Elsewhere about the premises the stage-setting goes on. Behind the ticket counter there is a large concrete pit. Working in an assembly-line fashion in this subbasement, a crew of high school boys fits boots and skis, making it unnecessary for patrons to risk back strain by fastening their own shoes or bindings. There is a ski shop, hung with Hudson Bay-type garments, presided over by a Vermont storekeeper ideally suited by accent and temperament to make anyone who braves the blasts of a southern Pennsylvania winter without a padded, insulated jacket feel both unchic and cold. In the main hall of the lodge the 11-foot fieldstone fireplace is ready. Two enormous bearskins, mounted on frilly plastic, are draped on the walls. Because the skins were hung before the carpentry was finished they are a little sawdusty but, nevertheless, they look wild, like beasty. There is no moose head at Charnita—three stuffed squirrels, a bobcat and a tiny fawn having to suffice.
With everything in place, the chorus of Austrian, Aspen and Spanish voices raised on high, Charnita was ready for skiers. Happily, if astoundingly, they came. Even during the early monsoon period of the winter, as soon as Dick Brown would lay a patch of man-made snow customers would appear, slogging through the mud puddles to reach Mount Charnita, which at that time was more suited to surfing than skiing.
"I try one wax, then another wax," explained Toni Sponar sadly. "Then I think no wax helps. It is hard work getting down that little hill, push, push. The weather cannot be believed."
But southern skiers are less critical than Austrians. "Great! Fast!" yelled an exuberant young man bundled in a Cowichan Indian sweater, as he swept down the hill at the speed of a snowball being rolled across a lawn.
"They are shy people," says Traudi, of the southern skiers. "They are not sure am I a servant, a teacher or a wicked girl. But they want to learn something. How do you explain?" says the Austrian girl, her round face earnest, puzzled. "It is not so much to ski, they want to learn, but to look as if to ski. What clothes, how to stand, how to sit in a chair. For an hour I give a private lesson to a lady. It is not skiing she wants so much, I think, but to hear me talk about skiing. I think so she can talk to her friends."
Shortly thereafter such a beginner as Traudi's, a lady in very stretchy, fully stretched powder-blue pants and a great, puffy down jacket teetered out of the rental shop, where she had been shod by the pit crew. She took three tentative steps on the strawy snow in front of the lodge and then toppled over. She lay for a moment, arms and skis thrashing like an overturned, overpadded turtle, then righted herself, only to discover that a binding had become disengaged.
"Do any of y'all know how this gismo works?" the lady asked in a pretty Virginia drawl.
For a moment there was a barely perceptible tightening about Toni Sponar's jaw, but then he was all Austrian ski instructor. "Yes, ma'am. This is the binding on the ski. It is very safe and easy to adjust."
By the end of January there were southern skiers struggling with gismos all over the hill as temperatures dropped to almost freezing and Dick Brown's strip of snow inched up the slope. On one pleasant weekend Charnita drew a crowd of 3,000. This was made up (according to a comparison of parking-lot and lift tickets) of 1,000 skiers and 2,000 spectators, who watched the skiers or otherwise entertained themselves about the lodge hall. Even for the minority, the participants, actual skiing occupied only a small part of their time. For example, at 3 p.m. 375 potential skiers were lined up in the chair-lift line. Average elapsed time from joining this queue to the end of a run was 39 minutes (with six minutes on the slope). A really dedicated customer, one willing to spend six hours in pursuit of this pleasure, was able to slide a couple of miles in the course of a Sunday.
This inaction did not seem to irritate the skiers. After all, if properly parkaed, panted and shod, a nonsportsman, leaning negligently on his ski poles, gives the illusion and apparently has the sensation of being a sportsman.