Sunday, February 14, 2021

Snow Days

Somewhere beyond those crags lies Taos Ski Valley

Winter has many guises. Blustery and gray, sunlit and bright, falling snow and its aftermath. It’s a treasure and sometimes a menace. It’s the last thing you want if you’ll be driving through torturous Taos Canyon on your way to a doctor’s appointment in Albuquerque Monday morning. That’s my plight and I’ll live with it. We woke up Sunday to three inches of wet snow. It will be the same story through Tuesday, so we’ll embrace its beauty and relish a photo jaunt later in the day. If I get some worthwhile photographs, they’ll be part of today’s compendium of recent winter wonders.

The mountain calls

I’m taken back to the first snow that I remember. It was also the occasion of my first ski experience at Sugar Bowl on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. My mom and I lived in San Leandro, California. She rented a whole ski kit for me, wooden skis, bamboo poles and leather boots. She bought me the ski clothing. White Stag comes to mind, but I’m probably wrong. One’s memory can be questioned when it’s been 70 years. The fact is that she indulged the hell out of me. What she didn’t do in parenting was papered over with that kind of indulgence.

Flurries at dusk

We took a bus to Sugar Bowl. We didn’t own a car till I was in the eighth grade and we were living in Arizona. The Sierra, you usually hear “Sierras”, can enjoy epic snowstorms and the ski resort had been blessed with an epic dump. The drifts were ten feet high. The snow reached the eves of the lodge, a circumstance I put to good use. Mom had scarcely put on her skis when she discovered her eight-year-old playing on the roof. That was the highlight of my first ski trip. I recall zero about the skiing or lack thereof. 

Notably I didn’t ski again until the late sixties when Rudy Serar took us the top of Mammoth Mountain and told us to point our skis down the mountain and go for it. I had to fall to stop and after a dozen attempts to control my skis took them off and walked down the bunny slope. Rudy was an alpha male drill sargent who turned me off to skiing till we moved to Boston for the first time in 1973. 

In 1974 we moved into the Dennis-Dodge House, a 1740 Gambrel Colonial in historic Ipswich. We were a short block from the Ipswich River which wound its way to Plum Island Sound. Those were heady times full of discoveries and reveling in the history that surrounded us. There were summer days at Crane Beach, one of Americas finest. Our first fried Little Neck clams at Woodman’s in Essex where the treatment was invented. That along with steamed lobster and frosty beer is a fond memory that must be revisited. Then, true to the subject at hand there was skiing at Gunstock in southern New Hampshire followed by the clam chowder at The Grog in Newburyport on the way back. We were blessed to have lived in some of the charmed places in the country, Ipswich among them.

A winter's eve at Casa Immel

In 1976 after our first professionally taught ski week at Killington we were completely hooked and drove Highway 7 from our house in toney New Canaan, Connecticut to Killington every single Saturday and Sunday to ski. On the way back we’d gorge on Cheetos which painted our hands and faces as orange as Donald Trump. Then we’d have pizza at My Pie in Norwalk, two towns over from New Canaan. The best of times.

That first Killington ski week turned me into Rudy Serar heaven forbid. On day one it was blowing a gale. The wind was so strong it was blowing poor nine-year-old Garrett off his feet. Yet I insisted that we ski. “We paid for a damn ski week. We’re going to ski, period.” I am mortified and ashamed to this day. I wasn’t a bad dad very often but that was one of the times.

When we departed to Louisville from Connecticut in 1978, we still hungered to ski and the closest ski mountain was a 300-foot-high hillock in southern Indiana. I think back then there was lift, a rope tow. It took all of 30 seconds to sweep down the alleged slope. There was one run.

Thankfully, we were back in Boston by 1980 and rid of the Mid-south. Returning to the Bay State brought us back to a real city, one of the top four in the States according to me. And it  reintroduced us to the myriad ski resorts in New England. Within three hours were dozens of ski mountains and our lust for great skiing bent toward New Hampshire and away from Vermont. Vermont, we soon discovered, was a distant suburb of New York City and New Hampshire was annexed by folks from Massachusetts. We followed the natural path and by the early 1990s had bought a ski and climbing house in North Conway where we could ski Cranmore, Wildcat, Attitash within 15 minutes. Breton Woods was 30 minutes. Beyond the lift served terrain was unlimited backcountry skiing most notably on Mt. Washington’s daunting Tuckerman’s Ravine. Steep and deep describes it perfectly.

When I retired in 2002, we sold our idyll in Lincoln, a move that seemed right at the time, and moved to our cabin the Mount Washington Valley. That lasted two years before one of us wanted to put icy winters behind us and to move to an honest to goodness art town. For awhile I thought I’d be relocating alone. When Peggy relented, we found ourselves in an extraordinary art colony with world class skiing at our door. At our door meaning 20 miles, 2,000 feet and 40 gripped minutes through a winding canyon. We had just about given up skiing on boilerplate New England snow, read ice, and were reborn skiers on the nearly vertical but powder covered ski runs at Taos Ski Valley. We raised our games in one of the best ski schools in the country and became advanced intermediate skiers under the tutelage of Christine Lowry, the definition of a great chick. Peggy decidedly became more advanced than I.

Too bad I don’t have any ski pics to prove my point. It was 8 degrees at 4 yesterday afternoon. To think I promised that New Mexico would be warmer.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

What a great collective story about your skiing and beach life! The photographs of the crags and your local driveway are wonderful and, with the toning, evocative. I, also, was turned off skiing by some very kind friends who wanted us to go cross-country with them. Aspen Vista below the Santa Fe Ski Basin, is not a beginner's paradise. I fell more times than I can count. Like you, it wasn't until gentler times that cross-country was reclaimed. I do wonder how your inner "drill sergeant dad" persona effected Garrett's thoughts on skiing. Your descriptions of going skiing and then sitting down to clam chowder, Little Neck clams, and steamed lobsters makes this non-seafood lover want to sample some truly fresh seafood of that ilk. A lovely blog for a winter's day. Muchas gracias, Amigo!