The Cold

Comes after the storm.

Did I ever tell you about the time I left part of my tongue on the T-bar at Stratton?

That was back in December ’65, when they finally had snow, when Skylight Lodge was full and Christmas was not a bust.

I started skiing in Bobby Hickey’s backyard. He lived down the street. His dad had bought him boards at that hardware store we did not go to. They were nine dollars. They had bear trap bindings, as in they didn’t release, and one day up at the school, after a storm, Bobby let me try ’em.

To say I was instantly hooked would be wrong. But I liked all manner of snow sports. I had a Flexible Flyer, my dad bought us flying saucers, back when they were made out of aluminum instead of plastic, when you went over a bump and they dented. And then he purchased two toboggans. We’d go up to Fairchild Wheeler, the public golf course, and everybody would get on board and by time we got to the bottom, most people would be strewn on the slope above us.

But that was before Bobby and I became friends. And after we did, I implored my dad to buy me skis. Which he did at Mooney’s, the local sporting goods shop. I don’t remember the brand, but I do know they came with bamboo poles, and the toes would pivot and release, assuming my galoshes could generate enough torque. But when you’re young you’re stupid, you believe you’re invulnerable, I never thought I’d get hurt, and I didn’t, until years later, when my rental skis released in mid-air, but that’s another story.

So after getting my own boards, they were red, I’d spend afternoons and evenings at Bobby’s, down the street. There was a floodlight. We’d descend the fifteen vertical feet and make it almost to the house. We built jumps. We made the equivalent of a bobsled run, and then Mr. Conley showed our sixth grade class a movie about Mt. Snow.

I convinced my parents to go.

That was right after the Beatles were on “Ed Sullivan” the third time. That was right after Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston. We all stayed in one room at the Novice Inn, took lessons at Carinthia, a small spot down the road from Mt. Snow which was incorporated into the big area in the eighties, and then we spent the next three days riding the chairs at Walt Schoenknecht’s playground. My family was hooked. So we booked the following Christmas at the Skylight Lodge in Manchester…

But it rained.

This was before snowmaking. We drove up to Vermont hoping the temperature would drop, that what was rain in Connecticut would be snow up north, but this was not to be. It was nearly sixty degrees. The snow was washed away. We were one of only two families at the Lodge. The other being from New York City, not Manhattan, but an outer borough. We made friends with a fourteen year old, who pooh-poohed the Beatles, we were infected by “Beatles ’65,” but he liked the Stones, and the only 45 around was “Charlie Brown,” which we played over and over and over again.

And I’ll never forget that trip back to Connecticut. It was so foggy my father opened the front door of our Oldsmobile to find the center line. Funny how you feel so safe in the back seat, like your parents are oh-so-powerful and can do no wrong. But it was only later that I realized my dad could not relinquish the steering wheel, that he had to plow on no matter what the circumstances, until one day in ’88 when he told my mother to take over, the multiple myeloma was causing too much pain, he had cancer, but this was before he was diagnosed.

So, after being blown out at Christmas my parents refused to go to Vermont during February vacation. We went to the Concord, which had its own ski area. Two T-bars and two flat slopes, but that did not hold me back, except for the final day, when it rained, you never know what the sky will bring on the east coast.

But feeling guilty for dashing my dreams, that March we went to Stratton.

Well, not really. We went to Sargent Camp, in New Hampshire, it was owned by mother’s alma mater, Boston University, and once again, my parents were planning for a bust.

But this time there was snow. We drove across the state line to Stratton. I convinced my mother and sisters to descend from the top via the Wanderer, almost every ski area in Vermont has a novice run from the top. My mother fell and scraped her nose, no one would forgive me, this is one of the last times I led the rest of my family on an adventure.

But the trip was a success. So the following Christmas, we tried the Skylight Lodge once again.

Now essentially it was a dormitory, with bathrooms down the hall. Usually my parents drew the line at detached loos, but for some reason this time they were amenable.

And the following morning…

Our boots were frozen.

Life is a learning experience. As is skiing. We did not know not to keep our boots in the back of the station wagon with our skis. You need them warm. But we put them under the car heater and we drove up to the mountain and there we separated. I was on my own adventure, they went to the bunny hill.

Now at that time there were two ways to make it to the middle of the mountain. One was the Suntanner chairlift, the other was two T-bars.

T-bars. They’re rare these days. No one wants to work. Except in Europe, where they were devised and still survive. For the uninitiated, they look like upside down “T”‘s, and they pull you up the hill. Two people at a time. Do not sit down, that’s anathema, you immediately fall. The key is to put the wood under your butt, hold the center pole and…

There are two kinds of T-bars. One on a rope and one that’s an aluminum pole, with a spring inside. The former was invented first, the latter was supposedly an improvement, but the latter is so much harder to ride. Especially alone. You end up gripping the bar arms crossed, holding on for dear life as it pulls you uphill.

This is what happened to me that day at Stratton back in ’65.

Now going back to the Concord, in February of that same year, being bored with the two runs I noticed…that if I put my face on the T-bar it would stick ever so slightly. It was a cool sensation. I enjoyed it. So when I was riding the T-bar at Stratton I decided….

Now there was a temperature difference. At the Concord, it was near freezing, about thirty two degrees. At Stratton, it was in the single digits.

I licked the T-bar. There it is. I’ll make it that simple. I could not ride it alone with the bar behind my butt, I was gripping the pole with my arms and I remembered my experience at the Concord and I stuck out my tongue and…

It immediately froze to the aluminum.

I tried to pull it away.


Now I’m eleven years old, alone on the lift, far from mommy and daddy, in an era long before cellphones, what was I supposed to do?

The longer it stuck there, the worse it would be, right?

And if I got to the top and was still attached…what would the operator do, assuming he noticed and comprehended my problem?

There was only one solution, I had to take action, I had to pull my tongue off the T-bar.

Which I did.


The worst things happen fast. I jerked my head away and I immediately noticed, stuck to the aluminum T-bar, a piece of skin about the size of a quarter.

Holy moly! Had I permanently disfigured myself? Would I still be able to speak, never mind eat? Was this a turning point in my life?

And I’m starting to freak, and lord knows what causes me to spit, but I do, and there’s blood all over the snow.

Then I spit again and get the same result.

So I figured I’d better save my plasma, and I got to the top of the lift and skidded down the off-ramp and immediately hightailed it for the lodge, eager to investigate the damage, to discover if I would survive.

And when I got in front of the bathroom mirror I found…

A big red spot in the middle of my tongue. The bleeding had almost been stanched, but I was absent part of my being, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about the whole damn thing, I was alive, but was I forever damaged?

I didn’t see my parents until lunch. I don’t think I told the exact same story. I think I said the T-bar had stopped and jerked and my tongue had become attached inadvertently. Never underestimate the power of a person to obfuscate, no one tells the truth, they always place themselves in the best light.

My father laughed. My mother did not display compassion. I’d just had a life-altering moment and all I got was…

A shrug.

But I never heard the end of it. My father would make jokes about it for years. He cut out a cartoon from the paper, of a little kid stuck to a lamppost. That’s one thing about families, the way they put each other down, the way they jockey for position, the way they never forget anything.

And I never forgot that December day back in ’65. It comes to mind on days like today, when the snow has stopped blowing and the temperature drops and it’s close to zero and if you don’t watch out…

You’ll be stuck to a pole in the middle of nowhere with no means of escape.

Old man winter is a harsh master.

But his briskness makes you feel so alive.

When you’re not afraid you’re gonna die.

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