From the viewpoint of Stowe’s skiers and riders, this past week is nothing if not surreal.
As the shadow of COVID-19 loomed large over Stowe Mountain Resort, you had to know its impact on the provincial world of northern Vermont skiers could be huge. Think how fast the nationwide impact has spread. Unless you had your head planted firmly in the sand or some less sanitary place — think White House for a moment; Trump on TV Feb. 28: “It’s a hoax” — the NBA shutdown, no March Madness or other NCAA seasons, no America East championship for UVM, MLB, NHL … the list goes on and on.
Saturday was a sunny day on the mountain. It dawned cold and gray, but the rays of the mid-March sun soon cast a bright light over still-frozen slopes. The resort had already addressed social distancing — who two weeks ago had even heard that term? — by suggesting not sharing the gondola with people other than friends and family and not getting on the chair with strangers.
Your Scribe determined to do the right thing and either rode alone or with a maximum of two others, figuring that the space on the quad and the breeze gusting occasionally to 30 mph would maintain an isolation zone.
But the word had already come down that both Jay and Burke were shutting down. So here was The Scribe, having crossed over along Rim Rock to the Gondola where he knew late afternoon sun would soften the snow, skiing almost solo at 3:55 and thinking to himself, “This might well be the last lift-served run of the season.”
Strange prospect to contemplate — no skiing on St. Patrick’s Day and no late spring corn to make heroes out of old graybeards lured out of winter retirement for just one fun day in the sun.
By Sunday morning it was official. The word had come down from on high in Broomfield, Colo., headquarters of the Vail Corp: Stowe along with all their other resorts would cease operations from March 15-22.
So, there you had it, COVID-19 had brought the ski world to its knees. Viewing this momentous news through a lens opened by texts arriving from ski buddy Chris Cady, your Scribe thought to himself, “Not betting here that the lifts will be spinning March 23.”
A rapid scramble through the internet of the ski world revealed that lift-served skiing would soon be hard, if not impossible, to find. Tahoe shut down, Colorado shut down and here in Vermont — Stowe, Sugarbush, Jay, Burke, Okemo, Mount Snow, Stratton and yes, even Killington — all done for the season. But here and there, The Scribe learned that not every ski area was done for the foreseeable future. Smugglers’ Notch was going to remain open, so were Bolton and, no surprise here, Cochran’s, that wonderful home to the most dedicated skiers in Vermont.
A plan began to take place in the fevered mind of The Scribe. The day could start at Smugglers’ Notch — a lap or two on the Sterling chair and then a trip across Sterling Pond to the famed Snuffy’s Trail linking Stowe and Smugglers’ since the 1950s. That would lead to a descent down the Big Spruce side of the resort.
Then, from there, with a car parked in the Big Spruce lot, the next stop could be Cochran’s. Felt like an excellent way to spend the Sunday skiing, even if most of the world was on lockdown.
There was only one hitch: How to get to Smuggs for the start of the journey and end up with a car at Big Spruce. Finally, after a bit of whining and cajoling, Ms. Scribe agreed, reluctantly at best, to provide the necessary missing ingredient, transportation. Putting up with The Scribe is not an easy task, but halfway to Jeffersonville, an admission came from Ms. Scribe, “It is actually a nice day for a drive.”
A few more minutes and we reached the upper lot at Smugglers’. Skis on, down to the base lodge to negotiate lift access and sure enough, the Sterling Chair was in operation. A quick run down nicely groomed terrain with only a few skiers and riders in view, another lift ride up the hill and your Scribe was soon skiing onto the surface of Sterling Pond.
No one who skis or rides in Stowe should ever say, “I’ve never done Snuffy’s.” It runs gently downhill, at least on the return route from Pond to Sterling Trail, and brings you onto The Sterling Trail, a few hundred yards uphill from where Whirlaway spills out onto Sterling.
Sterling had pretty good cover most of the way down. It was firm but, as The Scribe got to the lower elevations of this 2-mile descent, the snow was softening. There was something else: Skiers were coming down from above and skinning up from below. Apparently skiing in Stowe was not yet done. Some were familiar faces. Richie and James Rosenbloom were on their way up to ski Main Street in sunshine. Denny Boyle was climbing with his two dogs. A family from Boston — regular visitors all winter — were making the most of their time here in Stowe.
The Scribe traversed over to Main Street on Cut Across #3, took a quick detour by the MMSC clubhouse to pick up his race skis — guess there won’t be any more bum racing this winter — and was quickly loading up the car, ready to head to Cochran’s.
Funny thing, though, the lot was almost empty when he arrived but now there were more than two dozen cars.
On his way south, The Scribe made a detour over to the Mansfield side where he spotted nearly a hundred more vehicles. Lots of people determined to get some time on the hill no matter what the lifts are doing.
Cochran’s was next and, with sun now shining more brightly than ever, he spotted Bobby Cochran, resting his blown ACL on the deck along with a bevy of cohorts. They were amused to see The Scribe hove into view. The instructions from the deck, “Go take some laps and, by the way, you know Bolton is still running.”
Bobby, for the immediate future on the DL, eagerly related two of his bedrock rules of ski behavior — only bad things happen in terrain parks and avoid the features. Of course, Bobby has always found it difficult to listen to reason so, sucked into the park on race night at Bolton, he blew his knee up on something known as the “cereal bowl.”
The T-bar at Cochran’s was running, there were skiers here and there, but three runs down three different trails revealed that that little area still offers some of the best snow to be found. Along the way, your Scribe even acquired a cold beer; a nice bonus on a pleasant journey.
Then it was off to Bolton. While driving toward his fourth ski area of the day, The Scribe realized that the three areas still offering lift rides had one common denominator — all were owned and operated by Vermonters. The mega-corporations had pulled the plug; the local areas were reacting a little more slowly.
The final stage was soon reached after that long 4-mile uphill drive, but sure enough, the lifts were still spinning. One last ticket negotiation — thanks be to the magic of the VSAA Gold Card, good at every area in the state — skis on once again and it was off to the top of Bolton.
Three more runs followed and, with 4 p.m. approaching, The Scribe was ready to call it a day. He trudged back to the car and as he neared his trusty Prius — 261,000 miles and still going strong — he noticed the distinct odor of that ever-present ski bum known as Bud Green.
There was a kid at the car parked next to that of your Scribe. He was listening to Travis Tritt and enjoying the sun. Turns out he hailed from North Carolina, it was his first time ever on skis and he had had a terrific time.
There is still hope for life after Covid-19. Now go skin up the mountain on the next sunny day; after all, spring is just about here and hope against hope that the lifts spin once more before gardening season arrives.
Kim Brown, a ski bum by winter and a hacker by summer, lives in Waterbury Center with his very understanding family. Email letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.