The Cold

It was minus ten at the top of Avanti.

In January 1964, not long after the Beatles broke, Mr. Conley showed a promotional movie about Mt. Snow to our sixth grade class.  Looking for more dramatic skiing than Bobby Hickey’s backyard, wanting to swim in the outdoor pool, I implored my parents to take us.  Stunningly, they did.

It was at the end of February.  The night after Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston in Maine.  I remember hearing the news as I rode in the back of the VistaCruiser on the back roads of Southern Vermont, on the way to the Novice Inn, where we stayed all in one room, the kids in bunk beds.  Upon the recommendation of the desk clerk, we spent our first afternoon at Carinthia, a t-bar area adjacent to Mt. Snow that was annexed in the eighties.  My father survived on that one lesson for three years, it was enough to keep him going.

Stunningly, my family got hooked on skiing.  Oh, they were frightened by Mixing Bowl, the ostensible beginner slope at Mt.  Snow, but after conquering it they moved on to Little Beaver, they gained their ski legs.

So it wasn’t tough to convince my parents to go skiing the following Christmas at Bromley, part of the "Magic Triangle", or "The Hub", with Magic Mountain and Stratton.  It was just one step north of Mt. Snow, and where Peter Donnelly, my seventh grade classmate, had a season pass.

But we awoke on Christmas morning to rain.  I kept telling everybody that rain in Connecticut would be snow in Vermont, but alas, it was not to be.  When we arrived at Bromley it was pouring, you could see the grass through the snow, the next day the ski area was closed.  We drove home.  And when February school vacation arrived my parents were no longer willing to take the risk, we went to the Concord, in the Catskills.  After all, somebody my mother said was an expert skier had gone there and skied, and testified how great it was.

I was disappointed.  The Catskills were not the Green Mountains.  I didn’t want to hang with the hoi polloi, I wanted to be with SKIERS, on a MOUNTAIN!

Turns out the Concord had two t-bars.  And three slopes.  The snow was pretty good and the place was empty.  Who would come to the Concord to ski?

Me.  I went every day.  Well, at least the first three days, before we were rained out on the fourth.

As for the food and the entertainment…  Well, at least when people talk about the Catskills, I can say that I’ve BEEN!  The menu was irrelevant, my father ordered multiple entrees, and kept making jokes about this guy Neil Sebaka.  Yes, "sebaka" was dog in Yiddish, or Russian, my father couldn’t stop laughing about the similarity in appellation.  And yes, one night in the main room Neil Sedaka did appear.  And we banged our…well, they’ve got chop sticks with balls on the end that you hit on the table instead of clapping, to save you the effort.

Neil was pretty good.  He sang all his old hits.  Most of which we didn’t know, not being old enough when they hit.  This was before he came back with Elton in the seventies, he was already an oldies act.

But like I said, I was there for the skiing.  Every day I’d take the bus to the slopes, and ski the same two runs over and over again (the third was for beginners).  Up and down, up and down.  Didn’t really bother me, after all, I was used to Bobby Hickey’s backyard.  But it did get boring.  And in a moment of boredom, I put my cheek on the t-bar.  And I felt this stickiness.  It was a cool sensation, I liked it.

Finally, in March, my parents took us to Stratton.  Where I went to the top and skied the Wanderer.  They realized this was a different league from the Concord, and the FOLLOWING year they booked at Skylight Lodge once again, right down the road from Bromley.

But we didn’t ski Bromley.  It had been too warm, Bromley’s southern exposure resulted in very little snow cover.  We went back to Stratton.  A day after it rained once again.  When the snow wasn’t snow, but ice.  When it was bitter cold, in the single digits.  And just shy of noon, I found myself on the t-bar.

Stratton was the same mountain back then.  Well, except for the Sun Bowl.  But there were only five lifts.  Three chairs and two t-bars.

They’ve long since ripped out the t-bars, for they were just too hard to ride.

You see the Concord had Doppelmayr t-bars.  T’s on a long cord, they were easy to ride.  Stratton had Hall t-bars.  One long pipe, with a spring in the middle.  They were almost impossible to ride.  The t would twist, slide out from under your butt, and you’d fall off.

If you were lucky, you had a partner on the t-bar, it made it much easier to ride, it balanced the forces.  But this day in 1965, I was out there alone.  And I got on the t-bar and it twisted.  But I wasn’t going to fall off.  I grasped the wooden bottom of the t with my two arms, I held on for dear life, I was going to make it to the top.

And about two-thirds of the way up, my mind adrift, remembering the February before at the Concord, I stuck out my tongue and licked the stainless steel tube of the t-bar.

I kid you not, this really happened.  You know how on a suspension bridge you get the urge to jump?  Well, you know that will kill you.  But I’d stuck my skin to a t before, I liked the sensation.  I was eleven, what did I know?

Not much.

You see my tongue instantly froze to the t-bar.

NOW what do I do?

I try to wiggle my tongue, I try adding saliva, nothing works, I’m locked on.  To this moving device.  With the unloading ramp rapidly approaching.

I saw no option.  I jerked my head back, I ripped my tongue from the t-bar.

And right there where I’d previously been stuck was a patch of skin.  About three quarters of an inch in diameter, close to perfectly round.

It made no sense.

I started to panic.  Had I left the better part of my tongue on the t-bar?  Would I be maimed FOREVER?

I decided to spit in the snow, to see if…

SHIT!  Actually, that’s not the word that went through my head, at the time I was not swearing.  But I was shocked to see drops of blood in the snow.

Just minutes before I’d been whole, I’d been reasonable, I’d been together.  But I made one false move and now I was gonna be the guy who couldn’t speak, the one whose life was RUINED!

I got to the top, I headed straight for the bottom.  Spitting all the while, trying to see if the bleeding had stopped.

It hadn’t.

I took off my skis.  I went into the base lodge.  I stuck my tongue out in front of the mirror.  There were two red spots.  And you could see where the skin had come unglued.  But I could speak.  My tongue worked.  But did it really?

I calmed down.  But only half way.  I was past the point of crisis.  But was I out of danger?  Would the skin on my tongue grow back?  Was I still going to be impaired?

Finally I found my dad.  He laughed.  It became a family joke.  If you’re looking for sympathy from my family…you’ve got the wrong group of people.

Ultimately I was all right.  After a few weeks of checking my tongue out in the mirror, I convinced myself.

Needless to say, I haven’t stuck any skin on any metal since, certainly not in the winter.  But every time it gets down in the single digits, my anxiety kicks up.

It’s six degrees in Vail right now.  It never made it into double digits today.  Every thermometer I saw at the top of the mountain never made it above zero.

I threw on my expedition long underwear, put on an extra turtleneck, bought new glove liners, my fingers still tingling from yesterday.  Still, I was anxious.  Because although I haven’t stuck any skin on metal in decades, I have gotten frostbite, the REAL frostbite, where your skin blisters, then scabs, then falls off.  But usually in Vermont it FEELS colder, there’s a bitter wind.  Whereas here in the Rockies, it’s a dry cold.  You don’t realize how bad it is until you’re skiing along and can no longer feel your fingers and toes.

I tried not to stay out too long.

But I’ve got to admit, my toes are throbbing a bit, my fingers are still tingling, and my nose…normally you don’t feel your nose, but I now feel mine.

Still, I’m intact.  I escaped true danger.

How do I know?

I did a test.  On the Born Free Express.  I spit.  And the saliva was caught in midair by the safety bar, it never flew down to the open slope.  And the spittle froze instantly.  A glob on the bar, and a trailing tentacle.  It happened just that fast.

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