Fun For Everyone in Vermont
By Meryl Robinson
Photography By Hubert Schriebl
One of my favorite skiing memories is from the year I was a ski instructor, and actually doesn’t really involve skiing at all. I loved taking afternoon breaks on the Sun Bowl patio, where my kids and I would squeeze around one of the picnic tables and bask in the sunshine with paper cups of hot chocolate (it’s never too warm for hot chocolate). Helmets off and goggles on, our damp helmet hair got crispy in the sunshine. We’d dawdle a bit to enjoy the warmth, the feeling of airing out and a few extra silly jokes.
Those half hours are still some of the more perfect moments of spring skiing for me—comfortable, relaxed, fun. Spring skiing is not really about the sun or the snow or the goggle tans. It’s about an emotion, a joyfulness and exuberance that springs up like a crocus out of winter’s grip.
Spring is the time when nobody can get enough. After ski school let out for the day, we coaches would change out of our red jackets and charge back out there so quickly that we hardly missed a chair. We did as many laps as we could before finally taking our high spirits to the Grizzly’s deck, still in ski boots, of course.
I spent the next winter doing a stint as a snow reporter. This meant coming up with new ways daily to describe what was so exceptional, so desirable, so un-missable about the mountain in the spring. We talked about goggle tans; about skiing in t-shirts; about the bumps, the soft snow and the “snowiest month of the year.” (March does usually rack up the highest snowfall totals, and we had charts to prove it.) All are true, but did they really hit the nail on the head?
The fact is, there are a million ways to pitch spring skiing, but only one that counts: it is just plain fun. Some of the most fun you’ll ever have on two boards. For a few weeks every year, we get to do something we love and—astonishingly—not suffer for it. On the perfect spring day, there are no hard patches, no runny noses, no need to do a gondola run to thaw your toes. Instead, we dress down, take off the layers and feel the sun on vitamin-D-deprived skin and the wind in our hair (leg hair, if you’re brave).
Once the layers are stripped, so is all seriousness.
Smell the Syrup
Stop and smell the maple syrup this spring and you’ll notice that everyone gets goofy in the springtime. There’s a whole different atmosphere around the slopes: the lifties crank the stereo, the one pieces and football jerseys come out, the sunglasses come on, and suddenly, it feels like Glen Plake could slide by any minute.
There are stories, bordering on mythology, that testify to the reckless abandon of spring skiers. Maybe you remember the days when grillmeisters loaded their charcoal-bellied beasties onto the chairlift, or when the only proper accompaniment to an on-snow picnic was a bottle of wine chilled in a snow bank. Legend has it that the halfpipe wall made a primo kegerator during the early U.S. Opens.
For a few weeks every year, we get to do something we love and—astonishingly— not suffer for it. On the perfect spring day, there are no hard patches, no runny noses, no need to do a gondola run to thaw your toes. Instead, we dress down, take off the layers and feel the sun on vitamin-D-deprived skin and the wind in our hair (leg hair, if you’re brave).
Some of the most fun and memorable on-snow events are packed into spring weekends, one after another. Many budding snowboarders have fond memories of posting up at the halfpipe to watch the greats fly at the U.S. Open; older ones have some kind of memory of the after parties at the Green Door. Nowadays, there’s a non-stop string of high-spirited snow days, from the 24 Hours of Stratton to the Vermont Open and culminating in final fanfare of the Pond Skim.
Some springtime shenanigans are a bit more subtle now—kegs don’t make an appearance, but incognito brewski transport is easier thanks to Burton’s tube-shaped cooler bag (a Beeracuda). There are a few places to score a freshly grilled burger hidden about, but the locations are a state secret (and you didn’t hear that from me). But anyway, who cares what those other guys are doing? The whole point of spring riding is freedom—just do what feels right.
If it feels right to go skiing wearing nothing but your favorite swim trunks, well, you’re braver than I am. It’s always a trip to see how everyone shows up to the mountain: in thrift store finds or ridiculous get-ups rescued from last year’s Halloween costume. I’ve even seen Captain America make an appearance. For a couple of weeks it’s okay to wear just goggles on a naked head, because, marketing lingo aside, a goggle tan really is a mark of pride.
There is no room for whiners in the spring. The snow can be amazing or it can be sparse, but either way, it’s up to you to make it a good time. I was lucky enough to be one of Stratton’s snow reporters during the “winter that wasn’t,” the year that ended much too early after a string of 80-degree days in mid-March. By the last week, the remaining trails were connected by carefully constructed, narrow goat paths, which had to be cruised at maximum speed, both because of the sticky snow and because it’s more fun that way.
That year, Upper Standard was patchy with big stripes of brown and green, so conditions were ripe for pioneering a new spring sport: grass riding. From the gondola you’d see those hotdogs line their noses up and just send it downward, jolting a bit at the transition but nearly always making it across the grassy divide.
As my great friend Meredith happily declares each and every spring: There is fun to be had.
I think there is no better spring mantra. After we’ve all had our fun on the snow, I’ll see you on the deck at Grizzly’s. ◊
-Meryl Robinson is a writer who lives in Brattleboro.