A Different Kind of Ski Trip

As ski vacations go, the one I just went on was unique in a lot of ways.

For starters, my friends and I didn’t drive all the way to West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain.  We opted instead for Winterplace Resort, scarcely more than a stone’s throw from middle Tennessee.  No kidding.  Take I-40 to I-81 to 1-77, exit at Ghent/Flat Top and you’re there.  Just six hours driving time, portal to

Being convenient has its downside, of course.  Word has it that the place is packed on weekends and holidays.  Not in the middle of the week, though.  The big issue for us wasn’t the crowds.  It was the bizarre spring-like weather in late January.  But Winterplace’s website assured us that they had plenty of snow, so off we went.

The closer we got, the more we fretted.  Temperatures hovered in the low 60s as we crossed into West Virginia.  Nary an icicle hung from the rock outcroppings that loom beside the highway.  The usual convenience mart displays of antifreeze and windshield scrapers were conspicuously missing.

We began to discuss whether the little town of Beckley was likely to have a movie theatre or a shopping mall.

But no worries.  Upon our arrival at Winterplace, we discovered that most of the ski runs were open and packed with plenty of good snow, thanks to a sufficient number of cold nights and some excellent snow-making equipment.  Cowabunga!

How to dress?  Those decisions were easy.  Gloves rather than mittens.  Sunglasses instead of goggles.  No “Hot Hands” or “Toasty Toes.”  And definitely no long underwear.  I made the mistake of attaching my lift ticket to my down jacket and thus had to wear it, unzipped, all day.  But that was okay.  There’s a lot to be said for skiing without shivering.

It was fun to see what lay on the bare ground beneath the chair lifts.  Lots and lots of bent ski poles.  Hats and caps.  Trail maps.  Empty beer and whisky bottles, despite the NO ALCOHOL ALLOWED ON SKI LIFTS signs.

And I had a couple of other never-before chair lift experiences.  Like riding to the top of the mountain and then back down, thanks to a skier two chairs ahead of me who didn’t move out of the way after dismounting.  The people behind him had to fall on purpose to avoid a pile-up.  Usually in such cases, the operator stops the lift.  But not this time.

“I’m sending you back down,” he hollered at me.  What could I do but relax and enjoy the ride?

Which turned out to be fascinating.  For the first time ever, I could see what other skiers do while on the lifts.  Some smoked cigarettes.  Some took pictures.  Some talked on their cell phones.  A shocking number rode without having pulled the restraint bar down across their laps.  Almost all of the ascending skiers looked at me in a puzzled way.  Many waved.  Several said things like “Did you chicken out?” or “Forget to get off?” or “You must have bought the round trip ticket.”  Ha ha.

Late in the day, with fatigue settling in and skis growing ever-heavier as they dangled thirty feet above the ground, I got a cramp in my left foot.  There’s never a good time or place for such a thing to happen, but I’m pretty sure a chair lift ranks right up there with the worst.  Writhing in agony, I summoned my
Lamaze “sniff-puff” breathing, unused for almost a quarter of a century, and
practiced it till I got to the top.  Somehow I made it off the lift without falling.  I
snapped off my ski, yanked off my boot, and began furiously massaging my foot.  An eternity passed before it relaxed and I could make my way down the mountain.

Lesson learned?  I never sleep without a bar of “no cramp” Zest soap in the bed.  Next year, I won’t ski without one, either.

(February 26, 2012)



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