Top Ten Reasons to Ski: A Perspective
Author thumbnail By Jim Kenney, DCSki Columnist

Why ski? I offer my personalized top ten reasons, with some tongue-in-cheek.

10. …for the joys of winter: One February morning in 1979 I hopped on a bus with a friend in Rutland, Vermont heading out to begin a day of skiing at Killington. We knew it was very cold, still it was hard to believe when we passed a local bank and saw a thermometer that read minus 37 degrees Fahrenheit. I contributed to the sell-out of facemasks at Killington that day. We took a few more warm-up breaks than usual, but otherwise had an acceptable day of skiing. Ever notice how loudly snow squeaks when you walk on it with ski boots on the coldest days?

9. …to scintillate the senses with scenic vistas: Near Aspen, Colorado there is a group of 14,000 foot peaks called the Maroon Bells. Late in the day they take on a red tinge the travel brochures call Aspenglow. With a little imagination, they look like gigantic Christmas bells. If you do a short bit of bushwhacking from the top of the lifts at Aspen Highlands ski area you can get a beautiful birds-eye view of them. I keep a 1951 photo of the Maroon Bells by Ansel Adams hanging in my office. The best scenery in the East is the view of Mt. Washington from the slopes of Wildcat in New Hampshire. It looks like a giant Hershey’s Kiss with the tin foil still covering the top half. The view from the top of the lifts at New York’s Whiteface is impressively godforsaken. At about 4,800 feet, it is the highest lift served skiing in the Northeast. You don’t want to be caught up there on a broken-down lift; though the elevation is modest compared to the West, the wind can be bitterly cold.

8. …to indulge in Martha Stewart-style living: I usually seek out the cheapest room I can find when on a ski trip, but I got a nice January discount and stayed at the Sugarloaf Mountain Resort Hotel for a week in 1997. It was brand new at the time and had all the modern amenities. The hotel room contained a bedroom, living room and kitchen on one floor and a spiral staircase to a 2nd story bedroom and bath. I think American Skiing Company is building these hotels at all their ski resorts. Best of all, it was slopeside, which is an enticing feature as I get older. I haven’t quite got to the point where plush carpeting and chocolates on my pillow are musts, but this place had them. On the opposite end of the spectrum I stayed at the T-Lazy-7 Ranch near Aspen in 1991. It’s a working dude ranch in the summer, but they offer their relatively low cost, drafty, leaky cabins to skiers in the winter (at least they did in 1991). The rustic cowboy atmosphere was actually very neat and I’d go back there in a minute.

7. …for the adventure of travel: In periods when I’ve had more time than money (or sense), I’ve made two hardcore road trips from the Washington, D.C. area to Colorado for skiing. Once after an already long day on the road, I was driving across Vail pass with two ski buddies. Near the highest elevation (about 11,000 feet) we went into a total whiteout. We couldn’t see the car 10 feet in front of us, or the dozens of others all around us. For several miles we had to creep along at 5 miles an hour with the two starboard wheels on the shoulder so we could at least determine the edge of the road by the crunching sound of tires on gravel. Later when my bleary-eyed trio of Virginians pulled into Glenwood Springs, the motel clerk totally dissed us and said it’s like that all the time. A close second would be the time I drove up in an old car from Virginia to the Catskill Mountains of New York looking for a motel near Ski Windham at 1 a.m. I’d never been in the Catskills before and a pretty good snow squall made looking for the motel a very difficult prospect on the dark, desolate rural roadways. A flashing “check engine” light and a gas gauge reading on empty further heightened my adrenalin level during that search! The motel was finally located and I enjoyed visits to Ski Windham and Hunter Mountain over the next three days.

6. …to redefine (or set) personal limits: At Snowbird, Utah I skied some wild terrain underneath the tram to the edge of a precipice, the drop-off beyond went on for 1,000 feet and from my mid-Atlantic perspective looked to be in the extreme category of “if you fall, you die”. I think the area was part of what they call Great Scott. Since I had a family to care for back home and anticipated a full life ahead of me, not to mention two more days of a Utah ski vacation, I back-tracked from the edge of that cliff and bailed out down a more conventional black diamond run.

5. …to explore the depths of human ecstasy: Skiing in fresh, untracked powder is the Holy Grail for many skiers. A mid-Atlantic recreational skier can go for years without this experience. As a frequent skier with a season pass for many years, I took pleasure in a number of 5-15” powder days at Blue Knob. At my level (black diamond, but not big-time, double black diamond) I have found that about 10” of powder provides the maximum Shangri-La effect. In 1991 I was on a vacation in Aspen when it snowed 30” in 30 hours. It was pretty heavy stuff, however, definitely not feather-light powder. Is too much of a good thing possible? I went out and hit that snow like the once in a lifetime opportunity it was, but I had more wipeouts and got more tuckered-out than I had in many moons. The second day was colder and the snow actually got lighter and better. At that snow depth, skiing is sort of like striding down the middle of a flowing mountain stream. Once in a while I pull out a blurry keepsake photo of myself busting through hip-deep Aspen powder.

4. …to move a bonehead to wax philosophical: In the mid 1970’s I made a college spring-break solo road trip to Colorado. This was my first ski trip to the west, which is an awesome revelation for any young mid-Atlantic bred skier. I slept in my 1969 VW Bug some nights. I don’t think I paid more than $15 for a motel room. One of my first stops was Vail. Halfway up the mountain my chairlift crested a ridge and before me lay Mid-Vail, a large, open bowl area. There was a lodge there surrounded by outdoor grills and 15,000 people partying in the March sunshine at 9,500 feet. I was about 21 and I said to myself “wow, this is the big-time!” However, later I had a real epiphany about life from that solo experience and it has much relevance to the me-generation of which I am a part. I can sum the thought up with a line from Mark Twain, “to get the full value of a joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.”

3. …for the thrill of romance: I still too frequently abandon all else for the goddess of snow, but since 1980, a good bit of my skiing has been a shared activity with my bride. One of our earliest “dates” was a night ski trip to Ski Liberty. The highlight of the evening was a wonderful ride home together in the backseat of a friend’s car. Over the years my wife and I have hot-tubbed at Killington, discoed at Snowshoe and even taken a horse-drawn sleigh ride under the starry skies of Aspen.

2. …to instill pride: Three years ago at Killington all four of my children were, for the first time, capable enough to join my wife and I on skis. My youngest was 5 at the time and limited to beginner trails, but my older 3 went all over with me on the many blue trails of that sprawling mountain complex. I hope it doesn’t reveal too much about my flawed parental instincts, but I never enjoyed their company more. I’ll also cherish the last few years my dad went skiing with my kids and I before arthritis finally caused Grandpa to hang up his skis in 1995 at age 75.

1. …to engender eternal optimism: As for my very best ski day; there have been some wonderful, sunny, 40 degree, powdery ski days, but as long as I can still buckle my boots I’ve got to believe the best is yet to come.

About Jim Kenney

Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.

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