The vision, the objective, the goal
Ah, gotta ski every area in the lower 48 states 1,000 feet in vertical rise. Or maybe it’s “drop”. Guess it all depends on which way you’re headed. With skiers it’s usually “down”, that is unless we’re headed back up to do it all over again. It reminds me of what I always assure my “never-evers” when I teach, “Rest assured you can’t get lost when you ski. When in doubt, just head down hill.” And I add, “There’s always a warm health and a cold brew awaiting you.” ([link to FAQ for more “about”]
So, anyway, I got a late start on this bucket-list thing. OK, so I did use the wood skis Grandma and Grampa Miller gave me for Christmas in 1952. (or was it ’53?) Just imagine ‘m: painted black, simple leather loop to slide your buckle-up rubber boots through, no petex or wax, and of course no edges of any sort. Me and my brother Art, who sported a similar pair only slightly longer, never did make it erect all the way down the 50 foot slope (length not height). That didn’t phase us in the least. We’d roll it out or belly slide to the bottom. We’d crawl back up, skis slung over our scrawny shoulders or tucked haphazard under our arms to do it one more time. Except maybe we’d switch to one of the rusty, battered yet infinitely more dependable “Flexible Flier” sleds if stability or distance was desired.
Our “slope” doubled as the overpass for our road to bridge federal route I-90. Better known as the NY State Thruway, we thought President Eisenhower purposed it solely for our fun and pleasure. One more thing: It was cold. Those wool mittens mom knitted with love coveted and collected snow. It soon melted over the heat from our hot little hands only to freeze solid as the daylight dwindled. (Daylight, not sunlight. In Buffalo it clouds over in November and clears up only when our lake effect dissipates often as late as April.) But such was insignificant: ever onward; ever upward.
In high school, I did attend the organizational meeting of the incipient Williamsville Ski Club. I decided the $49 fee too steep despite the fact that astronomical sum covered 8 round-trip bus rides (aboard the iconic “yellow cheese” bus), the seasonal ski rental, 8 lift tickets and an equal number of group lessons! Hey, I was earning $1.10 an hour washing dishes at the “Charter House” catering facility. What I remember vividly was the Jewish wedding parties! Wow, did they have fun? You betcha! Huge family affairs, and everybody danced in a great circle that grape-vined around entire room! Well, I blew that claim to fame. I could have been a founding member of the Williamsville Central School District High School ski club. Fame and fortune would be tabled for the future. (I’m still hoping.)
So my first meaningful ski experience was gleaned at age 18. I was a freshman at the University of Buffalo. The money I didn’t spent on high school skiing went instead to support my pride and joy, a ’57 Ford Fairlane convertible. Yea wouldn’t you guess? a V-8, stick-on-the column, jet black body with a white canvas rag-top. Really cool (pun intended) if you lived in the south, but really cold throughout our sub-zero Western New York winters. Bishop Neumann High School, just down the street from the public school we heathens had to attend, did not have their own buses, so parents drove their kids and other ski club members to Glenwood Acres our closest ski slope. Note: I was eighteen which meant I had a “adult” driver’s license. I could drive at night! Hence I qualified as a chaperon to shuttle and supervise my 17 year old friends. By golly hadn’t I graduated 7 months earlier? And now almost completed my first semester of higher learning. Note: in those days one could legally buy beer at age 18. Hmmm, why did all the seniors line up to ride in that Ford Fairlane when they could very well freeze to death in the back seat?
Well anyway, all riders had to cough up coin to cover the gas. And we chaperons got free lift tickets, ski rentals and lessons! (And there was aways an unopened beer or two left in the back seat.) Such a deal! SO just a year or two latter, Bishop Neumann closed its doors due to dwindling enrollment. Even the lure of a great ski club could mot justify its existence.
