I'm Fiending For a White Christmas
There's something essential about the holidays in the mountains.
The tree was trimmed, the gifts were wrapped, the stockings were hung by the bookcase with care (there are few chimneys in Queens), and I’d even been playing Christmas music non-stop a week before the holiday itself, but still, it all didn’t feel quite right. Something was missing.
Snow. With the exception of a post-Thanksgiving storm that mostly missed New York City and a brief but intense squall that dusted the Northeast last week, there had been precious little of the white stuff we all jones for. If I wasn’t quite in the Christmas spirit, it’s because I needed to see some snow.
Which isn’t uncommon this time of year. I was flipping through the channels last week while putting lights up and I came across White Christmas, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, which I hadn’t seen in almost three decades. I’d forgotten that the film is set in Vermont, and that a lack of snow in “America’s winter playground” was a central plot point.
Besides, I hadn’t been on a mountain in almost a month. I knew my ski calendar would take a big hit when my wife and I welcomed a baby into the world this past June, but I didn’t think I’d go almost an entire month without skiing. I mean, what am I, a normal person who skis just a few days a year?
No. I am a ski junkie. And damn it, I hadn’t been keeping up my professional ski junkie appearances.
So I blasted through all of my last-minute Christmas obligations, feverishly decorating our home, knocking out some essential holiday food shopping, and speed wrapping a few dozen gifts like Buddy the Elf. And when I saw early last week that Vermont had gotten a fresh coating of six inches to cover up the damage from the rain storms of the prior weeks, I swapped out the diaper bag for a boot bag and woke at 4 a.m. on Saturday for the five-hour drive north.
Daddy needed a little self-care for the holidays. Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate. Just some friends, a few beers, and a couple of Ikon pass days before the blackout period hit Christmas week. Oh, and mountains covered in snow. Saturday at Killington, then Sunday at Sugarbush.
I was somewhere around New Haven when the sun rose – a glowing pink, purple, orange, and red sunrise that seemed festive enough for the holidays. By the time I hit the Vermont border, the sun was shining and I was driving through the snow-plastered landscape I’d been craving.
It was a small Christmas miracle when I passed through the town of Plymouth on Route 100 and saw the infamous Windsor County Sherriff’s vehicle parked on the other side of the road, waiting around the bend for citiots with New York license plates to come barreling through. I’m usually very careful about my speed on Vermont’s country roads, and I knew this speed trap well. VPR had done a story about Vermont’s top traffic-ticketing towns, and Plymouth ranked #1, yet I was tired from lack of sleep and excited to get back on skis. I was driving too fast, but I didn’t get pulled over. I counted my blessings, thanked Santa and Ullr, and checked my speed the rest of the way.
The snow, when I finally got to Killington and met up with Sendin’ Brendan, was better than I’d expected. Yes, there were Saturday crowds (though they never get too long, as the resort does an unmatched job of moving people around efficiently), and a few popular trails got skied off and scratchy in spots, but we were riding natural snow on some trails, hitting bumps on others, and there was even enough snow at the peak to allow patrol to open Upper Catwalk, so we even got in some hike-to turns. This was the White Christmas I’d been dreaming of.
Sure, we were skiing mostly groomers, but I got just what I wanted for Christmas – some time in a real-life snow globe. And so what if it hadn’t been shaken in a few days – the evergreens were still frosted white, and the ground was covered. We skied until my thighs burned like chestnuts on an open fire, then settled in for a long winter’s night of Bills-Patriots football, followed by a fantastic bowl of pasta putanesca at The Garlic.
We stayed in town and woke before sunrise for the drive north to Sugarbush, which takes about an hour. And just as on the drive on the day before, the sun put on a winter show for me, painting the Route 100 corridor in the pinks and yellows of an alpenglow morning. Vermont, like most of New England, has an admirably understated approach to Christmas decorations, and there are few over-the-top displays. Instead, simple candles light the windows in Victorian farmhouses, and strings tend to be white, or, if in color, few in number. It’s as if Vermonters are comfortable letting the Green Mountains do most of the decorating, and they add a few lights here and there, mostly as accents.
The Gate House Lodge was blasting Christmas standards, and the mountain beckoned. The snow, again, was fine. Choppy in parts, soft in others, but Paradise was open, as so was Paradise Woods, which was another small gift, considering the rains of the previous weekend. We skied until lunch then skied some more, hunting fresh corduroy, soft turns, and ungroomed whales. And when the day was over, I was tired, but recharged.
I came to Vermont for a little Christmas, and I found a sack full. I had just two more stops to make – one at Lawson’s Finest Liquids, where I picked up some Fayston’s Maple – a tasty-as-hell dark sipping beer perfect for Christmas – and then a quick detour off Interstate 91 at Rockingham, for some last-minute gift shopping at the Vermont Country Store, which is worth a stop any time of year but which is especially thematically appropriate three days before Christmas.
I couldn’t have asked Santa for more.