But ski instructors are the glamour boys of the sport—the gods of the mountain. Handsomely attired (they must be good-looking and wear stretch pants), deeply tanned, highly visible, they are tirelessly pursued by women. And they must be available. They rotate at ski-lodge tables, they talk skiing in the evening and they must maintain an aura of manly vigor. Soon or late, they begin to believe the legends about themselves.
The reality underneath is somewhat less than glittering. Many ski instructors are just small-town boys who in the summer are prosaic cabinetmakers, construction workers or telephone linesmen. Recently some professional types have been recruited—engineers, attorneys and nurses (among the women). Of course, there are the European ski instructors, for some of whom the role of gigolo-athlete comes easily. But European instructors are sometimes hired sight unseen—a chancy business. As a result, ski operators often settle for the kid next door. The result is winter head-turning and summer devaluation.
But even the glamorous winter season has its asperities. Instructors are expected to turn up in fair weather and foul, in sickness or in health. And there is a curious reversal of the sexual roles of male and female instructors. It is the men who are courted and petted and spoiled. They are the starlets of the slopes, and narcissism is a serious occupational hazard. The women, on the other hand, are like a cartoon version of wartime WACs—hard-bitten, tough, masculine.
If there is some ambiguity about the life of ski instructors, the ski towns too are not quite certain whether they are blessed or damned. Wilmington, Vt., near Mt. Snow, is not untypical. Years ago it drowsed all winter and waited for a small flurry of summer tourists. Now it swings all winter and people say commiseratingly, "It must be dead here in the summer." And, along with the skiers, there has been a torrent of dollars. Nevertheless, all is not well. This old community, which has its origins in the 18th century, finds itself overrun. To many townspeople—flinty Vermonters all—the term skier means foreigner. The town likes the money but hates the people. Wee Moran, who runs a ski shop in Wilmington with a Vermonters crotchetiness, posted a sign that reads: "Your credit is not good here based on my experience in the past. If this does not apply to you, I am sure you will not be offended." And on a blackboard he is prone to write little homilies, e.g., "If you steal from a crook, you're a clever crook. But if you betray a trust, you're a damned fool."
As a symptom of change, Wilmington now has an authentic Greenwich Village type coffeehouse. The proprietor, Phil Capy, is a singer and dancer with a passion for skiing. During the day, he is the hard-working, paid leader of the ski patrol at Haystack Mountain. Evenings he runs a small dormitory for skiers and sings folk songs in the cellar establishment. To some of the townsmen the coffeehouse is like a hint of Sodom or Babylon in its wicked heyday.
But these are merely the growing pains of a new sport. Skiing has emerged as one of the country's durable activities—esthetically gratifying, technically demanding and bracingly elemental.
The pure mystique of skiing was expressed by a young woman in New York, dark-haired and intricate of psyche: "I was sitting in a lodge feeling outside. And there were all these tall, handsome, blond skiers. And I had a longing for the blue-eyed and blond-haired."