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Thanks for the memories

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

It is that time of year. The cusp of a new ski season. And Thanksgiving. Perhaps the Pilgrims made a few turns once snow fell . Perhaps dependable coverage in late November is what the holiday was truly meant to celebrate. Even if I am off the mark, there is every reason for us to make it so. To put winter's promise on that mental list of wonders in our lives for which we seldom take stock.

As for me, I can not fully acknowledge my gratitude for this core passion we all share without giving thanks to the man who kindled that cold fire 

in me. It was my Uncle Phil, and I was a little boy of an age when the time between ski weekends was painful and the distance between seasons interminable.

First, a small hill in my uncle's backyard behind Bates College where you competed for trail space with kids flying on saucers. And then group lessons at a small local area with a rope tow that would snatch your frozen mittens. You would look helplessly, with stinging hands, as those disembodied mitts danced their way up the hill without you to the sounds of Petula Clark and the Beatles. After that a bigger hill - the old Sunday River. The one with a carved Viking face on the lift shack, and picnic tables in the lodge whose air was heavy with the smell of grilled burgers and fries for 75 cents. Ring Dings and Devil Dogs too.

There were trips to Stowe at a time when lifties would throw a heavy wool poncho or massive army surplus coat on top of you to snuff out the frosted air that enveloped your shivering body. With 10 year old eyes wide as saucers you peer off the edge of the National at a time when grooming was what you did with a comb and a brush. Pleasure and terror intertwine as moguls the size of VW bugs loom ahead; over the concave roof then down a steep windshield of blue ice. When you fell, and you always did, the ride ended at the bottom. Then back on the chair, with the wool on top, for the ride up. Maybe the Lift Line, or Panic Alley or the Nose Dive. It really did not matter. We just cocked our little wooden boards, pulled our Moriarity hats down over our ruby ears, and skied.

Then high school and the places my Uncle Phil rented at Sugarloaf. Every Friday evening from November to April we clambered into the Plymouth wagon. Listening on AM radio to Michael Jackson, the little one, and to the Carpenters, the singing ones, we rocketed our way through the cold Maine night towards the warmth of a fiery hearth deep in Carrabasset Valley. My Sugarloaf. When the lodge and Harvey Boynton's Ski shop were all there was. When in late April, you take some runs in knee deep corn then toast yourself on that broad silver, aluminum roof of the ski shop. No Carpenters on that roof. The Dead and Jimi and The Doors ruled there.

Winter inevitably melted into spring which meant trips up the Fire Trail on Mt. Washington for skiing and hiking in Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines. Up the precipitous Left Gully with ice axes tightly clutched by small hands. As a grown man looking back, I asked my uncle why he took us kids up this unlikely route for a family excursion - "somebody had to," he replied. Fair enough. 

And all good fun, until a fall on the way out of Tuckeman on the Sherburne Trail a week after your 13th birthday. The day of the 1969 Inferno Race. Damn Marker Rotomats. The odd sensation when you discover how a tib/fib fracture can put your knee and heal in perfect alignment. And the odder sensation of that Demerol shot -  of ceiling-mounted water pipes floating out the window. And a drab plaster ceiling exploding into a Peter Max painting. "Yes, nurse, you may now cut off my pants. Or my leg. Your choice." And then the oddest sensation two weeks later as I and my full leg cast stare out at a group of family and friends who stare back at me, the me in my Bar Mitzvah suit - well, double breasted jacket and silk kerchief "tie." Fortunately, we people of the "Jewish persuasion," as my grandfather put it, are able to read from the Torah while standing on one foot, which I did. It goes way back.

School and more school. And less downhill and more nordic, where you did not have to give money for altitude.

And then, most remarkably, a wife, and a boy, and another boy and yet another. And in our own time, didn't we all pile into the trusty Dodge Grand Caravan, the one with 235,000 miles on it. And we would sing "Stand by your van" as we made our way to Sugarloaf and Saddleback and Jay Peak and Le Massif. Places where our kids carved out their own ski memories.

And throughout this veritable ski life-time for me, my Uncle Phil skied on. Forever with the joy of a little boy skiing on the same small hill he showed another little boy so many years later. Skiing with a passion forged as a young man descending craggy white fingers into the palm of Tuckerman Ravine. 

Then in time, as a parent, he fashioned his kids and me in his skiing image  - snow plow, stem christie, then parallel and, the apogee, wedeln turns.

Even now, so many winters later, we still gather to ski as we had in another time. To see my dear uncle, on the cusp of his tenth decade, sashay his way joyously down the hill with a Hannes Schneider elegance and the frozen smile of a little boy is a cherished memory beyond measure. And I tell myself again, I want to be that guy.

As I write, on a bright, mid-November evening with a moon illuminating green grass that will survive this night but just a few more, I give thanks that my Seasonal Affective Disorder will soon be relieved by that frosty white medicine soon to fly. Soon I will hear that familiar clunk of metal against hard plastic. And I know that my first run of the year, and every one thereafter, will be dedicated to my dear uncle who made me a skier.


Edited by deliberate1 - 12/2/13 at 6:43pm
post #2 of 14

Who wouldn't want to be "that man"....


Thank you D1, lovely and inspiring story.


