Swoosh, swoosh, splat

(photo by Violet Snow)

Skiing, you may have heard, is fun. I am here to report that this is true.

Forgive me, I’m a terrible Catskillian, but for years, I’ve been cranky about skiing, mainly for occupational reasons. I’ve spent most of the last decade running a news site that devoted an inordinate number of words to Belleayre Mountain.

For a mid-rate state-owned tourist attraction in the middle of nowhere, Belleayre churns out news like a politician with a Twitter problem. Headline upon headline. Hopes raised, and dashed, and raised again. Rumors of scandal. A beloved manager sacked under a cloud of mystery. Layoffs and outrage. Takeover by ORDA. The yearly ritual of prostrating to Albany for dribs and drabs of money. Above all, there were the endless legal machinations over the mythical Belleayre Resort, which after almost twenty years of plans and lawsuits is now awaited more fervently than the Messiah.


It is all rather predictable and exhausting. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like sitting through three-hour-long public meetings devoted to speeches on Why Skiing Is So Vital To Our Local Economy to ruin the whole alpine vibe for a person.

I might have gotten over it, except in 2011, I smashed up my leg while engaged in the perilous winter sport known as “walking to the car.” The good folks at Dutchess Orthopedic put it back together with nine titanium screws and a plate. My right tibia is now basically Fort Knox, so if I decide to smash myself up again, I’ll have to do it in some different extravagant way.

Needless to say, the whole mess put me off skiing for awhile. Until this week, when I ventured up the mountain for the first time in a decade.

A couple of friends visited us from the city during school vacation and wanted to go to Belleayre, which is always how we end up doing all the fun Catskills things. I considered begging off, but in the end, I decided that a metal leg and ten years of letting my skills get rusty were no excuse. To the hills!

For the record, doing the thing is more fun than listening to public officials yawp about it. Turns out skiing is great, and sort of refreshingly retro. Right now, the trend around here is for things to be authentic, for weathered barn doors and pillows made of feed sacks and carrots with the perfect amount of dirt clinging to them. Amid all this curated rustic wabi-sabi, there’s something defiantly, un-Instagrammably oldschool about skiing.

Nothing about skiing is authentic. For starters, you have to peel the entire rind off a mountain, shave it right down to the topsoil, and then pack and grade and roll and groom it into freakish flatness. Then you spend months running artificial snow machines day and night to make sure it doesn’t revert to the natural state of a Catskills mountain slope in February, which is basically a grit Slurpee. Then you herd up a bunch of people swaddled in synthetic high-tech gear, relieve them of shocking wads of money, and pull them up the mountain on giant metal death contraptions.

Which reminds me: the ski lift. I love the ski lift. It is my favorite thing. I live in terror of it. Every time I go on one, I’m convinced my ski tips are going to catch on the dismount and flip me right out of the chair and onto my head. The ski world has thoughtfully made all the ski tips nice and round while I was away, but that hasn’t stopped me from playing out exquisite 3D visualizations of my humiliating demise on the chairlift platform in front of a hundred goggling Jersey tourists.

Riding the ski lift is fun, apart from the terror of getting on and off of it, and if you get bored on the long ride up, you can amuse yourself by counting the fallen gloves and poles and, worryingly, bras that festoon the slopes below. But the most beautiful thing about the ski lift is that every single time I survive it, I am filled with renewed zest for life. Everything from here on out is gravy. I breathe a new air. I also yell “Woooooooo,” which is embarrassing, but it has to be done.

Anyway, skiing is wonderful. I should’ve come back sooner. By the third run, I was filled with daring, metal leg or no, and ventured even into the Terrain Park, where I went over all of the jumps very, very slowly, feeling like Elizabeth Swaney. Beijing 2022!

There is also snowboarding. Evidence abounds on the mountain that people can learn to stand up on a snowboard, although that seems on its face improbable. Belleayre is full of effortless athletes in moon boots, carving sweet elliptical swooshes into the side of the mountain, looking like a photo shoot from Outside magazine. It is impossible to snowboard without looking incredibly cool.

I have never been able to get anywhere with it. Mainly, I find the snowboard a wildly efficient device for putting the entire front of my body onto the ground: bof.

The most surprising thing about spending a day on the slopes is that it has cured me of some of my innate pessimism about climate change. I mean, yes, we’re all going to die, or at least make our grandchildren wildly miserable, but we’re not going to ruin skiing.

If anything was going to ruin skiing, it ought to have been Tuesday. It was fully 60 degrees. By two in the afternoon, we had shed every possible layer: jackets, scarves, vests, even our gloves. Every run we took down the mountain, zooming down toward the line for the chairlift, we skidded over a terrifying plateau of runny ice and went sklosh into a puddle of slush.

It wasn’t perfect. Nothing around here is. You know what? It was fun as hell. In a word: Whee.