This story originally published in the November 2013 issue of POWDER (42.3).
"Girls stay here. Guys...with me." My buddies and I exchanged uncertain glances until the rallying cry came again. "Suit up, boys."
It was my freshman year of college and I had been seeing a girl for three weeks. We both claimed to be skiers but had reached the point in our courtship where we needed to figure out if we could actually share turns. The experiment was supposed to be a weekend at her family's place in Killington, Vermont, with a group of friends--then her dad showed up.
At a commanding 6-foot-4, he was the archetypal family protector. A stern-faced stockbroker from the city with a penetrating stare, and the type of weekend warrior that skinned up Killington Peak if lifts were late to open, the man oozed intensity.
So when he called "the guys" to head out night skiing, we jumped--tripping over snow pants and fumbling with boots. Nevermind that Killington didn't have night skiing. It wasn't about that. If I was going to be spending time with his daughter, I'd have to prove my mettle--on the ski hill, to her dad. Resort days were a sacred break from 9 to 5 life, something he wasn't about to waste on a pack of scrub skiers. This was my test, a trial by fire.
The squad packed into his Nissan Armada and ripped up the icy Sunrise Village access road. Our shuttle driver, known simply as O'Connell, dropped us and sped off, promising to meet us at the bottom of God-knows-where.
The Sunrise Village area is beginner terrain, yet somehow our leader had us clawing up New England's equivalent of Denali. In addition, two feet of snow had fallen that week, turning our off-piste hike into a waist-deep slog. As the wind picked up, our infallible captain yelled back to throw our skis and army crawl to distribute our surface area, and I pictured the next day's headline in the Rutland Herald, "Five Perish in Sunrise Village" followed by the subhead, "Motives for Hiking Bunny Hill Unclear."
A half hour and 300 feet of struggle later, we reached the top and haggardly clicked-in. El Capitan pointed down the liftline. "Follow these poles, and don't hit any." With that wisdom, he vanished over the fall line, leaving behind a silvery contrail and four confused college kids. We trailed after him, the two feet much sweeter on the way down than on the trip up.
Still, it was pitch black and we narrowly avoided rocks until one buddy faded too far left and exploded against a split rail fence. Man down.
I pushed to keep our guide in sight, afraid to lose his short slalom turns, and more importantly, my chance at respect. And his daughter. He veered in between a set of condos, and I nearly turned too late, throwing my Salomon Foils on edge just in time.
The run ended a few hundred feet down at a cul-de-sac and our waiting shuttle. He turned around, shocked to see my surviving buddy and me so close behind. The surprise gave way to a commending nod. "Tomorrow should be fun," he said.
Back at the condo, the girls grilled us about our late-night exercise, but we knew the mission would stay between guys. Before bed, the man we'd feared hours earlier grabbed us each a Sam Adams. He handed over my frosty diploma, clinking his approval. I'd passed.