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The many rewards of occasionally playing hooky

cynthia needham/globe staff

The author and her husband enjoy the quiet of a weekday ski getaway.

By Globe Staff 

I’ve played hooky exactly twice in my life.

The first time was in college, in the late 1990s, when a guy I knew convinced me I should ditch my American Literature seminar for a day of skiing. I remember rather indignantly telling him I’d never before skipped school and had no plans to start now, thank you very much.

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But his broad smile and the promise of free beer somehow prevailed and the next thing I knew we were rattling north in his rusty VW for what turned out to be among the best ski days I could recall.

It was sunny and crisp and the romance had decent potential. But what I remember most was the glorious emptiness of it all. Gone were the frigid lift lines and endless cafeteria waits that so often define New England skiing on a weekend.

The wide open stretch of corduroy and the rush of gliding straight onto the lift without stopping offered up a new kind of thrill. I wasn’t sold on the truancy thing, but midweek skiing had pretty much captivated me.

And the second date with the guy? There wasn’t one. It ended like so many college courtships do. He left a few weeks later to study abroad and we drifted.

Or maybe I should say there wasn’t exactly a second one. Because there was. It came nearly 20 years later when his name popped up in my inbox. We reconnected and laughed a bit about that first — and last — day skipping class. He’d grown grayer and I’d learned to take myself less seriously. But it felt the same. It felt easy.

Cynthia Needham/Globe staff

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Somewhere in there, he slipped in a line about second chances and this time the story had a happy ending. Last year we married. And there have been plenty of bluebird ski days since. What we never did was play hooky again.

But lately, he’s been bugging me that we should do it: Skip work, find a good overnight deal, and dash off in search of first tracks, ideally at a place with a few more amenities than we could afford in college.

When I went in search of midweek deals, I found a slew of ski and stay packages. I’m a skeptic when it comes to deals like that, reasoning that they must overcharge for the convenience of all-in-one pricing. The numbers, though, quickly proved me wrong: $259 a night at the Omni Mount Washington Resort, $298 at Loon. With two all-day ski passes included, that makes for a reasonably priced stay, and one that can be full of perks as hotels look to fill rooms however they can.

We chose Stowe, a night at the slopeside Stowe Mountain Lodge. At $339, it was a slightly more expensive package, but the ski-in-ski-out feature and the mountain’s impressive terrain made it worth the expense. We decided on a Sunday night stay with skiing on Monday. Our rationale: we’d get two days to enjoy the resort at discounted weekday prices, while taking just one day off from work.

Industry insiders will tell you Monday is the day when they ski, when the mountain is at its most peaceful, empty of the day-tripping masses.

Our gear loaded early Sunday, we headed north. But the similarities to that first trip two decades back ended the moment we arrived and the valet staff whisked away our ski gear. It got better when the clerk at check in noted that the hotel was quiet after the weekend madness and would we like a complimentary upgrade to a room with a fireplace and a sitting area?

That first day, we snowshoed and swam in the outdoor heated pool and ate burgers in the sumptuous lounge and read books in front of the fireplace. For us die-hard New England skiers, there’s a certain charm in the threadbare inns that dot ski towns. But when you’re sneaking away for a single night, touches like deep leather couches and Simon Pearce accents make it feel like a genuine getaway.

Anyone who has schlepped skis and boots from some distant parking lot will understand the best part came the next morning at the ski valet. Outside, our skis waited on the snow, while inside the valet room, decorative rugs and upholstered benches beckoned us to stay a while as we wrestled on our boots. You have no idea how nice this is until you try it.

What followed was a weekday just like I remembered from all those years ago. The snow had just finished falling, and with so few skiers on the mountain, the dusting of powder was barely touched. We zoomed through lift lines, jumped on the empty gondola, and raced our way down the steeps. Our joints may be creakier nowadays, but the delight of the open trail hadn’t changed.

There’s something restorative about a free weekday you’re not supposed to be taking, a day when everyone else is working and you get to slow down, turn off your phone, and breathe some fresh air. If you’re making up for 20 years of missed lift rides together, even better.

A one-night stay meant we had to pack up and drive home that afternoon, but the hotel extended checkout until 2 p.m. (For an extra $75, they let you stay until 6 p.m.) We didn’t mind. This wasn’t a true vacation, just a chance to slip away, with the added bonus of waking up there.

And yes, I told my boss ahead of time that I wouldn’t be in that day. So it wasn’t technically a hooky day. But as I guy I know once said, when you get a second chance, you take it.


Cynthia Needham can be reached at cneedham@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @globecynthia.