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Snow Way

A Vermonter defends his right not to ski


Published October 20, 2010 at 6:51 a.m.


I am a Vermonter, and I hate skiing.

In the idyllic, rolling hills of our state, that statement is near sacrilege. To air a disdain for its iconic winter pastime — especially as the Green Mountains turn white — is right up there with saying Phish or Grace Potter is overrated, or that maple syrup from New Hampshire is just as good as ours. When you’re from a place where children are strapped into a pair of Rossignols — or a Burton snowboard — as soon as they can walk, rejecting winter sports is blasphemy indeed. But I can’t help it. I have come to loathe skiing and nearly everything associated with it.

It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, I was a young, avid and moderately talented skier. On weekends through high school and into college, I would get up before dawn, pack my trusty Honda, pick up a bleary-eyed friend or two, and trek to the mountains, usually to try and catch first tracks off the Castle Rock chair at Sugarbush.

And I loved it. Standing atop that bone-chilling peak, icy air filling your lungs as the day’s first golden flecks glint off the valley floor, is something close to a religious experience. To point your tips downward and be the first to plunge through virgin snow is nirvana — especially for a teenager who may be actually listening to Nirvana. And to collapse, wet and exhausted, after the day’s final run is close to postcoital bliss.

I used to love you, skiing, I really did. But you broke my heart, you high-maintenance gold digger.

So, what happened? How did someone who once worshipped at the altar of the Mad River single chair, who cooled off on steamy summer evenings by watching every Warren Miller film, who gleefully rooted for cataclysmic snowfall every weekend, come to turn his back on the sport he loved? As in most significant breakups, it’s impossible to point to one fatal flaw. Our falling-out more likely resulted from a series of smaller failings that, ahem, snowballed. But I do know one thing, skiing: It’s not me, it’s you.

I suppose my disenchantment began with my sense of disenfranchisement when I got to college. Even with the considerable student discounts offered by most resorts, I couldn’t afford a pass, let alone upgrade my steadily declining equipment. It was a sobering realization. Growing up in ultramoneyed Charlotte as the son of a preacher man, very early I got used to living more humbly than did my more privileged friends. Somehow I always assumed I would find a way up the hill, so to speak. But even as I worked nights as a server at a busy local restaurant, I found that pursuing the sport I had loved was getting beyond my means.

Perhaps, in my youthful naïveté, I had overlooked skiing’s bloated underbelly. As I look back, albeit through rose-colored goggles, my memories of days spent carving up local hills suggest a more egalitarian time — a time when skiing was a pastime accessible even to penny-pinching families and lower-middle-class folks like myself.

But recent years have seen something of an arms race. The owners of Vermont’s mountain resorts are building bigger and fancier amenities in hopes of drawing tourist dollars from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Their fight for those dollars is driving ticket prices to astronomical heights.

Care to hazard a guess what a single adult day ticket at Stowe runs these days? $89. In fairness, you could go the “cheap” route and buy an afternoon pass for a paltry $75 … for three-and-a-half hours on the hill.

And so I find myself left out in the cold. But money is only part of the equation.

At the risk of igniting a culture war, I have to say that other, ancillary aspects of skiing diminished my appreciation for the sport over the years. Take the apr&eaigu;s-ski scene. What is it about downing overpriced drinks in cheesy bars while listening to cover bands that I’m supposed to find so appealing? Throw in boorish, possibly drunken tourists, and I’ve pretty much described my personal seventh circle of hell.

And don’t get me started on the increasingly inane lingo, such as this gem, my favorite: “shred the gnar.” You’re an adult, brah. Use your words.

Of course, choosing to be a nonskier in Vermont has subtle social side effects. When the topic inevitably comes up in casual conversation, the revelation that I abstain from downhill sports elicits a curious amalgam of disbelief and indignant suspicion. My canned response, developed over years of repeating the same damn conversation, usually implicates the money thing, which is acknowledged by even the most ardent skiers and riders as a (relatively) legit excuse.

“Well, what do you do instead?” is the typical bewildered follow-up.

What do I do, indeed? Probably many of the things millions of other people do in the winter in similarly frigid but nonmountainous places. We read. We watch movies. We go bowling, maybe even curling. We hibernate. We go on vacations in warm places. We spend time with nonskier friends — there are more of us than you think.

Winter is my least favorite season in Vermont, but I do enjoy the relative quiet and solitude it affords, and have come to appreciate those far more than I ever appreciated skiing. At least until cabin fever sets in around Valentine’s Day, and I start to feel like Jack Torrance in The Shining. But I digress.

It’s important to note that some of my best friends are black-diamond-level powder fiends. And I love that they love their sport so much; I really do.

But even when I socialize with people whom I count among my nearest and dearest, the specter of skiing looms. It dominates conversations from Halloween to Easter, and often beyond. If the snow is good, I will be subjected to glowing, run-by-run retellings of the day’s events. If the snow sucks, I can expect an evening of brooding laments and cursing of the weather gods — or TV weatherman Tom Messner. The phenomenon actually started early this year. When last Friday’s Nor’easter dumped upward of two feet on certain local peaks, the windfall incited equally gusty rejoicing on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention in local watering holes, all weekend long.

And that’s just it. Despite my distaste for skiing and its culture, it’s hard for me to ignore just how happy it makes nearly everyone else, and how intrinsic the sport is to Vermont.

Now, if I could just get folks to understand how happy not skiing makes me and countless others who are proud to call Vermont home. Failing that, just wake me up in May, OK?