Like every Newfoundland driver I've encountered, Ralph MacWhirter zips along the island's serpentine, snow-packed roads at speeds that mock posted limits. We're en route to my hotel, and MacWhirter, left hand on the wheel of his Buick Park Avenue Ultra and right hand gesturing, turns to me, grins and asks: "Where ya to?
My brain struggles to decipher the garbled, run-together patterns that mark Newfoundlander speech. I return the smile, and, hoping I've guessed the question correctly, stab at an answer. "Skiing. Marble Mountain.
He nods: "Whereyou'longsto?
Cracking the code, I reply: "Maine. And you, Corner Brook?
"Garanteed-b'y, Ralph backhands me with a light slap while chortling a deep, raspy smoker's laugh.
Blame it on The Shipping News, but Newfoundland conjures images of codfish and lobsters, oilskin-clad fishermen, gale-force winds and ramshackle houses perched on cliffs. But alpine skiing? On an island in the Atlantic? Arn! Flat on the back for that!
Remote, wind-scoured, expansive and populated by barely a half-million hardy souls, Newfoundland's isolation has preserved its quirkiness. For starters, cod is everywhere. Communion is taken in the local specialties—cod cheeks and cod tongues—and the "screech in, a near-religious ritual, involves knocking back a shot of the local rum (known as screech), then kissing a codfish on the lips.
Luckily, the skiing isn't quite as quirky as the locals. Thanks to twice-weekly charters from London, Marble Mountain, the island's largest ski resort, has a British accent. Yet even these planeloads add little to the sparsely populated region: Weekend liftlines might be all of five minutes; midweek, they're nonexistent.
Marble rises 1,700 feet from the Humber River, where more than 70,000 salmon swim upriver annually. And the terrain surprises. Wispy intermediate runs and a lone lollygagging green trail frame a steep, muscled core. The aptly named Corkscrew rolls and twists down to the base. It's one of the best-designed trails I've ever skied. Boomerang is not only steep, but also narrow and choked with cliffhanger moguls. Survive it and reward yourself with a lunch of artery-busting poutine, the traditional Quebecois comfort food of French fries smothered with gravy and cheese curds. Or, if you prefer, there's always cod cheeks. Go ahead: Pucker up.
Fly into Deer Lake Regional Airport, about 30 min. from Marble Mountain. Lift tickets are $40 Tue.—Thu., $45 Fri.—Mon. For more info: skimarble.com