Thursday, January 22, 2015

Embracing winter - Carrabassett Valley, Maine

My two kids sandwiching one of their friends

So it's my first winter in New England in 24 years. That's insane. But true. We've enjoyed sledding and skating and making snow angels, right here in our own backyard. Then our friend-neighbors--can I go with "Friebors" or does that imply Star Wars characters? --invited us up to ski with them at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. We jumped on the chance, even though Sugarloaf lies roughly four hours north of us and there are plenty of other mountains closer. After all, we had a four-day weekend to play with--one day of Martin Luther King Jr holiday and one of teacher planning.  I also invited along a friend from Wellesley days who now lives in Freeport with her kids. I have a handy reference of the cast of characters at the bottom of this blog.

We had typically New England weather. When we went up on Friday afternoon, there were "snow squalls". As an aside, I just love New England weather euphemisms. What I know as "hail", they call "ice pellets." And you know how I feel about "nor-easters" as that was in a prior blog. At one point, on the worst day of skiing, I asked the guest services person what the conditions were like and she said they were "tricky to difficult." That is a euphemism for there are only 3 lifts open and 11 trails and they are all covered with sheer ice or slush or both. Or you could also call it "spring skiing." However, I digress.

Snow squalls are little whirling dervishes of snow gusts that attempt to blind the drivers so that they will visit snow banks which is part of the tourism feature of any winter highway. We had no issues, although we were warned twice by signs on the Maine Turnpike (after the sign, which I literally anticipate every single time I am in Maine--"Maine, the way life should be." That's just cute.) We heard from our friends and other skiers that the conditions on the mountain that day were roughly equivalent to a tornado-led whiteout. 

Sugarloaf Mountain. Awesome, but only about half open.

We were staying in a condo I found in I love these condo rentals in general--we've had nothing but good luck with them. Our 3-bedroom condo was not ski in-ski out but it was close to midlift so we walked five minutes in our ski boots, snapped on our skis, and descended another minute to the Snubber (possibly the ugliest-named ski lift I have ever met) to ride up to the base lodge area. Love it.

Now on the first day we had to rent equipment and get the kids all set up in ski school. First the kids. In a word, the ski school at Sugarloaf Mountain is fantastic. Truly. Okay, that was two words. Friendly, helpful, and they feed the kids some kind of mountain crack that cures a boy scared of skiing and chair lifts and makes him love every minute. Even when we had The Incident. But that's for later.  The classes went from 9:30 to 3 pm, and included lunch. The kids loved it. 

Then BH and I trompled up to rentals. After filling out monstrous amounts of paperwork about how we will not sue anyone or attempt to climb trees while wearing skis or whatever else I initialed, we had our equipment. And here is my plea to all you MITs out there. Please, please, please invent a better snow boot. That is one technology that has not changed in the 25 intervening years of my last real skiing. Dang, they're uncomfortable. And not pretty. There must be a better way. And yes, I know that they are how they are so I don't shatter my ankle in 15 places...still....

In another aside, I have to mention one big change from 20 years ago. Helmets: somewhere in the intervening 15 years since I have last really skied, everyone, or close to everyone wears helmets. There doesn't seem to be that whole Hell's Angels macho thing that you don't need to wear one, whatever. I think I only saw one person without a helmet during the whole four-day weekend. I credit the media on showing that crap happens like running into a tree--even to Michael Schumacher. So, good on us all. Plus they're warm. Love my helmet. It's purple.

And then we were out the door. Here is the truth of the truth and the snow of the snow (sorry ee cummings, I am butchering you), it is in fact just like riding a bicycle. Within five minutes, I had remembered everything including what happens when you cross your ski tips, or catch an edge. Within 20 minutes, I had crashed while trying to snow my friend's daughter (turns out that ice is not good for snowing). Within an hour I was loving it again. And a good thing too because Saturday was minus nine degrees. That's Fahrenheit. That's coooooooooooolllllldddddd.  And here I am getting to my point.

