One of the ideas behind starting Ski Mad World was to tell the story of skiing, of the sport in general and my particular relationship with the sport. Gathering my hundreds of trip reports of my ski outings along with my other tidbits scattered around the internet.
I also wanted to relive the trips that never made it online, either the recent ones or those beautiful trips from many years ago, recreating the atmosphere of the times. Some of those nostalgia trips would involved trips from my youth.
I found out that my favorite ski mag had a great idea, The Ski Journal had a “first day ever essay contest”. The submissions are to be judged by Warren Miller himself. A great topic that falls right where I want to go with this nostalgia series, however I wasn’t expecting to go that far in the past.
So here goes…the first in the Ski Mad World’s nostalgia series:
Beaver Lake, circa 1968
I don’t clearly recall my first time on skis. I’m not even sure how old I was. As far as I can remember, skiing has always been part of my life. It’s like asking someone if they remember their first steps. Probably common in avid skiers’ kids.
My mother grew up in a large French Canadian family in the Laurentians within 20 miles from Gray Rocks Inn and Mont Tremblant Lodge, I was told that my grandfather groomed the runs at Tremblant with snowshoes in the 40s. My mom really got into skiing once she moved out and left for Montreal in 1953. I recall her telling stories about taking the ski trains as a young adult.
My father, of Irish descent, grew up in Montreal and as a kid skied on Mount Royal where he would take the tramway to get to the mountain and ski back down the street at the end of the day. Skiing would become a major part of his life, as he would drop everything to move to the hills as soon as snow would fall. He was an instructor for close to 15 years under the skier like Ernie McCulloch, Réal Charette and Bob Richardson. Skiing in the Laurentians at places like Gray Rocks, Villa Bellevue and Tremblant, eventually ending a at new ski area in the Eastern Townships.
It’s there, at Glen Mountain, where my parents would met. A few years later I was born and I would ski a few more years later.
My earliest recollection of skiing was at Beaver Lake at Mount Royal Park in Montreal. Judging from the pictures in the Family Album, I would have just under 3 year young. so it would have been the Winter of ‘68. This might not have been my first time, but it is definitely my earliest memory of it.
At that time we lived on Fort Street in downtown Montreal and only a couple blocks of the old famed Montreal Forum. Montreal has a rich history of skiing on it’s mountain an surrounding slopes within the island. At one point in time, there was even a ski jump on Côte-des-Neiges, but the jump was long gone when I was born as urbanization had spread since that time.
There were still a few ski hills with tows or t-bars within the city limits in the late sixties. Places like Beaver Lake, Cabrini Park, the park where the Stadium would be build for the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976, all of these were City of Montreal Parks which had lifts. There was also the more serious skiing at l’Université de Montréal ski slope on the other side of Mount Royal.
I don’t remember if my father was there at that time or how we got to the hill. I just know that my mother didn’t have a car back then and we often took the city bus to get around. Mount Royal Park was only one bus ride away up la Côte-des-Neiges (Hill of Snow – in fact the meaning of Côte here would be more like Coast, but I prefer Hill of Snow for this text). I recall going to Mount Royal throughout the seasons.
Beaver Lake was one of the most popular places in Mount Royal Park in the Winter time. There was skating and the open slope on the next to the lake was divided between the tobogganing and the skiers. There was hill was serviced by a t-bar.
There was one small slope with a T-bar on the southern edge of the Beaver Lake. Fifty-six vertical feet with one large slope. I knew that hill, as we tobogganed it a few times. I recall that there was always a good number of people either sliding or skiing. On this day, it was going to be different, I was going to ski.
From the chalet I needed to cross the snow-covered pond with my skis to reach the T-bar. The nature of the terrain was of course pretty limited, but ideal for beginners from the city. I vaguely remember going up the T-bar. The only thing I really remember was that my mom was holding me as I was staring down mostly at my skis between her skis and we were sliding further away from the T-bar, not far from the fence and toboggan side of the hill. My skis were red and her skis looked like some old Rossignol Stratos and she had laced ski boots, or were those mine? Somehow I knew this moment was important; I felt like a grown up, practicing a sport that my parents loved. Maybe I had a feeling on how much skiing would mean to my life.
My ski day probably didn’t last that long, maybe a few runs, that is all I remember and my parents are no longer here. I remember bringing my oldest daughter here when she was 3, driving across the mountain from my favorite ski shop with her ski equipment while I was in Montreal for the Holidays. My mom had told me the T-bar was still active. So once at the parking lot, I decided to put my skis and my daughter’s skis and we skied down some really rough snow. When we got to where the lift was…nothing. I had to carry my daughter in my arms while climbing uphill. I mentioned this today, because when I asked my daughter if she remember her first day, she told me about this experience. It wasn’t her first day, but what she thought was her first day.
My mom loved the mountain; she loved walking and skiing here, especially cross-country skiing. She wanted it to be her final resting place. Last Spring we placed her ashes one mile away from that defunct T-bar and Beaver Lake. Although I’ve skied over forty years, over a thousand times at a hundred areas across the East, the West, the Alps and the Andes, I’ll always cherish these memories.
Dedicated to my mom who would have turned 75 today. Merci Maman.
After a question from Rfarren on FirstTracksonline, I replied with a series of pictures and links about Beaver Lake and Mont Royal Park in general.
You can see my FTO reply here.