Madonna and Frostbite

Madonna Trail Map 1967The fourth area I skied in 1968 was Madonna. That’s what Smuggs was called at that time. Rick Rock had the answer to last week’s trivia question. Rick’s a long time Smuggs skier, and Stowe skier for that matter. He’s younger than I am, but I’m betting Rick started skiing Smuggs when it was called Madonna.

In the early 1980s I lived in Underhill and skied Smuggs. I’d arrive early and be one of the first cars in the upper lot. However Rick was always in the first spot! Skiing with Rick meant never skiing a marked trail. That’s not quite true, because he always liked to take a couple of cruising runs with his 220 downhill skis before switching skis and heading for the woods.

Back to my first experience with skiing Madonna which was in the Christmas and New Year’s timeframe. I remember it was a very cold day with wind. We took our first run on Sterling, probably because the Madonna lift was on wind-hold. I skied down Rum Runner and stopped at the junction with Black Snake. I was waiting for my friends when a stranger skied up to me. He took one look at me and told me I had frostbite on my nose! I had never knowingly had frostbite while skiing. Thirty seconds later I was warming up in the Madonna base lodge. I did not wait to tell my friends where I was going. They eventually joined me in the base lodge. I think we only took four runs that day!

Over my 50 years of Vermont skiing I have worn the frostbite badge of honor many times. The good news is that today’s gear protects you so much better than what we had 50 years ago.

Wind Chill TableOne of the reasons I planned this column for the Christmas holiday week was that last year at this time we were experiencing record cold. So my insurance policy against a repeat of those temperatures was to write about frigid weather. You can thank me later for the forecast of more seasonal temperatures for this week.

One of the cold weather related topics that comes up is gloves versus mittens. Yes, I know that mittens are warmer, but I’m a glove guy. I don’t feel comfortable gripping my poles with mittens. Over the years I’ve used various techniques to keep my fingers warm in gloves: arm windmilling really gets the blood back into your fingers and curling your fingers into your palms while riding up the lift also helps. Notice I didn’t mention hand warmers, I’ve never used them. Of course you can now buy gloves or mittens with electronic heaters!

Another habit I developed to keep my hands warm is sitting on my poles on the chairlift. You’ll see most “experienced skiers” doing this and I’m not sure if that’s for the same reason or just because it’s “cool!” Anyway, holding your ski poles on the ride up the chair is a quick way to get cold hands.


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