Daily Archives: December 24, 2013

Remembering Gray Rocks

Some friends and I decided to head up to Vermont for a little ski vacation just before Christmas this year and so that is where I am as I write this.  We drove up as soon as my son came home from school for the holiday break and we were definitely in for a big surprise…..warmer temperatures in the mountain than at home.  Any other time, I welcome the warmer weather but for a ski trip it is not exactly ideal.  As I have made my way around the mountain the past two days, my mind keeps going back to a little over twenty years ago when I first learned to ski.

The barely covered top of Okemo Ski Area

Most of my readers know that I was born in Mumbai, India in the month of May, probably the hottest month of the summer in a region of the country that doesn’t really ever get colder than 70 F; Not generally anyway.  Growing up, I was not exposed to skiing.  It is an expensive hobby and my parents just plain couldn’t afford to get us involved in it, nor did they even really think about it – they were too busy thinking about survival and paying the mortgage and those sort of mundane things.  In 1992 I was employed with a company that allowed me to travel a bit, and on one of my trips I was perusing through a magazine that contained an advertisement for a ski trip package to a place called Gray Rocks that was an amazing deal for one week for $999……Canadian!!!  It included everything – lift tickets, rentals, lodging, 22 hours of instruction and all meals.  With the exchange rate at the time, that was like 50 cents US (not really) and way too good to pass up. Plus I had recently decided I liked new adventures and this would most certainly qualify.  All I needed to do was convince a friend to go along which of course I did do and off we went up the NYS Thruway in my yellow Honda Prelude.  What I didn’t realize was that even in Canada, it’s pretty warm in April and so the bargain was a marketing gimmick – one that clearly worked.

All I can say is I came out of that week absolutely hooked on skiing.  I loved it!  I didn’t care that we were learning on slush and avoiding puddles most of the week.  Any more of a meltdown and it could have qualified as water skiing.  Over the next few years I fell in love with every aspect of skiing – waking up early to make first chair, making fresh tracks in new fallen snow, the cold beer at lunch time, the mystery of the trail never taken, the apres ski  adventures at the bar, etc. etc. etc.  And Gray Rocks became an annual tradition. 

My son learning to ski as age 4

Over the next fifteen years, I introduced the amazing school at Gray Rocks to my then husband, friends with small children, my family and so many more people.  My father learned to ski there at the age of 69.  Even my mother tried it once.  My son started lessons at Gray Rocks at the age of three and today can ski just about any terrain at pretty fast speeds.  We looked forward to going there each year, staying at one of their condos just one mile from the base and meeting the other skiers on the first day of class.  After a while we knew most of the ski instructors well and would even invite some of them over for dinners with the group or go out for apres ski drinks with them at local bars or over to the village at Mont Tremblant.  Over the years we even got to know many of the guests who went during the same week each year.

There was something magical about Gray Rocks that I can’t quite describe.  The resort was not fancy or luxurious but it was that sense of feeling like you were a part of a family that made it special.  If you lost a mitt or hat, someone would find it and get it back to you.  You could leave anything anywhere on the mountain without losing it.  We would always compare and compete which class we were assigned to based on the first day evaluations, class number one being the best.  My first time there I was in class 22 and my last year I finally was  assigned to class 1 – I had made it!!!  There was a lot of history in this place as it had operated as a teaching only mountain for many decades with a ski school, in my opinion, that was top notch

The small town of St. Jovite which was just a few kilometers away, too, was something special.  It had some great restaurants mostly specializing in French cuisine in rustic looking home spaces.  Two of my favorites were Le Cheval de Jade and La Ripaille.   Both restaurants had amazing food, friendly service and a wonderful ambiance that made dinner an experience all by itself.  My favorite place at Mont Tremblant was the micro brasserie Le Diable where I spent many an apres ski hour drinking great beer trying to numb the pain of my muscles that had been worked to their max by the ski instructor of that week.  Many of our meals were also cooked in the condo based on what we found at the local IGA on the day of arrival.  Lunches were often had at the mid-mountain Lucille Wheeler lodge where one could find the usual ski lodge foods along with local specialties like poutine or a few healthier choices too.  A Labatt with lunch would help get you kick started for the afternoon lesson.  Often we were so into the skiing that we would rush through lunch just to get a few extra runs in.

I don’t generally miss many things or places except home, but I truly miss Gray Rocks.  It shut down

Top of Champagne run at Gray Rocks

a few years ago after being mismanaged and poorly marketed by an owner who likely purchased it as a tax write off.  Everyone I know who went there with me was saddened by the news of its closing.  My son, to this day, will say “I wish we could go back to Gray Rocks” as we begin making our annual ski plans.  But we can only go back in our memories.  I have not gone back to St Jovite since then.  I imagine it has changed some.  I stay in touch with some of the ski instructors and get news here and there about the goings on and where others have moved on to.  I suppose life is full of closed chapters…. Gray Rocks is one of my favorites and I am truly glad I didn’t ignore that advertisement in that magazine so many years ago and decided to adventure into the world of downhill skiing.  It opened up so many possibilities and adventures for me in life.

So, as I ski in the warm temperatures, dodging puddles of water and grass patches and drink my Cuba libres (my official apres ski drink thanks to CC) by the fireplace at the end of my day, I can’t help but reminisce about the place I learned to ski and was lucky enough to take my son to also learn to ski.  I’m thankful for the experience that so many will not have and will never forget the tiny little ski hill called Gray Rocks!!

The required apres ski fire
The thick fog at Okemo at top of Solitude

Happy Skiing!!!

Dedicated to all the amazing ski instructors at Gray Rocks who were tireless in their efforts in teaching so many of us with great skill and patience.  Thank you all!!

%d bloggers like this: