Tuesday, March 7, 2006

"Two Days in New Hampshire"

Sydney M. Williams
15 Smith Neck Road
Old Lyme, CT 06371

Notes from Old Lyme
“Two Days in New Hampshire”
                                                                                                                                                                                 March 7, 2006

The temperature was twelve degrees as the chairlift reached the summit of Mount Sunapee in southern New Hampshire. The wind coming from the north, across the lake, added to the chill factor. Nevertheless, we were excited to be there and ready for the first run of the day.

For the past fifteen years my siblings and I and our families – or at least some of us – have gathered at this mountain for a day of skiing. Tradition has confirmed the date to be the first Saturday in March. We had grown up about an hour’s drive south. While our mother did not ski because of a bum knee, our father began skiing in the late 1920s when, as a student in Boston, he would take the “ski train” from North Station to Pinkham Notch. He loved the outdoors, particularly in winter, and he loved the physical exertion of the sport. During World War II he served in Italy with the 10th Mountain Division and, while disappointed that he did no skiing in Europe, he returned home with two pairs of German skis and an appropriated pair of ski boots. This is the equipment on which I first remember him skiing. His love and enthusiasm for the sport became embedded in the nine children born to him and our mother between 1939 and 1955. Peterborough, New Hampshire, the town in which we were raised was small (population 2500 at the time), but seemed larger, as it served as the commercial hub for a number of even smaller villages that ringed it . We lived on a rocky farm in a house owned by my father’s parents who were summer residents of the town. Though small, the town did boast a ski tow, Whit’s, which carried skiers about 600 feet to the local golf course above. The rope was heavy and there was a knack in learning how to grip it. If gripped too quickly one was yanked off one’s feet, too slowly and the friction of the rope would burn through one’s mittens. But this is where we learned to ski and to love the sport.

Sunapee was selected as a place to reunite because it is easy for most of the family to reach, but, more importantly, because of the role it played in our growing up. Sunapee was where our father would take us for a taste of a “real mountain”. In the early 1950s Sunapee had a single-chair lift and a vertical drop of just over 1000 feet, but it included two great trails – “Flying Goose” and “Lynx” – for those of us who were older, and “Chipmunk” for the younger ones. It occurred to me this past weekend that I have been skiing there for over fifty years. Since our father was an artist, he often would take us out of school so that we (and, of course, he) could ski on weekdays. With no lift lines we would ski hard all day. In my early teens, I recall racing on “Flying Goose”. Downhill races in those days had no control gates. He who made it from the starting gate to the finish line in the shortest period of time won the race. It did not take me long to realize that downhill racing and I were not a match. Sunapee is not a large area, though it has expanded over the years, but it holds a host of memories and I greatly enjoy returning to the mountain.

Three years ago my sister Charlotte, her friend Fred Neinas, and I decided to go up a day early as a way to extend the reunion, but also as an excuse to get in an extra day’s skiing. We have been doing so ever since. The three of us, along with an old friend, Hank Sykes, arrived Thursday evening at the Rosewood Country Inn in nearby Bradford. Friday dawned cold and windy, but the sun was bright. The wind had blown the loose snow off “Upper Blast Off” and “Skyway Ledges”, leaving the top of the trails hard-packed and a little icy, but below the ridge line the packed powder provided a fast and smooth ride, fitting for the trails which are made for cruising. Four and a half hours later, still exhilarated, we were tired and ready for a truly extraordinary dinner served at The Inn at Pleasant Lake (owner-chef Brian Mackenzie presiding) in New London, New Hampshire.

On Saturday morning my sister Betsy and her husband Dick Moody joined us. Again, the conditions were wonderful with the weather warmer and the snow a bit softer. Skiing with Betsy is truly an experience. She has been coaching and instructing for most of her adult life. As a teen-ager she did a lot of racing, and she still skis with the power and grace of a down-hiller. By mid-morning it was obvious that the losers were those who were unable to return, but we hope that next year will see a record turnout. Driving back to Connecticut, to my non-skiing but understanding wife, I thought of how fortunate I am to come from such a large family, a family with whom I can spend an enjoyable day or so a year skiing my heart out.