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Vermont Ski

This past 3-day weekend we went skiing in Vermont. Downhill skiing, that is — no longer am I content to strap on those brutish XC skis, having experienced two solid weeks of Alpine skiing under the expert tutelage of the Monsieurs Pinaults, which has given me the confidence and ability to brave the snow-covered mountains as well as the leisurely lifestyle of downhill skiing.

We booked our President’s Day skiing vacation back in December, a ballsy move given the inconsistent winter weather that can plague New England — nay, anywhere. We wanted to take advantage of a stunningly superb ski-and-stay package offered by a Hampton Inn — free lift tickets at Smuggler’s Notch or Bolton Valley, free breakfast, and yes they have an indoor pool and hot tub. What more do you need? (It turned out… ear plugs).

Of course, XC skiing does have advantages — it’s cheaper ($16 trail passes versus $60 lift tickets), it’s warmer, and it’ll guarantee a good appetite for sure. So it was a pleasant way to pass a chilly Saturday afternoon as we made our way to the Hampton Inn. Instead of our skating XC skis, we brought our heavy backcountry skis and did a tiny portion of the 300-mile long Catamount Trail. “Catamount Trail sounds like it should be a beer,” I remarked, as we huffed our way uphill. “A hoppy, heavy beer, sold in gallon-sized cans.”

That night we arrived at the Hampton Inn and made a beeline to the hot tub to take a well-deserved soak. As we lounged in the pool area with several other quiet families and couples, suddenly 7 teenage boys appeared and swamped the hot tub. Then 5 more teenage boys came. Then 4 girls, to the subdued cat calls of the boys. Very quickly, the entire pool was beset with teenaged flesh. The dull roar of horesplay echoed through the area as the families hastily toweled off their children and pulled on their clothes. The teenagers rapidly multiplied, turning the area into a  humid stew of seething hormonal energy that made me feel desperately old and anxious.

We quickly realized that the Hampton Inn was host to over 100 teenagers on some sort of retreat. And while they were not running wild, there was inevitable noise, errant voices and laughs, and constant door slams. I tried not to blame the teenagers for being teenagers, but rather focused my displeasure on the Hampton Inn for not segregating the teenagers from the general hotel population. At least they didn’t show up at the breakfast buffet at the same time we did, ensuring our due share of dehydrated eggs and industrial sausage.

The downhill skiing was good. On Sunday, we went to Smuggler’s Notch; on Monday, we hit Bolton Valley. I was a little nervous to ski in Vermont, but it turned out that the slopes on which I learned to ski in the Alps are much, much more difficult than most of what Vermont has to offer. This is where I should have learned, on the gentle road grades of Vermont, not on the steep walls of the Alps. In Bolton Valley, I was coasting down Black trails, carving turns with a confidant style that seemed unimaginable only 1 year ago. Why, I’m a natural. Had I started this 30 years ago, I could have been a contender. I could have been going head-to-head with Lindsey Vonn.

We were surprised that Smuggler’s Notch operates only slow-moving 2-person chair lifts, which meant long lines that had to be managed by an employee who also doubled as a pass checker. (Compare this to Europe, which boosts telecabins and 8-person chairlifts that use electronic passes and turnstiles.) Since every seat mattered, anytime a single person was spotted, the pass checker would yell “Single!” in order to match that person with another single. One time, the single was a massive snowboarder who was allowed to sit by himself. “Did he pay for two tickets?” Mr. Pinault wondered.

At a restaurant where we ate dinner, the menu contained a sheet of Vermont facts to ponder while waiting for your meal. Fact #1: Vermont is the second smallest state in the country. “That’s not right,” Mr. Pinault immediately said. I argued with him for a bit, maintaining that it could be right, until I remembered Delaware. No way that Vermont is smaller than that speck of miserable land. The remaining facts were too boring to be made up, except for the lovely fact that Vermont means “green mountain” in French, which I already knew, but had forgotten.

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