I’m always interested in the back stories, so I opened up the conversation with an older gentleman at Gunstock Mountain in Gilford, N.H., on an early morning chairlift ride to the summit.
I noticed the “Golden Pass” on his arm, so I asked him what that entailed.
“You have to be 75 years old and a resident of Belknap County,” he said, “and you can ski for free — anytime.
“When I started skiing in high school in the late 1930s,” he continued, “it cost 80 cents — 40 cents in the morning and 40 in the afternoon.”
As he was talking, I was doing some mental math.
“If you were skiing in the 1930s, you must be in your 80s?”
“Yes, I’m 89.”
I told him that I was staying active for two young grandsons who already ski and a new grandson who is perhaps a year away.
“I ski with a great-grandson,” he countered. “He’s 6. Next year I’ll probably have trouble keeping up with him.”
That would be at age 90.
A window of possibility opened before me.
My father, too, skied in the 1930s, but he died unexpectedly in the 1970s of viral pneumonia just five days after skiing in Vermont. In the late 1940s he had been the ski coach at Norwich University. In the 1950s he was an instructor at a small rope tow area in Vermont, for which the family received free skiing. In the 1960s he continued teaching near his home town of Athol.
“Pete taught many area skiers the fundamentals of the sport, and we used to enjoy watching his easy manner and his patience with the new skiers,” wrote a local columnist. “He still lives on in the skill and the pleasure of skiing he implanted.”
“He was happiest when he was skiing,” commented my brother. “He was very contented to be out on the hill, having a good time.”
I would continue the family tradition with a winter on the paid ski patrol at Mad River Glen. Then I became a school teacher, first running a ski program at a residential school for juvenile delinquents in Dorchester at the Blue Hills ski area in nearby Canton, then becoming the ski coach at Masconomet Regional in Boxford. To further the tradition, I, too, would find a small local area, the Amesbury Ski Hill (later Atlantic Forest), at which I would trade ski patrol duties for free skiing for the family.
Here I would pass on to the third generation the skiing skills my father had taught me. But that little area folded after a series of mild, snowless winters. My older son would eventually become enamored with basketball and lose interest in skiing. My younger son and I would make day trips at least once a season through the present.
“I will always remember setting up my bindings downstairs by the fire,” he recalled years later. “I was impressed with how you knew how to do everything and had complete trust that you were doing it right.”
My mother skied well into her 70s before suffering torn cartilage in both knees, but the thought of skiing still intrigued her as she entered her 80s.
“There’s a feeling of flying, being free, on a good ski day,” she remembered. “It takes you out of your problems quickly. I miss that.”
So I am now the bridge in the family tradition.
After retiring from teaching, I discovered the $129 mid-week senior season pass at Gunstock, a mere hour and a quarter from Newburyport.
At times in the early morning hours, after having packed the car the night before, I debate, “Do I really want to do this?” But up I get. Once under way, I am always glad that I have done so. The mountain is virtually empty, meaning no lift lines, no waiting, no congestion. I am free to ski at will. By mid-afternoon my legs are calling out to me, but it’s a good tiredness.
In the meantime, out of the blue, my older son called from his home in New York. “At what age did I start skiing, Dad?” he asked.
My first grandson, then nearing the age of 2, was lurking in the wings.
There is little connection between my father and my grandson. Indeed, my father’s life had overlapped only three short months with that of my son. But the link could indeed be the sport of skiing.
We would ski together in the next years, soon joined by a second grandson. We would make a tradition of skiing at Jiminy Peak at the end of each season. Each trip down the mountain I would smile to myself at how pleased both my father and my mother would have been at such a sight.
I now have a third grandson, born to my younger son in Attleboro. At the age of 2, he is one year away. We will likely meet at the mid-way Blue Hills, completing the cycle with my early teaching venue.
Time — past, present and future — is both unimportant and crucial here. I am now free to ski as I please, but I have to hang in there for at least one more grandson. The ultimate course is downhill, but I witnessed a new benchmark on the ride up that Gunstock chairlift.
Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.