.

Tonight, Bill and I are taking a chairlift to the top of Sterling Mountain and having dinner in a cabin with no power – a candlelit dinner heated with propane burners.  Then, we will snow shoe down the mountain.  40 minutes in the dark with floppy shoes.  I will find time and place to write that story.

Take a look at my "shredder" persona in Glamour Aside & the Recap of Smuggler's Notch.