by Jules Older
Growing up in 1950’s Baltimore, outside of movies, I’d never seen a ski.
When I left for college, in cold and mysterious Vermont, my mother’s friend gave me a pair from her college days. They were ancient even by 1958 standards: taller than an NBA center, primitive beartrap bindings and lacking that newfangled invention, steel edges.
But they were mine. And I was heading for the snow.
I had no idea what to do with my new/old skis. So my freshman roommate trudged with me to the top of Hospital Hill, a steep slope ending at the curb of a busy Burlington street. He helped me strap into those outmoded bindings, held my arm as I steadied myself at the top of the hill, and pushed.
Fearing a fall onto the icy snow, I skied.
Been doing it ever since. Sliding on snow has been not only a major theme of my life but the way I've earned much of my income. More than that, snow-covered mountains have given me enormous pleasure, satisfaction and spiritual uplift. Skiing has been a huge and hugely wonderful part of my adult life. Hello, mountains. Farewell, Baltimore.
I came to the University of Vermont in part because they let this indifferent high-schooler in, and in part because of the call of the snow. Was I man enough to survive winter in the Frozen North?
The two best things I did in my freshman year were to write for the Vermont Cynic, the college newspaper, and to join the Outing Club. Eventually, I became editor-in-chief of the Cynic, as I later became editor-in-chief of Ski Press magazine. As for the Outing Club, during my first winter break, I joined their trip to the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec. We stayed in the McGill Outing Club cabin. Oh, my. Gaspable cold. Shoulder-deep snowbanks. People speaking French. Young women in tight sweaters and tighter pants. Quelle banquet!
And skiing was dessert. Sliding down a mountain — a mountain, not Hospital Hill — on narrow boards. Slowly improving, learning something new on each run. That rosy-cheeked, tired-muscle feeling at day’s end. My cup runneth over.
By senior year, my friends and I were organizing our schedules to keep Wednesday afternoons free. Wednesday afternoons were dollar days at Smugglers’ Notch Skiways.
What kind of skier was I? If you look up “reverse snob” in the dictionary, you'll find my picture. Only ski in jeans. Never order Chardonnay. Buy second-hand skis, hand-me-down boots. And on no account, ever be seen taking a lesson.
If joining the Outing Club was smart, not taking lessons defined dumb. Real men didn’t need lessons, and hadn't I come to Vermont to become a Real Man? That mindset retarded my skiing by years, for years. Eventually, I woke up, and, as a result, I'm a better skier at 68 than I was at 28 or 38.
Little did I know when I shot straight down Hospital Hill that I was entering a sport that would last a lifetime. Not baseball, not football, it’s skiing that I still do.
And I haven't done it alone. When I fell in love with Effin, one of the first things I did was to take her to the top of Vermont’s Jay Peak… and help her negotiate the long, cold ski down. Since then, we've skied together from Newfoundland to New Zealand, Scotland to the Sierra. We taught our daughters, Amber and Willow, to ski, and I hope to have our grandsons on snow next winter. Skiing isn't just a lifetime sport; it’s a family sport as well.
I'm writing this from the middle seat of a van, riding the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada. Outside, mighty peaks loom; I've been skiing them for the past four days. Inside, my companions range in age from 42 to 79; like me, they're all ski writers, and like me, they've been skiing hard and fast in these majestic mountains. Our bodies are strong. Our talk is of skiing. And our feeling of rosy-cheeked, tired-muscle pleasure is intensely satisfying.
As has been my lifetime on snow.
Jules Older has been a clinical psychologist, medical educator, disc jockey, TV villain, writer and editor. His latest adult book is Backroad and Offroad Biking. His latest for kids is PIG.