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America's hottest cold-weather sport.


"When it's more work than fun, it's time to quit. There are some days when it's tougher than others, but for me it's almost all fun!'

The sport is skiing and the speaker is the Olympic superstar Steve Mahre, but the same might be said by any one of the millions of American skiers. From Jackie O to the electronics genius William Hewlett (of Hewlett-Packard fame), from the baseball star Goose Gossage to the polemist William F. Buckley--all things considered, many celebrities would rather be skiing. The sport excludes none when it comes to weight and height; it demands only that you be in shape. The 1976-1977 World Cup giantslalom winner, Heini Hemmi, stands 55 ; another regular on the slopes is John Kenneth Galbraith, who is 68 . Even the late, diminutive Truman Capote possessed excellent skills on the slopes. "I have the perfect body for skiing!' he once told an interviewer from Ski magazine.

Other than tennis, no solo sport offers greater opportunity to amass fame and fortune. Mahre said at last year's Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia: "I'm already fixed for life.' His twin brother, Phil, dramatically aided his own financial position during the Winter Olympics by earning a first in the men's slalom a split second ahead of Steve, who brought a silver medal back to America. The games also made instant celebrities of Debbie Armstrong, who won in the giant slalom, Christin Cooper, who went silver in the same event, and Bill Johnson, who won bragging rights for life by taking America's first Olympic gold medal in a downhill ski race. Past victories in Olympic and World Cup competition had made world idols of Billy Kidd, Roald Amundsen and Jean Claude Killy.

If you've been considering taking up the sport, don't let fear of failing keep you from enjoying a winter of contentment. Here's what you need to know to get started in the sport:

To begin with, the four main skiing divisions are: cross-country, downhill, jumping and slalom. Only downhill (also known as Alpine) and cross-country (or Nordic) are important for the average skier.

One can begin skiing at age four so long as lessons are limited to one hour. At no particular age does one become too old to ski, although a few common-sense rules prevail. A would-be skier in his or her 40s, 50s, even 70s, can indeed aspire to ski over smoothly terraced slopes of beginner and intermediate ratings. As in any form of activity, non-athletes and those who've avoided exercise for any length of time should have a thorough medical examination--preferably by a doctor who enjoys skiing himself. The next step is to engage a private instructor or to enroll in a small class where an expert can advise you on ski selection (short skis are best for the inexperienced), snow conditions and the degree of difficulty on local Nordic or Alpine slopes.

Which is more fun--cross-country or downhill? Alpiners once charged that cross-country skiers spent as much time waxing their skis as they spent on the trail. No longer. Today's Nordic enthusiasts spend little time nursing their equipment, thanks to the invention of waxless bases and fiberglass skis. (Hence, avoid "bargains' on vintage ski touring gear.) In addition, thanks to metaledged skis, much of the danger of steep-slope encounters has been minimized.

Nordic skiing affords communion with your surroundings: the mountain itself, local flora and fauna. You control your own speed and spend as long as you like savoring the view. It's the favorite of those whose summer love is hiking.

Alpine skiing, on the other foot, is a flirtation with speed and danger. There's no substitute for the sensation of your body cutting through space and the lump of ecstasy in your throat as you take a challenging bump. Nor is the sport without its scenic delights--as anyone who has gazed down from the rugged upper ridges of Bald Mountain in Idaho can testify.

The writer Ernest Hemingway (himself a skier) said that a fisherman falls in love "with a couple or three streams all his life and loves "em better than anything in the world.' Likewise, many skiers cherish certain slopes with life-long devotion. The hundreds of downhill resorts and cross-country stomping grounds make it impossible to say with certitude what will please each reader. Nonetheless, at the risk of inviting hate mail from those whose own favorite assembly place is omitted, here are some resort areas listed by region that ought to make someone's "favorite' list.

Northeast: From western New York to the famed, pine-topped mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, excellent ski facilities are in reach of all major metropolitan areas. New York State boasts excellent beginner facilities at tiny Cortina Valley, a moderately priced resort on Hunter Mountain outside the town of Haines Falls. Another good place is Kissing Bridge, a half-hour drive from Buffalo near the town of Glenwood; ask about late-night specials on lift tickets in January and February.