Long story short, my first was inspired by my beautiful college love, at Greek Peak, and that lasted all of a 1/30th of my first ever run, los my ski to the downhill, walked down and said no más.  Until Mount Snow 1 year later (1976), then nothing for 8 years when we went to Killington, and all the Mid-Atlantic and NE places.  But not to The Loaf until 2004, and I can now attest to its awesomeness.  Sugarloaf IMHO is the closest to West skiing in the east.

post #3 of 14
What a wonderful read! Thanks for sharing your memories. I want to be that guy too.
post #4 of 14

Hey, Uncle Phil sounds like a righteous dude..... but who taught you to write and to share?  Kudos to them tooThumbs Up

post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by bumpfreaq View Post

Hey, Uncle Phil sounds like a righteous dude..... but who taught you to write and to share?  Kudos to them tooThumbs Up

My friend, thanks for asking. That would be my dear uncle as well. While practicing law for 63 years, my uncle also shared his passion for art and architecture in eloquent little books meant for young eyes; and for older ones, in a regular column he wrote for the Portland Press Herald for 50 years. While I always admired my uncle's skills on the hill, in truth, for him, the pen was even mightier than the ski. 

post #6 of 14

Thanks for that D1.  I'm a bit of an oddity in my family.  I loved snow just like the typical kid the first time I saw it when I was 2 or 3 as a child in Oklahoma.  But, unlike my fellows the novelty never wore off and I still get just as excited about it every year as I did back then.  So, I obsessed over it continually as a child begging my parents to get me skis even though snow (and hills) were few and far between.  Finally, while living in Alexandria, VA I got a pair of Sears skis.  They were crude molded white painted fiberglass with no edges and nothing but a single loop hole and leather strap to hold them to my boot.  I think there were also some aluminum poles with the set but only really remember the skis.  I played with them in the back yard every time we got some snow or ice.  Then, one day my parents told me dad had landed a job in Minnesota.  I knew almost nothing about geography being only 7 at the time but got super excited when they told me it snows a lot there!  Once settled in there I started collecting garage sale ski gear (always way too bog for me) that I learned on out on the rolling hills of MN farm country on the edge of our suburban town.  Playing hockey and skating helped me learn to REALLY turn the skis and enhanced my overall balance.  A few years of this went by then finally, the greatest Christmas present ever...  A Christmas Break lesson and lifts package at the local ski hill... A REAL SKI HILL!:yahoo:


From then through Jr High it was ski club weekly trips and spending all my driveway shoveling and paper route money on skiing in the winter and skateboarding or golf in the summer.  Got competitive in USSA Freestyle around 10th grade, also learned to ski gates some and started teaching my senior year.  Now I'm just a recreational hack and still loving it just like that first snowfall back in Oklahoma.  My sis, mom and dad never quite got it.  I did teach sis to ski and she'd go with me occasionally. 


Now, my kids LOVE snow,.   Son skis, daughter just likes sledding and playing in it.  They're 9 and 11 now.  Hope the daughter picks up interest in skiing or snowboarding in the future but not pushing it on her. 

post #7 of 14

D1, thank you for giving us all your memories to share.  


It would be a better world if we all had an Uncle Phil, or could be one.  

post #8 of 14
Inspiring article D1!
post #9 of 14
I really enjoyed reading that and relating your story to my early skiing years . Started out in the backyard and the woods down the street to the local town rope tow, which seems unbelievable now but 50 years ago we actually had snow on the ground in northern Pa. From Dec through March. Always loved skiing and feel very fortunate and grateful to all the people involved in my life over the years that have provided me with the opportunity and in my adult years supported my desire to ski.

In more recent years I have been able to ski in Colorado taking multiple trips per season to compliment my continued skiing here in SW Pa. I' ll be in Vail to start the season in a couple of weeks and starting to get excited. I have told myself that if I get to the point where I become jaded and no longer feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world when I walk up Bridge Street to catch the first chair ( now gondola) I need to scrap it and quit going. I hope that never happens and I will be disappointed if it ever does. I fel very fortunate that my life and situation has provided me the opportunity to be a life time participant . Maybe worse than diminishing skills would be becoming a jaded skier. I sure hope the latter never occurs.

I wish everybody here at Epic a great upcoming season.
post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Stranger View Post

D1, thank you for giving us all your memories to share.


It would be a better world if we all had an Uncle Phil, or could be one.

Beautiful. Thank you on behalf of my uncle. There is no greater gift a child can receive, or later share as a "grown-up," than kindling a passion that reminds you what it was like to be a kid every time you do it.

Edited by deliberate1 - 11/18/13 at 9:35am
post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by roundturns View Post

In more recent years I have been able to ski in Colorado taking multiple trips per season to compliment my continued skiing here in SW Pa. I' ll be in Vail to start the season in a couple of weeks and starting to get excited. 

Like you, my uncle and ski family annually convened in Vail in more recent years.

Even in his mid 80's he was never "old" in any sense of the word. He celebrated his 85th birthday by climbing into Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington, some 70 years after his first trip on that hallowed  ground. And just a year ago, at 88, he traveled to Uzbekistan - not in a group. Solo. He had explored every bordering country. Only the Uzbek remained untouched.

But when he skied, he did fancy being the old man of the mountain. On one occasion in Vail a few years ago, he spied a man of a certain generation who appeared to be taking a group lesson. Ever the competitor, he invoked his son to inquire of the instructor. On his return after a brief chat with the ski pro, my cousin grimly reported to his father that the man in question was, in fact, in his mid 90's and a fine skier. And while he was not participating in the lesson, his 25 year old girlfriend was.

I want to be that guy too.


post #12 of 14



Great article, there really are some talented people here @ Epic Ski.


I live in the West now, have for a long time, but I always tell everybody (who will listen) it doesn't get any better than Tuckerman's!

post #13 of 14

his 25 year old girlfriend was.    Macho!!!!

post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by gpaulski View Post

his 25 year old girlfriend was.    Macho!!!!

No. Vail.


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