On our second lift ride up on the Whiffletree quad (I kept calling it Whifflepuff: I'm re-reading the Harry Potter books and it just sounds right), we sat next to a well-bundled up skier from Maine. And after hearing we had moved from Brazil, he said to us "The secret to surviving winter in New England is to embrace it."  When it's snowy and cold and horrible, snap on the skis and get out there. When the driveway freezes and your snowplower guy doesn't show up, skate on it. Embrace it. And that is what we are trying to do: embrace it. And wear face masks, two layers of long underwear, put those hot spot thingies in our boots and gloves and freeze. And embrace it. 

This blog would go on for pages and pages about how much we embraced it and had fun even after the superquad broke and we had a half-hour line at Whifflepuff on Sunday. And then it rained all night Sunday to Monday, killing off most of the snow and exposing the ice fields. At one point there were eight of us skiing together on an intermediate slope--even our experts skier was with us, and we had So. Much. Fun. 

Pretty much the weather we got (minus the 80 degrees) in four days. Oh plus minus-9.

The only not-fun is what I called The Incident. On the last day of skiing, which was Ice Monday, the kids were with us. The eight year old beginner skiers. And we decided to take them up a longer beginner run, which in retrospect was a major error on my part. Lalo was going to make it down no problem because he was skiing behind his hero (see cast of characters). Nico was going to look at the long downhill and freak out. And he did. He couldn't turn on the ice (in his defense, I could barely turn on the ice). We tried to make it down with him snow-plowing (apparently it is now called Pizza-ing) between my skis but the ice made us cross skis and crash. It took us nearly 40 minutes to get down a 7 minute slope. 

At the end, he was trying to make it down one bit by himself, and started going too fast, could not pizza, crossed his skis, fell and kept sliding fast towards the tree line. So I crushed him. Yep, it is an unknown ski move where the momma bear freaks out, skis over and tackles the child with her own body to stop the slide. I can only imagine what this looked like to the rest of the skiers out there. Nico then unsquished himself, shook himself off and said "mom, I think I'll walk from here." He walked down in his ski boots, then snapped his skis back on when he got to the bunny slopes and took off. No permanent damage. We skied for two more hours...but on the bunny slopes.

The weekend was filled with skiing, good food, fireplaces, kids and friends, laughter, the DeflateGate AFC championship game watched at our friend's condo, and a lot of freakin' cold weather. I embrace you, winter. What's next?

Cast of characters:

Me and the BH (Brazilian husband): intermediate and beginner skiers, respectively. Well, BH is higher than beginner--he can get down just about any hill but really only picked up skiing as an adult. I would not push him down a black diamond though unless I was pretty sure his life insurance is up to date.

The twins, age 8: skied once in Illinois (400 feet of vertical drop, I think it was officially measured).Did awesome.

The Freibors: Alyson is a Minnesota-Wyoming girl and a high intermediate or low expert. Her Slovak husband is craque. That is Brazilian for holy cow. He wore a bright red jumpsuit on the hill which looked orange to me with my red goggles. His wife called him Big Red, I called him traffic cone. Not to his face. He could push me down a black diamond too.

The Freibors kids: Luke, age 13, Lalo's hero. Pictured above. Lalo would follow him down a black diamond probably. Alex, age 10, the snowboarder. Sam, age 6, the card-carrying ski school bomber. He did at least 50 more miles than the rest of us by skiing down the lower slopes and being hauled up on the Moose Caboose snowmobile. And Ava, age 2, who was in child care and skiing. And will be better than me by next year.

The Wendys: my friend from Wellesley who is around the same level as I am (oh, all right, she's bettter) and who I love to ski with given our skiing together 27 years ago (!!!) at Wellesley and having numerous adventures, one of which was skidding out on the highway in her Chevy Sprint and winding up in a huge snowbank. No harm, no foul. And her kids who I am not sure I'm allowed to name so I won't, a 14-year old girl who is better than I, and an 11 year old boy who also fit in the intermediate level.


  1. Sounds like you had a great time. I am sure that the twinkies will be pros by no time living where you live.

  2. hahahahahahahaha! I love your blog!

  3. One of your best blogs, evah. Kristin, I embrace YOU!