The last two years of under graduate studies were devoted to my fraternity, the swim team and the ski club, all these three priorities positioned top-most over my curricular studies. The “Shussmiesters” was no small club.. With several hundred members, we qualified for significant subsidies from student union. Numerous ski trips were offered. I was immediately smitten with wanderlust on my fist weekender to Stowe, VT. And in my Senior year, the club totally filled a 707 direct, non-stoop charter to Munich for a week of skiing in Innsbruck, Austria. Despite almost schussing (maybe for like snow-plowing) off a cliff I purchased my first pair of good skis: Fisher “Alu”: Austrian-made, top drawer! (No, they were radiant red, not jet black!), skied my brains out, frequented the beer halls and fell in love with my future wife, who just happened to come along on the trip.
Carolyn is a nurse and I am frugal. Thus it was a no-brainier we would both join the Ski Patrol for the following ski season. Carolyn because she wanted to apply her newly acquired talents to help mankind and distressed skiers; me because I wanted to ski free and race down the mountain, (well hill in this case.) Our “pay”? – nix, nada, volunteer, but we were offered four additional, non-transferable season passes. So we debated for weeks which of our friends we would bless with such a gift. Turns out our entire social and familial circles weren’t the least bit impressed in our treasure or our generosity. Yea, not interested. We couldn’t even give free tickets away! Only slowly did we come to realize the problem might not be “skiing” or even “Blumont”- it was us.
Blumont was located in the rural suburbs of Springville NY, a hinterland crossroads on the southern- most border of Erie County. Taking the route skiers crossed good sized creek and enter Cattaraugus County. Blumont sported the second greatest vertical of all the numerous regional ski areas -729 feet. Only Holiday Valley was higher (750 feet) and only Holiday Valley has prospered to this day.
Blumont folded in a decade or so later, perhaps because it used a detachable chair. Actually it was the prototype of the high speed marvels that advance the industry so effectively today. Undoubtedly the manufacturers learned as awful lot through Blumont’s fumbles, flaws and fiascoes. Or perhaps Blumont’s demise was inevitable because no one would spell the name right, hence could not locate BLUE Mountain when the owners spelled it BLUmont!
We did love our team of Patrollers. I was privileged to partner with our Patrol leader, Neil Crow, to represent our area in the regional patrol toboggan race. Wisely the annual event was discontinued as a poor example of caution and safety. I have to concur. Who could feel assured and confident deploying our services after watching us careen down to victory? No sane skier , even if they were desperately injured. However our indisputable reign is still a bragging right in my spotty dossier. I still love to “Crow” that we retired the trophy undefeated in the years of competition.
Between ski experiences, I did manage to graduate, and find a job teaching 7th and 8th grade social studies, And as you might expect I started a ski club for my students. (Of all the ski areas, you can just guess, we chose Blumont.)
We took our semester break that first year of Patrol to drive out west to ski a small but impressive, new area in Colorado. And were we ever pleased with “western” skiing? WOW! Go west young man. Go west. Powder, sunshine, above zero temperatures, no ice, no lines (in those days), but no night skiing. Not to worry. We quickly became aware of the “apres ski scene”. Yes Virginia, there is life after the lifts close. In addition we were introduced to a new plastic buckle ski boots, plus we took in our first Warren Miller movie! What more could you want? Oh yea, Vail was nice but we felt they’d have to do some work if they wanted to survive.
As much as we enjoyed our Patrol friends and service, crazies such as yours truly can only last so long cautioning others to ski under control and think safety. After 7 years, I now longed for freedom and succumbed to the status prestige of the SKI INSTRUCTOR image. After passing my tests, the head of our ski school announced his delight in my prowess. I’d be perfect for working with the mature adults considering all the experience I’d accumulated in the public schools since graduation. Huh? I was picturing more along the lines of working with the pretty young snow-bunnies! Oh well I guess we all have to grow up some day.
So I traded out 8:00 patrol lineups for the 10:00 am instructors line up. (Considerably more time to recover from the night before.) Not unlike a slave auction, we suave bucks lined up before the little urchins who eyed us to determine their preferred instructor. We often recall those poor chumps who were always chosen last on our childhood playground. Gee, I couldn’t even serve as water boy. H20 quickly freezes in sub-zero temps. (Whereas wine lasts a bit longer.) Oh well, there was still those “more mature” clients. And we did have fun.
