Snowy Mountain Breakdown - Ski Mag

Snowy Mountain Breakdown

Travel East
Author:
Publish date:
Vermont 1105

It seemed like a good idea at the time. A respite from the city. Three days on the slopes of Vermont. Six fun-loving, like-minded individuals. But when friends and strangers get together for a ski weekend, things can go downhill fast. And we're not talking about the skiing.

Tula and Jack decide they hate each other exactly 23 minutes out of New York City. Tula says she's heard that Sofia Coppola and Scarlett Johansson didn't get along on the set of Lost in Translation. "That's a brilliant thing to say," Jack says. Actually, he kind of spits. "Were you there? Are you buddies with Sofia Coppola? Did Scarlett call you and tell you?"

Jack and Tula have never met.

"Well, it's just something I heard, and..."

"Oh, well then" Jack says. "That explains everything. If it was something you heard, that makes it accurate, right?"

"But," Tula says. "But. But."

"Something you heard!" Jack says. Actually, he screams. Everyone but me gasps. I know Jack. They don't.

"Something you heard! What a moron! Everyone is always hearing things about celebrities, and you know what? It's never right. It's never right!"

"I don't think I agree with that. I read..."

"You read?" Jack says. I sneak a glance at Tula, who thought she had signed up for a fun-filled three-day excursion to one of Vermont's finest ski areas. She wears the expression of someone who has just opened a shiny, beribboned box decorated with angels and elves and discovered a nest of maggots inside.

"Oh, that must make it true," Jack continues, now spitting and screaming. "Tula reads something, and now it's fact! Is that the way it works?"

Jack is crammed into the third row of our rented Ford Expedition, next to Dawn. Next to Tula, in the middle row, sits Sara. Joining me in the front seat is Mark, who along with everyone but me, has turned and is staring at Jack in mute, slack-jawed, wide-eyed horror.

I blame myself. The idea was, six of us—friends, strangers, snow-lovers, Jack—would venture where many have ventured before, into a three-day ski weekend with people we knew well, knew slightly and didn't know at all. We would ski down mountains and break bread together, soak in a giant hot tub at day's end, stay up late playing board games and forging bonds that would nourish us long after the weekend was over.

"Are you saying that nothing you read is true?" Tula asks.

Tula is logical, I think to myself, willing to engage Jack on a rational basis. She has no idea what she's getting into.

"No," Jack says, "What I'm saying is that people who talk about celebrities are idiots, and…"

It had seemed like such a nice idea. Three days of fun. A chance to frolic in the snow with other like-minded, language-using, fun-loving mammals, all of us linked together in a joyous pursuit of the clean air and long runs of Stratton, Vt., free from the relentless and never-ending and corrosive calibrations of success and social standing we all seem doomed to make; free from the sexual competition and financial grasping that so infects our society and cripples the pure hearts that beat so loudly, so insistently, if only we could take a precious moment and listen.

"I think that's kind of a blanket statement," Tula says. Poor Tula. Poor reasonable Tula. "I mean, they're celebrities, people talking about them is what makes them rich and famous, and…"

"They don't need you talking about them," Jack spits/ screams/sputters. "Trust me, they don't want you..."

Where had I gone wrong? I had spent more than a month poring over possible trip rosters, pondering the mysteries of group dynamics and varying ability levels. And I had arrived at the perfect group. But when the two highly recommended former college cheerleaders (one an actress, one a retired-at-34 Wall Street whiz) bailed with a day to go, I emailed everyone I knew and asked if they might know two high-spirited women with flexible work schedules and some athletic ill who would be willing to jump into an SUV with strangers the next day.

And that's how I found Tula, a transplanted Texan who, in addition to being a student of popular culture and a subscriber to the social contract that stipulates reasoned discourse as a path to understanding, is 35, a magazine editor who watches reality television, won't eat non-organic animal products "and not because of the antibiotics, but because of how they're treated," and who gets carsick if she's sitting in the rear. That's how my world collided with the strange universe inhabited by Dawn, a pigtailed, stocking-hatted 27-year-old stage manager whose favorites sentences are "dude" and "off the record" (sometimes, but not always, uttered in conjunction), who favors baggy, grease-stained jackets and who a friend of a friend had assured me "is a girl who knows how to have a good time."[NEXT ""]The others, I already knew. There was Sara, a 23-year-old book editor in whose soul there seemed to be raging a constant and bare-knuckled battle between thrill-seeking and unadulterated terror. Privately schooled and fond of cashmere and pearls, Sara had joined me on a backpacking trip (her first), and she had spent most of the time asking about bears in a quaking voice and saying "ew, ew, ew," whenever bodily functions were discussed. She had never skied before, but yes, of course she wanted to come along this weekend. She showed up wearing pointy black boots, looking fearfully at Mark's helmet, asking me accusingly, "Why didn't you tell me to bring one of those?"

