Ralph Gardner Jr: Ski Bum For A Day

Mar 3, 2018

Of all the days to go skiing we had to pick the one last week where the conditions more closely resembled those on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe (I’m using Guadeloupe but feel free to insert a different tropical locale) than they typically do this time of year in northern Vermont. That’s where we happened to be heading.

For those with short memories, on that Wednesday the record-breaking temperatures soared into the sixties in the Northeast and in some places even the seventies.

I hemmed and hawed about going, not making my decision until the last moment. But in the end I decided to join my friends Bruce and Nick at a timeshare at Smuggler’s Notch for several well considered reasons.

I could certainly use the exercise after a largely sedentary winter and a bout with the flu. The timeshare was only available for a brief couple of days. My wife would undoubtedly welcome a respite from me. And I’m a fair weather skier.

Perhaps not that fair. But given the choice between mediocre snow and sunny skies versus fresh powder but blizzard conditions I’ll take the cushy way out every time.

Those conditions are typically hard to find on the East Coast which is probably why I don’t ski more often. A typical run includes long lift lines and a sheet of ice across which one more accurately slides than skis, confronting mortality with every turn of the hips. If it happens to be lunchtime your morning culminates in an outrageously overpriced burger lovingly made to your specifications.

I’m joking, of course. The burger comes cooked one way – grey and well done – the saving grace the wilted lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo you lather on it to disguise the taste.

My ideal ski trip, unfortunately, would require incurring airfare to someplace like Switzerland where the slopes are wide, the sun shines and the snow glitters, and at the bottom of the run resides a fine outdoor restaurant serving fondue, raclette or a restorative gratinee washed down with a beer or a glass of the local white.

But as I believe I’ve already indicated skiing was only one reason I decided to join on my friends. Perhaps the most significant was the opportunity for some male bonding.

By male bonding I don’t mean drinking excessive quantities of beer and making a fool of yourself. Truth be told, I prefer the company of women.

But there’s something to be said for the occasional uncomplicated companionship on one’s own sex. Yes, the beer. But also the causal attitude towards housekeeping. And a certain degree of curated crudeness.

Bruce and I left Columbia County at around 4 p.m. and made it to Middlebury, Vermont for an early dinner. We’d both attended Middlebury College back in the day and while the school has greatly changed we couldn’t tell because it was dark.

Also we weren’t there to reconstruct our college careers but simply for a dependable meal and the intangible reassurance that comes from reconnecting with the scene of formative memories, no matter how briefly.

Fog, it turns out, is the result of warm air and melting snow, so the second half of our trips was occasionally precarious as we drove through conditions more common to air travel than to ground transportation.

My favorite memory of the trip didn’t actually involve my companions. It occurred when I was ascending a ski lift in the company of a teenager and Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps” was booming from the speaker in his backpack.

I had no idea who Travis Scott was, though my liftmate informed me that he’s the most popular rapper around.

While Travis is a Texan he sounded Jamaican, at least to my ear, as he sang, “I get those goosebumps every time, yeah, you come around.”

There are other lyrics, of course, having to do with drugs and sex and existential dread. But they went primarily over my head.

What I appreciated was the repetitive cadences as the sun shone off the snow and the mild air was filled with the sound of roaring mountain streams. I might almost have been on a beach somewhere warm applying sunscreen.

Bruce is one of those skiers who, given the choice, would open and close the lifts, pausing only long enough during the day to consume some gorp. Nick, with whom I’d never skied before, I’m pleased to report shares my more balanced approach attitude towards recreation.

In other words, his self-worth doesn’t turn on how many runs he chalked up.

By 1 p.m. I was ready to take a break or call it quits, the clouding skies and forecast of rain making up my mind for me. I played it perfectly, returning my rental equipment just as it started to pour.

Nick quit after another run. Though Bruce, perhaps alone on the mountain except for the ski patrol, decided to brave the downpour for several more runs.

By the time he retired for the afternoon, I’d taken full advantage of the condo’s Jacuzzi and was ready to attack the evening with the focused ambition of one who knows that what’s expected of him is simply to consume his portion of beer and pretzels and contribute occasionally to the conversation.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

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