I have been skiing only once in my life. Once. It was during a late 1990s winter on Beech Mountain in North Carolina. They call it the highest ski area in eastern North America.
What a place, Beech Mountain! It was there, it that finger-snap of time in my life, that I formed the opinion that I was a not, in fact, going to be a skier. Just when I was about to change my name to Picabo II! But I didn’t like ski skool (I had problems with the fact that school was spelled with a ‘k,’ but I won’t revisit that dark place right now). I didn’t like the clothing. I didn’t like the unexpected sunburns, chapped lips or speed racer sunglasses. And now, since I have experienced a true winter, I am completely disenchanted with the fake stuff that they pawn off as snow. Apparently this is common practice among ski resorts. Allow me to expose them for what they really are! When there’s not enough powder, they cook it up and lay it down as if it were real. They’re putting us on! Who knew? And just when I’d thought I’d really seen something special.
The word “ski” itself carries a lot of weight, in my opinion. We think of the act itself and from there we think snow, we think mountains, cold, lodges, fires, logs, forests, isolation, avalanches, cabin fever, insanity. Maybe not everyone takes it that far. But I certainly will. Let it be said that the physical act has its merits: It’s very graceful, and, at a level to which I don’t even aspire, is probably difficult. A friend of mine said before leaving for winter break that she was going skiing for ten days so there was no way she wasn’t coming back to school in shape. She was right. She looks great! I told her so.
At Beech Mountain, I had problems keeping my skis in “French fry” position (parallel) as opposed to “pizza” (pointed inward). A source of immeasurable frustration. My inability to master this small task was noted on my skool report card. Before getting too far ahead of myself, I’ve made a short list of things I do like about ski culture: warm beverages, large hearths, snuggly blankets and a view of the slopes through a large glass window. I don’t really want to be involved in the snow, but I can appreciate its aesthetic value.
Forbes published a list of the 10 best ski resorts in North America. Ski Beech, I regret to say, was nowhere to be found. The article comes with a disclaimer that the ranking is devised based as much on the quality of ski slopes as the quality and luxury of the lodges. Most of them are in the west. Skiing is inferior in the east, and everybody knows it. Even I expected no less. Some people — meaning a friend who’s been skiing since she was five — say that the skiing is better in the west than even Europe. And she’ll tell you about it.
But in order that the East Coast skiers don’t get fussy, the list includes two eastern resorts. Chateau Mont Tremblant, home of the Yale Ski Team’s January retreat, is mentioned. Forbes calls Tremblant the French Alps of Quebec, whatever that means. The rest of the list names the usual suspects — Aspen, Telluride, Jackson Hole, etc. We all get the picture. You start throwing names like that around, and I inevitably end up wanting to know where Britney Spears skis. Or does she even ski? She grew up only a half hour away from my house, and Sportsmen’s Paradisers never ski. I’m not saying it’s a geographic phenomenon that people from Louisiana don’t like skiing, but rather that we are less likely to understand why anyone would choose to be on an incline when he could just as easily be standing on flat ground.
Skiing holds an interesting association with wealth, not class. If Nicole Richie is skiing, it’s not about class. You probably could slide down Science Hill with some floorboards pried from a residential college. That would be a pretty inexpensive endeavor, if incredibly numbskulled, but that’s not actually skiing. The truth of the matter is that the gear and the mountain view room all come at a preposterously pretty penny. The beach and the mountains are often considered to be comparable vacation destinations — but no one has to be taught to lie out on the beach. Going to a ski house implies a certain familiarity with the slopes, and in order to get familiar, you’ve got to pony up.
Costs aside, I don’t even like the cold. The only time I’ve been, or would consider going, to Colorado is during the summer months. One time, I went to a wedding in Vail. I could see the ski slopes carved out of the hill. I remember imagining that it would be pretty covered in snow, then being thankful that I was only imagining.
We’ve all seen friends’ family pictures with everyone bundled tightly smiling on the slopes, cheeks brushed pink with genuine happiness. The Gariepys, of which I am one, probably stayed at Ski Beech for two days. One day to learn, another to do. From that particular weekend, we took a series of dumb photos of my sister and me wearing ski boots — fallen skis cast aside — and standing on the flat ground at the very bottom of the hill. We were probably holding hot chocolates. Maybe even one in each hand. We’d both just triumphantly graduated the bunny slope — the one with the rail on the side to help keep your balance as you waddle back to the top of the hill — and we couldn’t be stopped.
Of course, we had fun while it lasted. I had the liberty of the easy slopes for much of the first afternoon. I hold in my memories one erratic and seminal experience of both trauma and magic. Let’s begin with the magic. I had finally gotten the hang of the green circle route after numerous unmentionable failures, and moved readily to the blue square. Moving slowly, fighting gravity with all the might of a skinny-legged 11-year-old, I glided down with the surest of ease. Magic, I tell you. I had all the hope and joy of youth in front of me when all of the sudden a troupe of rowdy snow boarders burst onto the scene! I nearly died. Magic to fear in fewer than five minutes. Maybe the terror has kept me off the slopes since Ski Beech. Maybe I just haven’t been exposed to the great skiing that would make me crave it. But I sure as hell don’t crave it.
I joined the Ski Team at Yale for the parties. When asked to join the actual team and make the weekend trips, I said that I really couldn’t ski. To this, my ski team friend said, “You can just sit on the sidelines and drink.”
Now, I thought, that’s something I can do! Maybe I’ll start there.
Charles Gariepy is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. His column appears on Wednesdays.