Mark is a friend from the neighborhood, a perpetually cheerful 29-year-old who owns a business and who shares a summer house, so presumably is good at getting along with others and who told me, "I can ski anything."

I'm a boyish 49, well-meaning if occasionally clumsy.

And my good friend Jack? Jack is basically insane. A 31-year-old voice-over actor who used to work as a waiter, Jack possesses an unwavering sense of social justice and is exquisitely attuned to human suffering worldwide, as long as the injustice and suffering involves waiters, waitresses and movie stars.

You want to impugn the native intelligence, moral fiber and/or ethical standards of an entire religious, national or ethnic group? Jack's not going to applaud you or anything, but honestly, who is he to make judgments about that? No, he'll demur. We all say silly things sometimes. Stealing, lying, destroying others' property, cheating on your spouse? Hey, tolerant and humanist Jack advises, we're all human beings. The first stone, glass houses and all that. But speculate on Jennifer Aniston's love life, or ask the girl at Denny's for dressing on the side, and you're walking on the wrong side of the street. The street that just happens to be patrolled by a psychotic sheriff named Jack.

Jack has a few other quirks. He knows for certain that Apple Computer, the federal government, the media ("You really think there's a difference between The New York Times and Fox News?") and corporate America are out to enslave the world, especially him. Jack also has a thing about hot tubs. It is not a good thing.

"I don't care how attractive the cheerleaders are," he tells me one night at our favorite Greek diner, before we learn the sad news about the once-pom-pomed ones. "If another man is in, I won't be. It's an issue of mine. It's like taking a bath with a guy."Jack's Canadian. Oh yeah, he's also a snowboarder.

"Hey," Tula announces to the group, "you know Paris Hilton's stolen cell phone? I got the numbers off the Internet. I called some."

"Wow, quite an exciting life you have, Tula," Jack says.

"Kids!" I shout from the driver's seat. We're barely over the George Washington Bridge and I want to throw them both out of the car. "We're going on a ski trip! We're going to have fun! Quit fighting."

And so for almost an hour, we debate the more pressing topics of the day. Dunkin' Donuts or Cinnabon? Who gets shotgun after the bathroom break? Who's the more appealing Olsen twin, Ashley or Mary-Kate?

"Who?" Mark says.

"Wow," Tula says, "I think it's really interesting that it's 2005 and you don't know who the Olsen twins are."

In the back seat, Jack has been sulking and grunting for the past 45 minutes, which he tends to do when groups turn on him in horror and outrage, as groups tend to do. But now he speaks.[NEXT ""]

"No, Tula," says Jack, "what's really interesting is that you probably spend five hours a night sitting in front of your television set in your lonely little apartment watching taped episodes of Project Runway. I think that's really interesting."Tula turns to Sara. "I think I'll just pretend he doesn't exist," she says.

"Dude," Dawn says.

Will pointy-toed Sara and pig-tailed, baggy-coated Dawn (who also has never skied) survive lessons and each other? Will I be able to keep up on the black runs with Mark? Will Jack and Tula kill each other, or might they soon be rutting like crazed ferrets? These are the questions that drift through my aching, throbbing, pulsing, tender, tired head, like gently falling snow, as we pull up to the sprawling Stratton ski house, complete with fireplace, hot tub and boot warmers, that will be ours for the weekend.

We unpack, we check out our ridiculously lavish bedrooms, we gather in the living room, around the Bunyan-esque circular fireplace. We chat with excitement about the adventure ahead. By "we," I mean everyone except Jack. He is upstairs, in the only room of the house without a proper door. He does have a curtain, though. And besides, Jack is with us in spirit.

"If you want to talk, go to your rooms," he yells from behind the curtain, and Mark turns to me, laughing. "He's a funny guy," Mark says. "Always kidding."

I so admire Mark's pluck, his sunny disposition, his eternal optimism. Even when it's woefully wrong.

Foreboding silence from above.

"He is kidding, right?" Sara whispers, wrapping her cashmere scarf tightly around her shoulders.