Perhaps the finest all-around facilities in all New England are available at Bolton Valley in Vermont. Twenty-five fine trails lead from a ski village that looks quite European. Bolton is particularly recommended for family weekend excursions; children under six stay free at the Bolton Valley Lodge. A delight for Nordic skiers is Vermont's Mount Snow region. Excellent vacation packages are available through Snow Lake Lodge. A favorite of advanced and intermediate skiers is Mount Mansfield, which towers over Stowe, Vermont. Super skiing in New Hampshire almost always means a trip to one of many resorts in the White Mountains; for your first excursion there you won't go wrong at Black Mountain near the tiny village of Jackson. It has minimal crowds on both the downhill slopes and the cross-country trails. Mohawk Mountain near Cornwall, Connecticut, and the aptly named Pleasant Mountain near Bridgton, Maine, should also be included in this list of scenic New England ski havens.

Midwest and South: Thanks to man's ingenuity, you can fool Mother Nature when it comes to skiing. Midwesterners and Southerners alike now enjoy a ski season almost as long as their counterparts to the west and the northeast, thanks to artificial snowmaking. Controlled, in most instances, by computers attuned to temperature and humidity, artificial snow means you don't have to do without white stuff even if you reside in such unlikely locales for skiing as Indiana, North Carolina, Iowa or Illinois.

Snow-making in Indiana, for example, guarantees skiing pleasure in such resorts as the Nashville Alps, Ski Paoli Peaks and Ski Valley. The same is true in Iowa of both Sundown and Winter World; in Illinois of Chestnut Mountain and Snowstar; in Michigan of Apple Mountain and Mount Brighton; in Virginia of Snowshoe; and in North Carolina of Wintergreen.

Excellent skiing is available in Northern Michigan and in Minnesota. Minnespolis-Saint Paulites seem to favor a run north to Lutsen off Lake Superior for a pleasant stay at the ultranice Moose Mountain complex. Boyne Mountain in north-central Michigan can make any Westerner envious of its tough downhill slopes and picturesque back-country trails.

West: Colorado, for openers, has ten excellent choices: Aspen, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Crested Butte, Keystone (two different areas), Purgatory, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, Monarch Winter Sports in Garfield and that relative youngster among Rocky Mountain resorts, Vail. If status and the chance to see former President Gerald Ford promenading on the slopes are important to you, Aspen or Vail is most likely your ski town of choice. If you're looking for great skiing, wild views and bargain rates on lift tickets, however, you'll want to avoid the crowds by heading to Monarch Ski Area in Salida.

The queen of all western resorts remains Sun Valley, Idaho, but be warned that lift tickets there are priced as steep as the slopes of Bald Mountain. Nonetheless, some bargains on cross-country skiing are available nearby.

The Utah ski resort of Park City lacks the glamour of Sun Valley, but attractive prices at three neighboring ski complexes--along with a nicely restored historic district--make it the preferred place to go for the economy minded. Airline flights to Salt Lake City are always at a discount, and Park City is but a short drive away by rental car. What you save on accommodations and air fare, you can spend on one of the greatest thrills of your life--a $200-$250 helicopter rental that drops you off at some of the most impressive virgin snow you'll ever cut with skis. Other popular retreats for skiing enthusiasts are the quaint northern New Mexico community of Taos and exciting, youth-oriented Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Northern California boasts many fine resorts. Squaw Valley and the Tahoe region pack the biggest "rep.' An alternative to the crowds there, however, is a visit to the Sierra City-Downieville area. "When you see the Sierra Buttes at 8,500 feet, it's like skiing the Bavarian Alps,' claims Ross Gralia, a ski instructor who operates Quiet Mountain Nordic in Nevada City.

Photo: It takes only two ingredients to make a skiers' paradise: open slopes like those at Taos, New Mexico (right), and powder, that special fresh snow four to six inches deep that runs through your fingers like sand and hisses when you ski on it.

Photo: There's more than one way to negotiate the snow at Aspen, but horse and buggy somehow lacks the thrill of the slopes.

Photo: After taking their ups and downs on the mountains around Taos, skiers take a picnic break--where else but in the snow.

Photo: Getting the jump on the "fear factor' is an important part of this sport. After that, literally, the sky is the limit.

Photo: Family skiing can be a lesson in role reversal. Children have a frustrating way of getting out ahead, but they're also around to help pick you up out of the snow. There's no sex discrimination on the slopes. Delicate women often outski muscular males.

Photo: It's a long haul to the top at Aspen, What's it really like up there? Well, say veterans, you have to ski it to believe it.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:skiing
Author:Nuwer, Hank
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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