Making Ski Memories, Old and New
What are your favorite ski memories? Gregory Dennis goes on a trip down memory lane to explore the nostalgia of skiing.
By Gregory Dennis
Every sport has its own nostalgia.
Red Sox fans remember where they were when the Curse of the Bambino was finally broken. Patriots partisans know exactly how Tom Brady engineered that last Super Bowl-winning drive. Basketball fans even trek to the dreary hall of fame in Springfield, Mass.
But few sports are as redolent with nostalgia as downhill skiing is.
That’s partly because, except in the Alps, skiing isn’t a spectator sport. It requires being outside on a hill, doing it yourself. So by definition it’s way more involving than sitting in the stands.
“Skiers make the best lovers,” sex expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer once declared, “because they don’t sit in front of a television like couch potatoes. They take a risk and they wiggle their behinds. They also meet new people on the ski lift.”
Of course it’s deeper than that. But who can be against behind-wiggling and meeting new people?
I’ve been thinking about ski memories these days, perhaps because Christmas is the most nostalgic of holidays.
I remember being rained out of Killington one Christmas when we were kids, and learning how to ski powder at West Mountain a couple years after that, when a Christmas Eve blizzard dropped two feet of snow.
Our recent weather has many Vermont skiers thinking of good times on the hill, too. The early-season skiing has been terrific this year: top-to-bottom runs over Thanksgiving followed by last week’s storm, which smeared the Green Mountains with nearly two feet of white stuff.
Like a lot of Vermonters last week, I lost my electrical power. Unable to work in my home office, I soldiered through a day of working in a café and at a friend’s house.
When the lights didn’t come back on for a second day, I gave up and went skiing instead.
It took a slow trip over Middlebury Gap through the destruction that had virtually shut down Ripton, but I made it over the mountain to Sugarbush.
I hope I’ll remember for years to come that when the storm disrupted everyday life, I had the good sense to get out and sample the freshies.
Skiers recall the tiniest details of their experiences because the sport connects us – to the mountains, to the exhilaration of zooming down the hill, to the camaraderie on ski road trips and in the lodge and on the lifts.
A carload of us once drove for hours from the Vancouver airport through the mountains of British Columbia to the slopes, listening over and over to a CD compilation of truck driving songs.
By the time we reached the lodge, we truly hated those songs. But we laugh every time we hear one of them. We remember anticipating the skiing to come as we did the drive, the bad jokes and road coffee – and the Dave Dudley song about how he’s got his diesel wound up and she’s runnin’ like she never did before.
Whenever I see a youngster on the slopes, it cheers me up a bit.
I know she’s having an experience she’ll remember as a teen and young adult. If we don’t cook the planet in the meantime, she might even bring up her own kids to ski. In her later years she’ll recall that once she was young and knew how to fly down a mountain.
Watching youngsters load the short Sheehan chairlift at the Snow Bowl, I recall how a T-bar once serviced that slope. Teaching lessons at the Bowl as a teenager, I would shepherd a class of kids onto that lift, hoping no one would fall and decide to be dragged up the hill, holding on to the T-bar from a horizontal position.
Some of those kids are now in their forties and have taught their own children to ski. They may now be many miles from the Snow Bowl. But I’ll bet they still tell their kids about a magical little ski area where they learned to love the sport.
Skiing has connected my family as nothing else has. My brother, Kevin, and I were raised in a small town a bit west of here by two Southerners who came north and learned to love the slopes. We ruined many a pair of gloves getting uphill on a rope tow, and our jeans left blue sitzmarks wherever we fell.
Our parents’ love of skiing in turn brought the four of us to Vermont every winter for a week.
We always spent the first night in Rutland, and I can still tell you the exact location of the old Lindholm’s Diner and the Candlestick Motel down the road.
We would spend the rest of the week at Sugarbush, Mad River and Glen Ellen, staying at Beckridge (now the Featherbed Inn), where Elsie Becker and her sister Dorothy served up hearty breakfasts and dinners to fuel our skiing. When the Beckridge cooks took one night a week off, we would occasionally eat dinner at Chez Henri, the now 50-year-old restaurant that to this day is operated by the founder, Henri Borel.
As Kevin put it, those experiences as kids in the Vermont mountains made us “lifelong skiing fanatics.”
So it was that when my Kevin and I left high school, we both chose to go to college here. We could get a good education and go skiing after morning classes. And some years later, I had the good sense to move back to Vermont as soon as I could afford to buy a season pass at Sugarbush.
Kevin and his wife raised three kids to love skiing. The kids have spent most of their ski time in Utah, but his older daughter, Charlotte, has completed the circle of the generations: She’s renting a ski house at Sugarbush this winter.