Sunday, June 3, 2007

Winter in Southern Vermont

Another travel writing piece from 2002:

I had spent many winters in this little ski town in southern Vermont. So many, in fact, that it started to feel like a home to me. I knew the house at the end of High Hopes Road as well as I knew my own, and I knew my way around the woods surrounding the house; I had followed the little stream up to the tiny waterfall and back down again during falls, winters, summers and springs.

This time, however, I was here with a friend, a friend who wanted to see Vermont for what it really is. I was self appointed as her enthusiastic tour guide, and I swore I would give her an authentic experience.

West Dover, Vermont, is located about 40 minutes off of Exit 2 on I-91. Because of its convenient location, it has become a popular tourist town during all seasons, except for spring, maybe, when half of the roads are closed due to thawing of the frozen ground. During the summer, people from New York and Connecticut drive the three hours up here to play golf, to go fishing or to bike and hike the mountains.

During the fall, the same tourists come up here to stay at a Bed & Breakfast and enjoy the magnificent change of colors on the trees. There aren’t many things to do, but just driving around to take in all the beauty is enough for most people.

During the winter, West Dover is flourishing. With its five ski shops just in the center of town it serves the tourists with all the newest equipment necessary to hit the slopes. Mount Snow is located not even five minutes from the center of town, and while the price of a lift ticket is on the steep side, it is nothing compared to the tickets at classy Stratton Mountain, located only fifteen minutes away.

This time there was no snow on the ground, but since it was winter, my friend decided she should try skiing at Mount Snow. After spending three days relaxing at the house – eating, watching movies, and sleeping – we dragged ourselves out of the heavenly comfortable beds at 7:30 in the morning to go rent skis. We were the first to enter World Class Ski Shop that morning, and as I started filling out the release form for rentals, Mirek, the Czech store owner, came running into the store from his back office.

“It’s been a while since you were here,” he remarked. “We changed some things around.”
Being that I own my own equipment, as do most people who spend at least five weekends a year in Vermont, I had never actually rented skis for my own benefit. I had, however, brought Mirek many other customers, and I was well-known among the staff. Since it was a Wednesday at the end of the season, Mirek didn’t expect nor did he have many customers, so he gave us all his time and attention.

The first ski boot was tried on, and my friend started complaining. “It hurts. Is it supposed to feel like this? I think it is too small.” Mirek and I glanced at each other over the counter.
“Push your knee forward,” I instructed. “Are your toes hitting the front of the boot?” My friend said they weren’t, but that the boots hurt around her ankle.

Mirek looked at my friend with sympathy and asked if she had ever skied before. She told him the truth and he said, “I’ve got just what you need, then” and he picked up the shortest pair of skis I had ever seen given to an adult.
“These are shaped skis and they will help you turn,” he said.

Except for the fact that I had told her many times how easy it was to ski, my friend’s upcoming disappointment really wasn’t my fault. I walked over to the tiny ticket-window to purchase the lift tickets while my friend was stumbling along in her boots, and the equipment pointing in all sorts of directions. She started complaining that her feet hurt. I told her she would be fine.

We did a ten-minute lesson in how to put the skis on – toes first and then push the heel of the boot down. Take the skis off and try again. My friend was very nervous about the lift, but I tried to calm her down by saying that it was easy; she didn’t have to do anything except to sit down, and then stand up again.

When the lift chair finally approached us my friend fell, and the South African seasonal worker had to press the emergency stopper. Getting off the lift was easier, and then we started with the turning. Rather, I turned – my friend didn’t.

To me, the slope we were on seemed flat enough for a beginner – a beginner who had refused to sign up for ski-lessons. As I skied across the trail I instructed, “Put your weight on the left side of your skis and lean towards the mountain.”

I stopped and turned around. My friend was going straight down. “Turn, turn, turn!” I yelled, but it was too late. She was already sitting down, poles sticking out of the snow a little bit above her.

Lessons in snow plowing, getting up without going straight down, and bending your knees followed, and after an hour we were finally at the bottom of the bunny slope. “I’m not doing this anymore,” my friend said. “You go on without me.”

After returning my friend’s skis to a smirking Mirek at the ski-shop, my friend wanted to stop at a souvenir store she had seen on the way. I hesitated for a moment. That shop was no place for me. What if someone I knew saw me go in there? On the other hand, I thought, what is wrong with being a tourist every now and then? Plus, it was for my friend’s sake we were going into the store, not for me.

My friend looked around at all the moose shirts and Mount Snow hats, and I stayed uncomfortably in one corner of the store. “Look at this one!” she suddenly yelled to me from across the store. “Wouldn’t this be great for my mom? Come and look at it!”

Forty dollars later I managed to sneak out of the gift shop and crawl back into my car. What made it even worse was that I had Vermont plates on my car. Vermont cars do not park outside gift shops.

We drove past Barry’s house and continued down to the General Store, where I pulled up with my pick up truck in front of the sign saying “Parallel parkers will be shot.” “I’m just going in to get some milk and cheese,” I said. “Do you wanna come?”

I always had to get cheese when I went to the General Store. This store is the only place I know where they actually sell real Vermont cheddar cheese, not the kind you get at Stop and Shop. The cheese is displayed in the store on a big, round pillar, and Lissa cuts pieces out of it like you would cut a piece of cake.

As we are watching the cheese being cut, a man walks past us into the narrow isle of pasta. “That’s Dan Hescock,” I whisper. “He is the guy that always inspects my car.”

This car inspector is widely known, not only up here in Vermont. Hescock is the reason why my car is still out on the roads, even though I have no horn, no parking break and no back-up lights. Every year when I go to inspect my car, he says to me, “It looks like your back-up lights aren’t working,” and I give him a surprised look and say, “Oh, really?” Sometimes he asks if I want him to take a look at it, and sometimes he just says I should consider getting it fixed. I really should consider getting it fixed. On the other hand, I don’t even know if the car will last until next year’s inspection, so what’s the point?

The only reason the car was purchased in the first place, by the man who owns the house at the end of High Hopes Road, was to drive garbage to the dump. Oh, the Dump! I realize this is the only thing I have forgotten to show my friend.

The Dump, where everything is now sorted into household garbage on the left, colored glass and white glass a little further over, and metal, scraps and anything else you can’t dispose of on the right. The Dump is usually muddy, but the man who works there is nice. When I tell my friend about it she isn’t excited at all about going to see it.

“But the man who works there gives you lollipops when you drop off all your bottles and cans,” I say enthusiastically.

My friend just shakes her head at me. Maybe another time.

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