From upstairs comes an aggrieved voice, part Nelson Mandela, part Incredible Hulk. "No, I'm not kidding. I can't stand people talking when I'm trying to sleep. Shut up!"

We don't, of course. It's a ski trip. It's a three-day weekend. We're fun-loving mammals. Language-using. We talk for an hour, but quietly, then turn in at 2 a.m. Certainly Jack won't hold that against us. [NEXT ""]

We wake at 7:30 a.m. to an ear-blasting "Baby Hold on to Me"followed by "Werewolves of London." Jack has turned the house jukebox up to full, horrible volume. I stumble into the kitchen, glare at him.

"Oh, you're not a morning person?" he asks. "It's kind of unpleasant, if you're not a morning person, and people are making noise in the morning, isn't it?"

Somehow, we make it out of the house without anyone hurting the Watchdog of the Waitstaff. After Dawn and Sara head to ski school and Jack slouches off with his board, Mark, Tula and I take the gondola to the top, where we debate the best route down.Tula is a bad skier, clumsy, tentative and timid even on green. I'm game for anything, graceful at very little.

"We're gonna rip down some blacks," Mark says.

"No way," Tula says. "Green. Only green."

"Tula," Mark says. "Tula," he repeats. "Tula," he says yet again. Mark has a deep voice, and a way of furrowing his forehead and tilting his chin into his chest that makes him look and sound like there is nothing in the world he desires more than the happiness and well-being of the person he is addressing. Maybe this explains how he became a CEO at 28.

"Tula," he says, a fourth time. "The colors mean nothing. They're just a marketing scheme to make good skiers think they're doing something hard. It's the money people, not the ski experts, who color-code the maps."

"That's not true," Tula says, gamely clinging to logic as a way to survive this weeken gets shotgun after the bathroom break? Who's the more appealing Olsen twin, Ashley or Mary-Kate?

"Who?" Mark says.

"Wow," Tula says, "I think it's really interesting that it's 2005 and you don't know who the Olsen twins are."

In the back seat, Jack has been sulking and grunting for the past 45 minutes, which he tends to do when groups turn on him in horror and outrage, as groups tend to do. But now he speaks.[NEXT ""]

"No, Tula," says Jack, "what's really interesting is that you probably spend five hours a night sitting in front of your television set in your lonely little apartment watching taped episodes of Project Runway. I think that's really interesting."Tula turns to Sara. "I think I'll just pretend he doesn't exist," she says.

"Dude," Dawn says.

Will pointy-toed Sara and pig-tailed, baggy-coated Dawn (who also has never skied) survive lessons and each other? Will I be able to keep up on the black runs with Mark? Will Jack and Tula kill each other, or might they soon be rutting like crazed ferrets? These are the questions that drift through my aching, throbbing, pulsing, tender, tired head, like gently falling snow, as we pull up to the sprawling Stratton ski house, complete with fireplace, hot tub and boot warmers, that will be ours for the weekend.

We unpack, we check out our ridiculously lavish bedrooms, we gather in the living room, around the Bunyan-esque circular fireplace. We chat with excitement about the adventure ahead. By "we," I mean everyone except Jack. He is upstairs, in the only room of the house without a proper door. He does have a curtain, though. And besides, Jack is with us in spirit.

"If you want to talk, go to your rooms," he yells from behind the curtain, and Mark turns to me, laughing. "He's a funny guy," Mark says. "Always kidding."

I so admire Mark's pluck, his sunny disposition, his eternal optimism. Even when it's woefully wrong.

Foreboding silence from above.

"He is kidding, right?" Sara whispers, wrapping her cashmere scarf tightly around her shoulders.

From upstairs comes an aggrieved voice, part Nelson Mandela, part Incredible Hulk. "No, I'm not kidding. I can't stand people talking when I'm trying to sleep. Shut up!"

We don't, of course. It's a ski trip. It's a three-day weekend. We're fun-loving mammals. Language-using. We talk for an hour, but quietly, then turn in at 2 a.m. Certainly Jack won't hold that against us. [NEXT ""]

We wake at 7:30 a.m. to an ear-blasting "Baby Hold on to Me"followed by "Werewolves of London." Jack has turned the house jukebox up to full, horrible volume. I stumble into the kitchen, glare at him.

"Oh, you're not a morning person?" he asks. "It's kind of unpleasant, if you're not a morning person, and people are making noise in the morning, isn't it?"

