Celebrate: I asked for skis but Santa didn’t deliver; now, the rest of the story

The author with his sister Sarah and grandmother at Killington Mountain in Vermont, circa 1970 or 1971.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
The author with his sister Sarah and grandmother at Killington Mountain in Vermont, circa 1970 or 1971.

Christmas Day had come and gone, and nothing.

The only gift I really wanted that year — really, really wanted — wasn’t under the tree. And it wasn’t in the pillowcase at the foot of my bed either (my family’s version of Christmas stockings).

I was crushed.

But that’s not the end of the story. It’s only the beginning.

For months, I’d been daydreaming of Christmas morning. That would be the day. Finally, fabulously, it would come true.

What I wanted more than anything else in the world was a pair of skis. But not just any old skis. Brand-new skis. Ones to call my own.

Even though I was barely 6 or 7 years old, I’d already been skiing for a while by then. Thankfully, my parents got my sister and me started just about as early as possible. We have old family snapshots that show me on skis at the ripe old age of 3 or 4, a twig of a boy with a giant grin and even bigger hand-me-down ski equipment.

Each fall, my parents picked up used equipment in our sizes at one of the local school ski swaps. Swaps were a big thing back then, when alpine skiing was still a big deal in most northern states and Canada.

On winter weekends, my parents would dutifully bundle up my sister and me, help us buckle our boots and click into our bindings. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy.

In the early days, we mostly hit local ski hills. Some were outfitted with rope tows, but others required our own uphill locomotion — or, more often than not, that of our dedicated parents.

My mother and father would schlep us up the hills, then we’d ski down.

Up and down. Up and down.

We’d ski all day long, or at least until we were worn out by the strenuous exercise and often bone-chilling cold.

After a few years we graduated to bigger hills. Then to ski areas.

Index – Celebrate: There’s still so much to Celebrate

Nearby Willard Mountain in Washington County was one of our regular spots.

Eventually, we broadened our horizons with regular visits to some of the big guys — Killington Mountain in Vermont and Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks were two favorites.

By the time I was 6 or 7, my sister and I were regulars. We were skiers.

All summer long, we daydreamed of schussing down the slopes. To prepare for ski season, we regularly hiked as a family on the weekends. My father stressed the importance of building up our wind and leg strength. We hiked mountains with names like Crane and Tongue and Buck. We ate it up, often scampering up the mountains well ahead of our parents.

By the time December rolled around every year, we were raring to go, even before the first flakes started flying. To add even more stoke to the fire, we followed all the famous skiers of the day.

In the early 1970s, alpine skiing was a big part of the American experience. Names like Billy Kidd, Spider Sabich and Suzy Chaffee were seemingly ubiquitous on Saturday afternoon TV and the glossy magazines on newsstands. American idols? You bet.

At nighttime, I sometimes drifted off to sleep with visions of my future life as a skier. Would I grow up to be a World Cup racer like Jean-Claude Killy or Ingemar Stenmark? Or maybe I’d move to Colorado to co-star in a ski-bro film with superstar singer-songwriter John Denver. All I needed was the cold, crisp air of the mountains and a pair of sweet skis.

And therein was the problem.

How in the heck was I going to make it Rocky Mountain high with some crummy old skis that had already been used by the boy up the street for three seasons, and by his brother before that? I needed new boards. New sticks.

Index – Celebrate: There’s still so much to Celebrate

So I turned to Santa, a guy who certainly understands the undeniable gravitational pull of cold, northern climes.

All these years later, I don’t recall exactly what I wrote on my wish list that year. But I do remember the first item with full certitude: Skis.

In a bid to increase my chances, I kept the rest of my list short. No need to appear greedy.

When the big day finally arrived, I was supercharged with anticipation. This would surely be my year. I was getting older, growing taller. I was a big boy and more than ready for brand-new skis.

It wasn’t meant to be, however. There were no skis under the tree.

Today, almost half a century later, I don’t remember how I handled my disappointment that day. I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t exactly stoic. (My poor parents; I’m sorry, Mom and Dad.)

But here’s where my story takes a turn (this is a story about skiing, remember).

A day or two after Christmas, early in the morning, we were all at home when we heard something on the roof that sounded like sleigh bells. Or at least my mom heard it. So we went to the front door to investigate.

Tucked inside the door was a handwritten note. It was from you-know-who. And it was addressed to me.

Unfortunately, Santa wrote, he and his team at the North Pole had been experiencing some supply-chain delays. (Talk about deja vu!) He was very sorry, he said.

Without further explanation, the note directed us to go around to the back of the house. I led the way.

And there they were.

Skis. My skis.

Miles Reed is the editor of the Gazette.

Index – Celebrate: There’s still so much to Celebrate

Categories: Celebrate 2021, Life and Arts

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