Down East 2013 ©
By Nancy Heiser
Photograph Courtesy Ski Museum of Maine
If you’ve ever skied at Sugarloaf, you’ve seen the badges: Sugarloafer since fill in the blank. Most of the staff wears them. Some guests do, too. The practice denotes loyalty, inspires conversation, and creates a community among the folks who live or visit in the valley of the cold mountain.
My badge, if I had one, would read “Sugarloafer since 1972.” But it was a random visit to the resort in 1973 that changed my life.
That January was “colder than a witch’s tit,” as some Colby guys I knew used to say when the weather got particularly rough in Waterville. It was also Jan Plan, the month between semesters when you took one course, or signed on for an internship, or traveled for four weeks and kept a journal — for college credit. Jan Plan was also a good opportunity to fit in some downhill skiing.
Midway through the month, I exited campus for a day trip to Sugarloaf, hitching a ride with a group from my dorm. After a few glorious runs that morning, the guys were so excited by the skiing that they intended to stay the night, crashing on some floor somewhere, not a toothbrush or change of clothes among them. But first, they’d knock back a few frosty ones at the Red Stallion.
Where did that leave responsible and studious me — a pitiful sophomore with no cash, no sleeping bag, no interest in an evening of debauchery, and a class to get to the next day? Looking for a ride home.
I headed to the lodge for lunch. A tall, skinny guy with flyaway hair down to his shoulders carried a tray to an empty spot by the window. “Hi, um, you look familiar. Do you go to Colby?” I asked, thinking, “please say yes.”
Smile. Affirmative. Yes, he was going back that day, and yes, he had room in his car. He had come to the mountain by himself. I could travel back to campus with him. Relief.
We spent the afternoon riding the gondola (back in the day when there was a gondola, and it went all the way to the top), carving turns, and trying to impress. Then we drove back. We had a nice talk, he dropped me off at my dorm. End of story. Almost.
Did he want some gas money for the trip, I asked? Yes, he would. Oops. Miscalculation. I had no cash with me. The next day I put two dollars in an envelope and left it in his mailbox. He made a point to visit my dorm to thank me. Long story short, we started seeing each other, and we’ve been married Sugarloafers since 1979.
It’s quite possible that if we’d met in Professor Mizner’s “The Literature of Existentialism,” say, we’d be nothing more than Miller Library acquaintances.
Fast forward to March 1990. He and I have two children, whose badges, if they had them, would say “Sugarloafer since 1987.” My younger sister, newly moved to Maine from Atlanta, is with us for a weekend of skiing. We are sharing a condo with my parents, seventy-somethings visiting the mountain for the first time. It is a three-generation vacation.
That Saturday night my sister stays out late — too late. She slips in at 2 a.m., trying to be quiet, but I am alert enough to notice her pass through the living room. I’ve been worried about her. She’s a grown-up, it’s none of my business, but jeesh — you gotta be careful.
“I met a guy,” she says. At the Widowmaker Lounge. A local. An impish smile crosses her face.
A month later, she gets her wisdom teeth pulled. And her Sugarloafer since time immemorial arrives in Portland to take care of her. I like this man. He’s a keeper. Three years later they get married.
Now they have their own little guy — a Sugarloafer since 1998.
Is there a moral to these slopeside stories? I’m not sure. Perhaps this old chestnut: You never know where or when you’ll meet your spouse. Or perhaps this: A day on a cold mountain, more than many other situations, may encourage you to find someone to snuggle up with. For life.