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CHRISTOPHER MUTHER

It’s all downhill from here. What happens when an adult learns to ski

A skiier who is far more skilled than the author heads into the sunrise at Stowe Mountain Resort.
A skiier who is far more skilled than the author heads into the sunrise at Stowe Mountain Resort.(Anderson James)

STOWE, Vt. — A funny thing happens every November in the Boston Globe newsroom. My editor mentions that our annual ski issue is coming up, and I make like one of David Copperfield’s rabbits and magically disappear.

I bear no ill will toward skiing. I have fond memories of sitting in ski lodges and eating nachos, as one does on a ski weekend. But the problem with going skiing is that eventually I’m expected to clip horribly uncomfortable boots to a pair of waxed up planks and go down a hill in the frostbite-inducing cold. I’m convinced this sport is the brainchild of some sort of Arctic Marquis de Sade.

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I’m not saying this as a passive observer. I was a member of my high school ski club, which meant that I climbed on a bus every Monday night, snowplowed my way through a couple of rounds on the bunny hill, and then retired to the lodge with a plate of nachos while watching “Designing Women.” Like a peacock in a parka, I left every ski tag on my jacket through the season, hoping the paper plumage gave the colorful illusion that I was tearing up the slopes.

Looking back now I regret not using my time more productively, although on the plus side I had a chance to watch many epic Julia Sugarbaker takedowns.

I am not Cher, therefore I cannot turn back time to fix my wasted ski club Monday nights, but this year I made a resolution that I would finally learn to ski. I found myself in Vermont at the Lodge at Spruce Peak (formerly Stowe Mountain Lodge) last month with a pair of waxed planks under my uncomfortable boots and a ski instructor at my side. I was taking two days of lessons and I was determined that I would come away like a latter-day Spider Sabich, but hopefully without Claudine Longet in the vicinity.

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“Let’s see what you can do,” said my instructor Rick Sokoloff .

I wanted to tell him what I could do was eat nachos and watch “Designing Women.” Instead I pushed the waxed planks toward a whisper of an incline called Inspiration and gradually slid down. He quickly took me to the next trail, called Easy Street. Small children whizzed past me (without falling) and this is where the lesson began. Instead of snowplowing, he showed me a technique that involved skiing from left to right, zigzagging down the trail. My skis were parallel and not in the familiar V position.

It was a glorious day. The temperature was in the 40s and the snow was soft. I was picking up on the technique — slowly.

“Just swish from side to side,” he offered.

“If there’s one thing I can do, it’s swish,” I said enthusiastically.

We then advanced to the next trail (also green), called Meadows. Finally, a trail that didn’t sound like a child’s board game. It was steeper, but not in a way that made me wish I was wearing an adult diaper. I may have fallen a couple of times — I guess my swish was not on point — but by the end of the lesson Sokoloff told me I was much improved. The next day we would try a more difficult trail.

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I nodded with a fake smile. The idea of a tougher trail was not on my agenda. I silently wondered if I should run into town and preemptively pick up a calcium supplement and some painkillers.

I decided I deserved a treat after my successful day and tried a massage at the lodge’s spa. I opted for the CBD oil massage, which, I learned, does not get you high. It’s intended to relax the muscles. I’m not sure if it worked, but I was ravenously hungry after and opted for the chef’s tasting menu at the Solstice Lounge that night, hold the nachos. My room at the lodge was a suite, complete with a fireplace. The décor was not the most up-to-date (renovations for the lodge are coming), but it had a proper ski house vibe and a full kitchen.

On day two of my lessons I arrived ready to build on my already impressive new cadre of skills. The temperature had dropped 20 degrees from the day before, so the snow had gone hard and crunchy. At least that’s the excuse I used when I met up with my instructor and appeared to have forgotten everything I had learned the day before. I had somehow regressed. Perhaps the CBD massage had relaxed my muscles too much.

The ForeRunner Quad chairlift at Stowe.
The ForeRunner Quad chairlift at Stowe. (Anderson James)

After a couple of hours of refreshing my meager abilities, Sokoloff decided it was time for me to take the gondola up Mount Mansfield, which is the highest mountain in Vermont. Despite the imposing altitude, he assured me that there was an easy green trail called Toll Road that I could ski. As we rose up 3,615 feet (but who’s counting), I was wondering if my life insurance policy was paid up.

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A funny thing happened when we skied to the start of that easy green Toll House trail. It was closed.

“You’re going to have to go down the blue trail,” Sokoloff informed me.

I informed him that there was no way in h-e-double hockey sticks that I would be skiing down a blue trail, especially one called Lookout Drop. It reminded me of the Grand Canyon with snow. This exchange went on for a few minutes.

When I realized there was no choice in the matter, I took a deep breath and began. Sokoloff coached me down telling me when to swish, and yelling for me to assume the teapot position (one arm slightly up, one down, crouched forward, and then switch!). I channeled every ounce of Angela Lansbury’s “Beauty and the Beast” teapot character I could and roared down the mountain.

“Tale as old as time,” I hummed to myself over and over.

At each stop, Sokoloff assured me the next portion of the mountain would be easier. It wasn’t. I may have snapped and called him a liar at one point.

This is how it continued as I made my way down the mountain. Swish and teapot, swish and teapot. It was 20 degrees and I was sweating through my long johns. At least I hoped it was just sweat.

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But then a miracle occurred. I made it down the blue trail without harm. I didn’t even fall.

Perhaps this was Sokoloff’s twisted teaching method, but it worked. The fear kept me in perfect form.

The lesson concluded, I thanked Sokoloff, and skied as if I was going back up the mountain. But as I saw him fade in the distance, I knew exactly what I needed to do: Locate a fireplace and the largest plate of nachos in Stowe — “Designing Women” optional.


Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.