Somehow, we make it out of the house without anyone hurting the Watchdog of the Waitstaff. After Dawn and Sara head to ski school and Jack slouches off with his board, Mark, Tula and I take the gondola to the top, where we debate the best route down.Tula is a bad skier, clumsy, tentative and timid even on green. I'm game for anything, graceful at very little.

"We're gonna rip down some blacks," Mark says.

"No way," Tula says. "Green. Only green."

"Tula," Mark says. "Tula," he repeats. "Tula," he says yet again. Mark has a deep voice, and a way of furrowing his forehead and tilting his chin into his chest that makes him look and sound like there is nothing in the world he desires more than the happiness and well-being of the person he is addressing. Maybe this explains how he became a CEO at 28.

"Tula," he says, a fourth time. "The colors mean nothing. They're just a marketing scheme to make good skiers think they're doing something hard. It's the money people, not the ski experts, who color-code the maps."

"That's not true," Tula says, gamely clinging to logic as a way to survive this weekend, much as an infant clings to a pacifier. "That wouldn't make any sen...""Actually, Tula," I lie, "it might not make sense, but weirdly enough, that's the way it is. I've interviewed a lot of marketing executives at resorts around the country, and Mark's telling the truth." It amazes and frightens me every time I discover the new depths to which I will sink when something I want is at stake.

"Tula," Mark says, "Tula. When snow like this is falling (gentle flurries) at this time of day (late morning), the effect is that there are actually some black runs, because of the softness of the snow and the wind vectors and the melt factor, that are easier than the greens! And I know where those runs are." Melt factor? Wind vectors?

"That's true," I pipe in. "That's absolutely true. I've read studies about that. I've done research."

The first time Tula falls—on a black run that neither Mark nor I has ever heard of, much less skied before, of course—Mark assures her it will make her a better skier. She falls again, and again. She basically falls down the mountain. At the bottom, where we wait, she shows up, scowling, near tears.

"You guys said…" she begins, but Mark cuts her off.

"Tula," he says.

"You guys said…"

"Tula. TULA!" Furrowed brow. Tilted chin. "Tell me this. Were you ever in a band?"Tired, bruised, betrayed, confused, Tula doesn't have the strength to fight anymore. Everything she certainly learned as a young girl in Lubbock, Texas—that people won't put other people in dangerous situations for sport, that trust is essential for group interaction, that a ski trip with strangers might be kind of cool—has been proven wrong. She is a wounded animal now; still a fun-loving mammal, but a wary, injured one, moving on instinct. Someone asks a question, what can she do but answer?

"No," she says, "I've never been in a band. Why?"

Mark throws his arms around her.

"Cause you rock!"

First in the après-ski hot tub is Mark, followed by Sara, then Tula, who moves like one of those cute dogs you adopt from the pound—the ones that have been mistreated and you hope only need a little love to rejoin their happy canine friends—and then me. A few minutes later Dawn joins us. She has undone her pigtails, lost her stocking cap and baggy jacket. It turns out Dawn has danced professionally and practices yoga regularly. She is wearing a bikini. The effect is breathtaking. Let me put it another way. I am suddenly having a great deal of difficulty breathing. I am also experiencing severe tightness in my chest.

"Dude!" I gasp.

"Dude," yelps Dawn, oblivious.

"Steve," whispers Sara, "are you OK?"

From his martyr's bench in the living room, Jack sees the new Dawn, too, and within minutes, the disturbed Canadian has apparently reassessed the costs of his psychosexual issues and joined us for a soak.

In the hot tub, Jack tells us that he fell 10 times during his first run of the day, forgot everything about snowboarding he had ever known and walked off the mountain. That seems to cheer everyone. Dawn and Sara can't stop smiling; Sara says their instructor told them that in 10 years, she had never seen such progress in the first day. Mark brags about Tula's bravery and grace, and, I am happy to report, Tula beams.

And all is wonderful and peaceful and happy. Until dinner at a nearby restaurant when Tula mentions how much she likes The Apprentice and Jack says that anyone who orders organic food is an agribusiness dupe and Tula comments that, gee, it must have been really humbling to fall so much, it must have been really humiliating to have to walk off the mountain with children and old people watching, and Jack wonders if everyone from Texas watches television so much and is so obsessed with anorexic teenagers and leads such small, petty, pathetic lives, or just some of the people. By now, Tula, whousually doesn't drink much, has had three glasses of wine. I think everyone is waiting for her to leap across the table and c

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