After ten years of teaching middle school social studies, I was getting bored. Loved the kids. Perfect age those eighth graders: too old to scare and to young to reason with. And actually most of them had a higher mental age than me. So what was the problem? Administrators and rules. Not that they aren’t necessary, it’s just that rules are made for the other guys, not for me.
Sure, I advised several student groups including starting a canoe club and organizing a ski club and planning exotic field trips. So wouldn’t it make sense to start a tour operation? Student excursions set up to focus on the educational meccas of our capital: Washington DC (our nation’s capital) , Boston (the cradle of independence), and New York City (the world’s economic hub of ). All are best set as spring trips; you know culminating and celebrating a successful school year, and award good behavior. (Hey, if you don’t behave and perform well, you can’t “trip-out” at the end of the semester!).
But such a schedule leaves the winters open. So why not ski groups? Yea, the “ski program” came to be recognized a somewhat successful tour operate. Numerous mountain resorts would extend invitations to ski and become familiar with their destination and services. The concept is termed “Familiarization tour or “fam trip”. And” I got to ski a number of new areas. All as an iteration of “professional courtesy” (all expenses paid!)
Thus the log winter months passed swiftly. and I started logging the various ski areas and continued to organize ski trips. I even learned some people don’t ski. And to encourage them to come along with their spouses and families we had to include shopping, more après ski activities and other fun stuff. Someone had to do it. (Hey, someone has to do it!)
All four of my children started skiing at an early age. The two oldest grew up at Kissing Bridge when Blumont closed. And it was just down the road from our house. More convenient to reach but being closer to the city the “day trip” facility and as large as it is it’s more akin to dropping the kids off at the mall than a a true skiing experience, They did have a good youth program. My two had their friends and couldn’t care lass about skiing with me, but I was a necessary annoyance tolerated for two reasons: transportation and money. So I drove, they dropped me until closing and I went off to kill time by teaching myself snow boarding. Well pretending I was teaching myself. To this very day I say “Boarding is OK, but skiing can hide and cover up a lot more.” It is more versatile!
Then there was ski racing. No not me; rather four wonderful children. And pretty decent skiers if I say so myself. More new ski areas. First as interested observer, then gatekeeper. Occasionally timer or starter or announcer. Them council rep and more. But hey, it wasn’t all work. There was lots of skiing. And who thinks parents don’t party after the race? Lots of good friends and new acquaintances and different areas. All for the good of the kids. Again Someone has to do it.
My two youngest “sold” me on attending the Green Mountain ski academy in Waitsfield (well technically Irasville. I can’t say enough good things about the Green Mountain experience. The academics, faculty and training are superb. It’s a priceless, loaded with great memories, tremendous learning and terrific friends.
Over time the handle “Coach” was applied; and I like it. Nay, truth be told, I promote it. It’s an ego thing. But be not impressed. It stems from a much earlier role facilitating age group and high school swimming. I’d like to think it applies a bit to skiing ’cause I’ve continued this “coach” thing by assisting with the youth ski programs filling in as needed. (Link to Xtreme Team and/or BSC.)
Yes, I still do step into the instructors’ lineup from time to time. And yes, I’m still often the last one standing in those lineups. Yet I still love to teach! It’s part of who I am. Can’t let it go. And I’ll admit: I crave it. But I also appreciate and milk the “professional courtesy” that’s often extended to people like me. You might better view this privilege as supporting and enabling and abetting my obsession. Carolyn describes me as “parsimonious”. I favor “good steward”. My kids call be “cheap”. But darn-it-all, “professional courtesy” is still seldom totally gratis! Still often must pay to ski!! It’s an expensive habit.
Grandparenting: back to business
On stage now (’15) are the grandchildren. all eight (and hopefully still counting) of whom love to ski. Thus this saga has legs; ski legs that is. (Link to collection of grand parenting posts.)
Whew! So many mountains and only so much time.
Well, that’s my story to date, and I’m stickin’ to it. Hope to see you on the slopes. Come, Ski With Me.