Wednesday, December 23, 2009


This is a story of friendships forged and lives shaped by a little ski mountain called Butternut. Let me start at the best place to begin, the beginning.

I grew up a devout non-believer. Winter held no magic for me. It was a time to put away the baseball glove and the golf clubs, and hibernate. It was an unnecessary interruption in my life. Skiing was on someone else's radar screen. Cold weather and I had an uncomfortable truce, but there was clearly no love lost in our relationship.

One day I got married. With marriage, come a number of unexpected twists and turns (that is a tale for another day). Inherited relationships are a by product of the 'I do's.' My wife had remained friendly with a couple, Mark and Judy, she had met in college. They had married shortly thereafter. As I was introduced into the mix, I found I enjoyed spending time with these friends. Many interests were shared. One was not: Mark's love of skiing.

Several months into our friendship, I found myself up very early one morning. I was in the car, in the rain, traveling to ski for the day at a local mountain. I was ill equipped, both literally and figuratively, for the events that lay ahead. The rain continued through our journey, but did not dampen the spirits of my friend.

Eventually, I found myself at the top of the mountain, unable to see clearly due to the rain, and unable to figure how to navigate my way down the hill. I was in rain gear (basically a plastic bag on top of my clothing) and started my descent certain only that I wanted to get to the bottom. Many minutes later, having crashed and tumbled too many times to count, I came to rest at the base, my plastic covering now shredded and in tatters.

I stumbled into the bar and spent the remainder of the day licking my wounds and counting my blessings that I had survived. Through all the torture and the failure I had somehow come to the decision that this was something I could enjoy. I determined that skiing, not today and not tomorrow, but someday, would be a positive experience.

I spent the next few years, before the invention of children, making periodic attempts to improve the equation between my skis and my brain. Eventually, I could see the beginning of perception. I was no longer at risk with each and every turn, but only a few of them. Skiing was making its way into my life, but was still definitely on the periphery.

Oh yes, the children. A perfect set, a boy and later a girl, were delivered to my wife and me, about 5 years apart. As tiny turned into little, talk turned to contemplations of the slopes.

Mark, who with Judy had his first child about 2 years before us, spoke of finding a mountain where we could share this sport with the little people. It had to be close enough for us to get to on a regular basis. And it had to be gentle enough in temperament, physically and emotionally, to deal with all our frailties. Enter Butternut.

We began by time-sharing a part of a house in Stockbridge. We then moved on to a 2 bedroom house where 4 little ones and 4 not so little ones shared food, gameboys (sometimes), and tight quarters. As the years passed, each family eventually found its own place in which to spread out the boots, skis, gloves, hats, helmets, goggles and concerns of the moment.

Butternut became a staple of our winter. Our son, definitely not a competitive person, in athletics or elsewhere, did not enter the world of lessons and ski racing. He moved along at his own pace and, as he grew older, to my pleasant surprise, showed great aptitude and grace. Our daughter was a young phenom, happily soaking up the days on the trails. While she loved her time outside on the snow, she was equally as comfortable with the crayons, coloring books, and slippers we brought along for those moments when the cold, or exhaustion, brought her inside.

Soon enough, friendships were formed. Our daughter, by the age of 5, was joyfully finding her way around the mountain with her equally young friend as her only companion. While these girls could ski almost as well as the best of the adults, they had one major shortcoming. Neither of them was tall enough to reach and pull down the bar which would protect them from sliding out of their seats on the way up the hill. Fortunately, those whose job was to watch and protect skiers on their rides to their top of the mountain destinations, were diligent in their duties and happy to be substitute mother or father for a moment.

Not even into their teens, our children began creating those bonds that would have an impact on their future and on ours. One day our son met a young girl and soon enough the two became fast friends. An alliance between parents evolved out of necessity and because we found we enjoyed each others' company . In the early days, the 2 preteens used to share an over-sized chair in our friend's house. They fought for rights to the best part of the seat, like an old quarreling couple. Today, almost 20 years later, they remain friends who still find reasons to fight with one another. They have shared ski trips together, and even traveled to Spain for two weeks that was filled with memorable and strange moments.

