May 20, 2018

PLACES I’VE PLAYED: Ahh, the smells of skiing

By Bill Skiff

The Bolton Valley transmission smell is that wonderful aroma that says winter is here. It’s like smelling the new scent of hay as you unwrap the white plastic from around a huge hay doughnut or when your nose comes in contact with Vermont maple wood smoke as it crawls up a chimney and flows out into the crisp winter air.

The Bolton Valley transmission smell is that unique vapor that flows out from under a skier’s car as it makes its way into the parking circle in front of Vermont’s highest base ski lodge. I know because I work there as a host on weekends.

Many a newcomer has jumped out of their car expressing fear that their engine is burning up. I kindly assure them it is only the Bolton Valley transmission smell and not to worry. Every car reacts the same way as it toils up the S-curve toward our beautiful mountain resort. The newcomer smiles, relaxes and cheerfully unloads his family and gear and heads for a great day on the slopes.

These are signs of winter Vermonters have grown to love. Skiers at Smugg’s experience it when they look down on the snow-capped houses of Pleasant Valley; the guests at Stowe lodges look up at the Nose Dive and dream of runs down the trails of Mount Mansfield. These signs make us thankful that winter is here and for now we can leave our bikes in the basement and our kayaks hanging in the garage.

As a boy, my birthday on Dec. 6 seemed to always coincide with the first snowfall of the season.  Mother hosted a sliding party for me and my friends to mark the occasion. Dec. 6 keeps coming around, but the snow has not accommodated any sliding parties for many years. They say it may be global warming, but I wonder if it could be melting memories.

I started skiing on wooden hickory skis. They did not have any steel edges. Edges came later in the form of short strips of metal you screwed on your skis after cutting a small strip off their wooden edges.  These skis went straight down the hill extremely well—it was turning them that was the problem.

I spent hours piling snow on stone walls so I could jump off and get some air.

My jumps sometimes carried me a foot off the ground and sent me about five feet forward.  I felt sure I was to be the next Olympic ski jumping star.

My transition to metal skis was pure ecstasy. A pair of Head standards made me look like Billy Kidd. (Remember him?) I could turn on a dime and give you five cents change. All the guys went fast to impress the girls. The Head skis did not track well at high speeds because they were light. Thus they were the cause of many unceremonious and embarrassing falls.

Early ski boots were a story in themselves. The double leather construction made them cold and stiff. When I first started taking my girlfriend on skiing dates, it was common etiquette for a boy to lace his girl’s boots. By the time I finished lacing the inner and outer boots on both her feet, my hands were so cold and my little fingers so blistered from pulling on the laces, I almost wished I had come alone … almost.

With the falling of the wonderful snow recently, we realize winter has arrived again in Vermont. It makes me want to dig around for my dad’s old Jack Jumper and show my grandsons how it’s really done when old man winter strikes.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at  

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