Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Reverse Snow-Bird

Despite the colder-than-normal winter this year in Florida, many northeasterners still find their oasis on the sunny peninsula. While 49 states are receiving snow fall (yes, even Hawaii gets snow at the top of the volcanoes), Florida allows its residents to go snow-shovel free. No digging yourself out each morning in frigid temperatures; no warming your car up for a good five minutes while you scrap and re-scrap layers of ice off the windows. Yet many ‘now-native’ Floridians, myself included, complain when they have to cover their plants or actually put on a jacket and gloves, we forget how good we have it until…we head back north for the winter.

Though it would be a longer trek to go skiing, I promised myself when I moved to Florida six years ago, that I would try to get back to the mountains at least once a year. Packing for a five-day ski trip felt equivalent to packing for a semester abroad. Ski pants: check. Five sweaters: check. Three pairs of long-underwear: check. Five pairs of wool socks: check. A sense of sanity: left at the ticket counter at the Jacksonville Airport.

Learning from the past plagues of checked-luggage getting “re-routed”, I made sure to carry certain essentials on-board. Heading out into the Vermont tundra without a jacket, is a sure-fire way to become an ice sculpture in less than three minutes. This time, the luggage-gods were smiling. Gathering up bag after bag, I slowly made my way towards the exit. If I were to lean just slightly in the wrong direction, I would surely topple over.

All smiles, my Aunt came rushing towards me, arms stretched to receive a hug, only to be pelted in the face by my ski bag. “We’ll hug later, when it’s safe,” I remarked after making sure she wasn’t hurt. At first, the Burlington air is crisp and refreshing; the exposed skin on my face, tingling. By the time we reached the 3rd level of the parking garage, I was sure my cheeks had frost bite. Wrestling my luggage into her small Saturn, my toes were going numb. Hauling the 50lb suitcase up and into her trunk by arching my back so far a gymnast would be jealous, I was exhausted by the time I was finally defrosting under the car’s heater.

The next day, my Uncle “the human rooster”, awoke me from my cozy slumber at 6am, exclaiming, “Time to hit the slopes!” Climbing out from my four-layer blanket burrito, my feet hit the frigid wood floor and shot me airborne. Time to put on a pair of those wool socks!

The first mountain on our agenda…Stowe! Although technically it is Mt. Mansfield, Stowe is emblazoned on all the signs and gondolas. We hoped on the chair lift, which did move fairly quickly for a chair lift. Towards the summit, you entered into a haze of chilly wind. Looking at my Uncle, I knew the next trip to the top would be in the enclosed gondola, the epitome of ski luxury. At times, the sun attempted to peer through the clouds and luckily that helped warm the atmosphere, slightly.

Took a few runs to get the feel of being on skis again, but much like it is said about bicycling, “you never forget”. The exhilaration of tearing down a mountain returned and although the day flew by, I knew I had two more full days of skiing in front of me… “Pace yourself, Geiss.”

Normally when I visit my Aunt and Uncle, we head to Smuggler’s Notch but we were all feeling adventurous and wanted to try another ‘new’ mountain for the day. Here we come, Jay Peak! Located about twenty miles from the Canadian border, you could tell how far north you must be when hearing most of the skiers speaking French. At least I assume it was French. It had been snowing all day so the sky was a pink-hue, and the powder was in abundance as compared to the normally icy terrain of Vermont. Despite all the snow fall, Jay Peak had this crazy notion that they needed to make…more snow. Snow machines were cranking all over the trails and severely limiting the visibility. Doing my best to avoid their powerful sprays aimed right at any skier taller than three feet, I still had one almost knock me backwards. I must have looked like someone trying to do the limbo, only to hit my chin on the bar. I am sure Jay Peak is a beautiful mountain, if only I could have seen it.

“Oh, I don’t know about this. It is going to be mighty cold!” Coming from Uncle who has lived in Vermont for almost 40 years, for him to say the last day of skiing I have left is going to be “mighty cold”, gave me pause. Huddled over their computer, we studied the weather forecast at Smuggler’s Notch. Minus thirteen in the morning…may warm-up to zero by noon. “But this is it! This is the last day I have of left to ski for a whole year…I have to go!” Seeing my resolve, my Aunt offered to accompany me.

Wearing enough layers to resemble Randy from A Christmas Story, I almost couldn’t put my arms down. Never the ‘snow bunny’ type, I knew at least I would be warm enough to enjoy the day. Greeted by blue skies and still air, it was turning out to be fairly good ski conditions. The low temperatures, or lack of temperature, did result in my toes going numb at one point; perfect opportunity for a hot chocolate break.

We took the last few runs with unexpected zeal. Noting the clock each time we reached the lift, wondering if we made the next run just as fast, could we go once more before the lifts close? When we finally realized this would be our last time down, we took each turn, each corner a little smoother, a little slower. Remarking to myself at the beauty Vermont holds and why I made the resolution to return each year.

Getting off the plane in Florida, I called my brother to see if we were still on for playing tennis. No precipitation, 65 degrees, sun…

Returning to my car, I loaded up my skis and luggage, took off my bulky jacket and tossed it in the back seat. Sunglasses on, windows down…it was good to be home.

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