A Reluctant Skier Comes Home
I can’t remember the first time I had skis strapped to my feet. It was probably around the age of five, when my new elementary school began to offer a Sunday morning ski group for students and their parents. In an effort the save their pennies, mine opted to be chaperones in exchange for free lift tickets and discounted prices for my brother and I.
My parents were transplants in Vermont. They moved here with my brother before I was born and I suppose they hypothesized that joining the legion of middle-aged parent skiers was one of the best ways to become acquainted with the community and state of Vermont itself. We began going as a family, reluctantly, every Sunday. It was during those few years that my impressions of skiing were formed; it was cold, sometimes wet, scary, exhausting and really boring when you were forced into a group lesson taught by a merciless college student. In general, I remember shivering in my one-size-too-big, hand-me-down snow pants in the lodge après ski with my family, nibbling on Goldfish while I stared at my parents who were chatting with friends, willing them to pick up the car keys and signal our retreat home. Whatever this obsession with snow, speed, and numb extremities, I wanted nothing to do with it. After a couple of seasons, to my relief, we stopped skiing.
When I was twelve, in an attempt to entertain our visiting relatives, my mom and I decided to join them on a trip to nearby Stratton and try our luck on the slopes once again - without so much as a refresher lesson to remind us how to maneuver the steep, icy grades. Unsurprisingly, my overconfidence took us down the mountain in bursts of speed, each followed by an inevitable wipeout, runaway ski, and laughs. Until finally, after the sixth separated ski and twenty minutes of tears because we had absolutely no idea why it would not rejoin my boot, we realized the binding had shut itself, we hadn’t noticed, meaning that we were the ultimate non-skiers on the mountain. After that green trail failure and one permanently lost walkie-talkie later, we decided to cut our losses and concede our battle to the mountain, for it had won effortlessly.
After that day, I intended to avoid chairlifts for the rest of my life.
Until, however, my senior year of high school. Apparently, enough time had elapsed that I no longer felt the misery of that fateful day at Stratton and agreed to let my good friend teach me how to snowboard. After acquiring a free board and boots, we spent afternoons after school on a small but steep hill at a nearby park where I discovered a vast variety of bruises. Once I’d learned to, at the very least, stop myself from sliding into the parking lot, the aforementioned “friend” said I was ready to get on a chairlift and fall down not just a small hill, but a small mountain. The details will be spared, but rest assured that my first few runs were very ugly. Eventually though, I was able to keep up with my teacher and even, miraculously, perform the elusive “toe-side turn.” We had a fantastic winter, buying lift tickets only when there was a two-for-one deal and cackling at my wipeouts, but the following winter we’d be in college.
I ended up enrolling at Champlain College, located in the heart of Burlington. Luckily, this is where I found a renewed love for my state, a major that aligned with my beliefs, and a wonderful community of brand new friends from all over the country. Not too long into my freshman year, I began to notice a repetitive pattern of conversation that would develop with new friends. “Oh, you’re from Vermont? Do you ski or ride?” said a guy from Connecticut, who grew up skiing at Stowe on family vacations. “No kidding, you’re from Bennington? I go to Mt. Snow all the time. Do you ski?” asked the girl from Massachusetts who’s family owns a second home, slope-side.
While my interest in snowboarding was waning, I felt an intense pressure from many of those around me to continue my conquest of the mountain. So I bought the discounted student season pass and crammed into the bus and pretended to have fun while simultaneously trying to avoid plowing into my new friends as we exited the chairlift. Somehow, I found myself alienated from a characteristically “Vermont” pastime by folks that had spent the majority of their lives outside its borders. Much of their knowledge of this place was based on limited interactions with the better sides of Vermont’s facade - the parts we show in commercials and magazine ads. My lack of interest in skiing and snowboarding boggled the minds of my new friends. But to me, it was perfectly simple. Growing up in this relatively poor state, skiing and all the expenses that accompany it were not always accessible to me. Perhaps if I’d been able to take regular ski vacations on the best equipment or learning from the best instructors while my parents sat in the lodge enjoying french fries, I would be an avid alpinist. But my experience was with used gear, home-packed snacks, and my parents out there on the bunny hill with me, agitatedly reminding me how to turn my pizza into french fries; just as you might expect from this resilient, make-it-work state.
So, I spent the rest of my days in academia not skiing or riding but saving up an arsenal of excuses to present whenever a classmate asked if I wanted to join them on the mountain and why not. I began to question a part of my identity, which I thought I’d known so well - my innate Vermont-ness. Was I a true Vermonter when the sight of a community ski-swap sign did not excite me? I’d never even learned to cross country ski like the majority of my friends in high school who drove over a mountain every afternoon for ski practice. Could I really claim to know this place, my home, when I hadn’t participated in so much of what seemed like its singular culture?
A couple of years later, I sit here writing this within the limits of, ironically, a bustling Vermont ski town - my new home. It took only my exit from college to understand that, like every other state in the union, Vermont hosts an eclectic mix of people. Some might define the quintessential Vermont activity to be snowmobiling across a frozen pond in search of the best ice fishing. Others might say it’s enjoying the diverse selection of craft beers, hiking the Long Trail, boiling maple sap, or running their family’s two hundred year old dairy farm barely able to make ends meet. And the folks that drive up here on long weekends to stay at our ski resorts and get in as many runs as they can before the work day rolls around again? We should appreciate them. They bring new perspective into our tiny state, they support our economy and most importantly, they love this place just as much as we do. It can be hard not to roll your eyes when an out-of-state license plate cuts you off or tailgates you as you plug along a one lane road on your way to the post office. During these moments, I strive to remember the ultimate Vermont value: neighborly spirit. Those that visit our home want nothing more than to revel in its beauty and enjoy what we have to offer. The very least we can do is extend the offering hand and share.
It’s wintertime again, and the skiers have descended on my town. This season, given my proximity to a mountain, I’ve rejoined their ranks. For the first time since age twelve, I’ve begun to strap skis to my feet and slowly remember how to plummet down a steep hill every weekend. Remarkably, I’ve only fallen four times, and I’ve never felt more at home.
Photograph by: Nathanael Asaro