Takeaways From Last Season

"There are no pitstops on a powder day."

As I made a pitstop in the woods last February—hunkered down behind a small evergreen in what I had come to call my pee place—I realized that I was thankful.

Not because I had found a place to inconspicuously drop trou in the woods off the Snowdon Sixpack, thereby negating the need to use a (gasp) public restroom during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. But because the ski season had happened at all. 

Yes, we had to make parking reservations, wear masks, quarantine if we were from out of state (you did, didn’t you?) and warm cold toes in our cars—or, in the case of some forward-thinking friends, in a used airport limousine with seats removed and a picnic table in the back. But the lifts ran, and the snow (mostly) fell. And every weekend, and midweek if we were lucky, we got out onto the slopes. Life was good.

And, let’s be honest, the restrictions and adaptations were not all bad for skiing. They were far better than, say, the invention of rear-entry boots or monoskis. In fact, some of the changes actually improved the experience, at least in my jaded “get off my lawn” opinion. 

Here are a few adaptations that I hope will carry forward when Killington opens to the public on November 23, pandemic or not.

  • Tailgating: Tailgating is, of course, not a new activity. But on sunny days when temperatures stayed above single digits—and even cloudy days with little wind and no snow (or, gah, rain)—parking lot “patios” sprang up like housing developments in Las Vegas. Those with RVs and repurposed airport limos lived large among the tailgating cognoscenti. But even those of us in Subaru Outbacks and Honda Accords could pull out lawn chairs and lay out a spread. Tailgating made skiing feel like a true outdoor adventure again, not a bourgeois pastime for the soy milk latte set. With the new K-1 lodge not opening until winter 2022/23, I hope the parking lot parties continue. Best tailgating gear (besides a cooler and portable grill)? A collapsible table, insulated beer koozies (so your hands don’t get cold holding your bev), a big plastic tub to toss all the dirty dishes into and a battery-powered espresso maker, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • Remote work: For those of us lucky enough to work from home during the pandemic, any day could be a ski day, even if just for an hour or two. If I missed answering an email or phone call while I was carving down Bunny Buster at 9:15 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, I could reply later and simply say I was “in a meeting,” then work a couple extra hours on the backside of the day. It allowed us Vermonters to be Vermonters, enjoying the very reason we live here. And those who moved to our beloved state to enjoy the same could claim they were Vermonters, too. If just for the winter.
  • New definition of personal space: A few jerks would slide too close in the lift line—masks around their chins resembling Abe Lincoln beards. Then (gah!) they would try to get on the chair with me and my friends. But mostly, people were respectful of others’ space. Very few people tramped on my new skis in the lift line, squeezed into the gondola with me and my friends just before the doors closed, then talked loudly on their cellphones as I tried to enjoy the view or the peace and quiet of a mountain morning. It felt like we were skiing in Vermont, not somewhere along the Jersey Turnpike. Very much hoping this courtesy continues, especially on the gondola.
  • Booting up in the car: This maneuver typically involves precariously balancing on one foot, then the other, in the snowy parking lot. But I quickly figured out that I could put on my left boot at home, then drive to Killington with a slipper on my gas-pedal foot. Once parked, I only had to slip on my right boot, grab my skis and poles, and clomp to the lift. No more dilly-dallying in the lodge, debating which goggle lens to use or waiting for a friend who forgot to eat breakfast. I felt like a kid again, as if Mom had just dropped me off to clamber over a snowbank to the local rope tow, getting as quickly as possible to this business of skiing. We drive to the mountain to ski. So, dammit, let’s ski!
  • Masks: Negotiating the bumps (badly) on Outer Limits one morning, my quads burning, I gasped for oxygen through my double-layer mask; it felt like breathing through an old wool scarf wrapped twice around my head. But my mask kept my face warm on cold days, and I swear it helped me stay healthy last winter, fending off the airborne viral load from anyone coughing or sneezing in the lift line or lodge: No cold or flu kept me off the slopes last winter. Although I will likely lower it when skiing bumps in the future, a mask will remain part of my winter wardrobe. Local tip: Tape the top of your mask to your cheeks to prevent goggles from fogging.
  • Online lift ticket sales: What’s not to like about no lift ticket line? Friends without passes reloaded their RFID cards online, then headed straight to the lift. And, by paying for their lift tickets the day before, my flaky fair-weather friends (you know who you are) were less likely to bail if, say, the dew point rose a degree or the wind changed direction. Sadly, we bid adieu to the metal ticket wicket. So how will the guy in the denim blue CB jacket on the 210 straight Olin Mark IVs prove to anyone gawking at his gaggle of flapping tickets that he skied Vail back in 1989?

As a born-and-raised Vermonter, peeing in the woods is in my nature. So I was well prepared to navigate skiing through a pandemic or just about anything else the world can throw at us.

As for this upcoming season? I’ll take what I learned, and appreciate skiing more than ever. And I’ll continue peeing in the woods, depending on conditions, of course. After all, there are no pit stops on a powder day. Or bare bums when it’s below zero.

Peggy Shinn is an eighth-generation Vermonter, writer for TeamUSA.org and recent inductee into the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. Her column “Vermontness” will be published regularly throughout the year. If you like it, please let her know. Just don’t crowd her in the lift line.

Peggy Shinn is an eighth-generation Vermonter, writer for TeamUSA.org and recent inductee into the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. Her column “Vermontness” will be published regularly throughout the year. If you like it, please let her know. Just don’t look too lustfully at her World Cup VIP parking pass.

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