Best small talk of the season. Most impressive skier I’ve ever seen.

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?”

“Who, me??”

“Yes, you.”

“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…”

“Cedar Rapids?!?!”

“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.

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