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Zero Slope

By Laurie Hays

About six years ago, when my brothers, sisters and I were between the tender ages of nine and 13, my father got the brilliant idea that we should all take up skiing. He had picked up the sport, he said, back in college--way back before the down of fiberglass time, when they used wooden skis that just fastened on to your feet with whatever means available--and had enjoyed it. Apparently, the weekend trips to such winter wonderlands as Stowe and Killington were some of the best times he ever had in school. So despite protests from my mother, a traditional Southerner who, true to form, hates cold weather and refused ever to come along, the bi-annual and once-in-a-while weekend trips up North began.

Quite frankly, I never really enjoyed skiing, because of a number of factors that grew worse with every trip we took. The weekends would begin something like this: On Christmas day, the day before the great exodus, my mother could be found sitting next to the radio. waiting for the weather service to announce that a tremendous blizzard was heading for New England, creating hazardous traveling conditions. Invariably, such a storm would arise, and an endless discussion would ensue. By the end, mother would tell father that the whole idea was the stupidest thing she'd ever heard of; the next day, she would stand waving good-bye, tears brimming in her eyes, sure that this was the last she would ever see of us.

That particular scene naturally made me a little uncomfortable. But even worse, was another typical Christmas day scenario. Everyone was required, of course, to try on his or her old ski boots, just to make sure there weren't going to be "any problems" on the slopes. My father would become very angry at anyone who had the nerve to warn him that his or her boots were probably three sizes too small. Of course, there are absolutely no places to buy ski boots on Christmas. So the slip-up would invariably mean a quick trip to the local ski outfitting shop the next morning, meaning we'd be off to a late start, meaning...

Stratton, one of Vermont's most chic skiing resorts was the usual destination. I attribute my failure to learn how to ski to the fact that we always went to Stratton, where all my classmates--who knew how to ski before they could walk--also flocked. My father enrolled us all in skiing classes, and it's difficult to tell how embarassed I felt in the beginner's lessons when everyone else was schussing through the advanced classes--or worse, didn't need any tutoring at all.

The accomodations were usually fairly good, and the bars usually had folk singers in the evenings where people could sit around drinking, eating cheese and crackers, or licking their wounds. My father was concerned that none of us ever drink of the demon rum, but he conveniently never mentioned anything else. I remember one particular night, as I lay in bed listening to my brothers talk to my mother on the telephone. They were telling her about how big barrelfuls of popcorn kept coming and that they were having a wonderful time. I slept through that evening's activities, but my father had a very long night washing out bedsheets and the like. My mother was a smart woman.

I have since given up alpine skiing and joined the fashionable hordes of cross-country skiers. It's a lot more fun, and a lot warmer. One of the best nights of my freshman year I spent skiing up and down the Yard, occasionally venturing down to the River. And there are for those more adventurous types who lack large families to organize and small children to buy ski boots for, some beautiful places in New Hampshire and Maine that provide excellent cross-country skiing. In fact, Acadia National Park, on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, is reputed to be absolutely beautiful, though I've never had my act together long enough to make it up there. So if you're interested, it looks as though there will be some snow this winter. Good luck.

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