As for those of us brought together by the circumstance of our children, our relationship blossomed. We lived in New Jersey. They lived in Brooklyn. We rented in Egremont. They owned in Hillsdale. Today, we live in side by side apartments in New Jersey, and directly across the street from one another in Great Barrington. It is difficult, in many ways, to conceive of us being any closer.

One of our son's friends became an extended family member at the mountain for several winters. A novice initially, he became more and more adept, and equally as enamored with everything skiing related. From his early days at Butternut, he eventually graduated to teaching skiing at a mountain in Pennsylvania during college. After school finished, the allure of the snow brought him to a decision to move to Colorado, where he still lives. Periodically, we get stories of his time on the slopes and an invitation to return the favor we had long ago extended to him.

Meanwhile, as our daughter grew, she became first a ski racer, and later a ski teacher (following the lead of her older brother who taught skiing at Butternut, in New Hampshire during college, and finally in Colorado). When our daughter began teaching at Butternut, she immediately became fast friends with a young red- headed girl. Through the years, their mutual love of the mountain brought them back during vacations from college. Any excuse would suffice. The red-head became a regular in our house, and on our ski vacations out west.

Once our daughter finished college, she decided she needed time on the slopes before life's other obligations interceded. Given her background in ski racing and teaching skiing at Butternut, she was a natural fit for a job out West. During her season working as a ski supervisor at Deer Valley, she met a young man who she has now been dating for 2 years. As I write this piece, our daughter is at the house of this young man, spending the holiday week with his family. His love of our daughter, I believe, is nearly matched by his love of the slopes.This dual devotion is an absolute necessity for my daughter in finding a mate for life.

My wife has been a long time member of the ski patrol at Butternut. She remains in Great Barrington this week, while I have come back to New Jersey (theoretically to be working, not writing this piece). While my wife was supposed to be alone at our house, she has had visitors the last 2 evenings. Our son's friend, the one who fought him for the best position on the over-sized chair, found her own chair in our den last evening as she settled in for an evening of watching television at our house. Tonight, the little red-headed girl was leaving work and coming to spend a few days of quality time with my wife. While neither of my children are at the house, those who have become integral parts of our world have taken up residence in their stead.

As for Mark, he is now one of the racing coaches at Butternut. Judy occupies a position of import with the mountain, and her beautiful head of gray hair marks her as a person of great distinction.

So, if you wonder what a little mountain in Massachusetts can offer you, look no farther than my story. While I am always a bit envious of those whose ski life involves big moguls and long runs, I know that what I have gotten from my years on these slopes goes far beyond the trails that lay before me. I understand that big tales can come from small places.


Anonymous said...

You are a very lucky man, But maybe you created the luck.

Unknown said...

Nice post. Maybe I too will have a change of heart once i marry my half-canadian, cold-weather-sports-loving hubby-to-be. But until then, I remain firm in my anti-ski stance.

Robert said...

all I read is the last 2 words of your comment "ski-stance". There is a subliminal message of a fervent desire to ski.

I will keep working on you until you join the family ski team.

marketing@skibutternut.com said...

Robert in so many ways you have captured the allure that is so captivating about Ski Butternut and the many other family-friendly midsized NE ski mountains.

Thank you for initially penning and then choosing to share this piece with me. My family members, like yours - although my kids are a tad younger, are already following the love relationship with skiing that you have described so eloquently in your brief.

I look forward to reading the next chapter; and to watching it unfold magnificently before our eyes. Let's compare notes again in a few years and see just where the love of making a turn in glistening white snow has taken us, our family members and their numerous friendships developed as a result of spending times on the slopes skiing.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the unfolding of these experiences one day at a time!

Anonymous said...

I am ashamed of your comparing skiing to golf. Ted

mickey said...

We are so lucky o have become a part of the extended Butternut family-especially the Nuss part! We too feel the love!

Robert said...

Mickey- do the trails in Canada compare to the beauty of the Berkshires?