Fresh powder clings to the branches of the balsams. I ski beneath a low-hanging limb; it suddenly springs skyward, showering me in cold flakes that sting my skin and momentarily steal my breath. Just ahead, I see a sign that could just as well be posted at the gates to the underworld: THIS TRAIL IS STEEP, NARROW, LONG, NOT PATROLLED, AND UNGROOMED. DO NOT SKI ALONE. A minute later, another sign advises that it's nine miles to the Trapp Family Lodge, our ultimate destination today.
Is this heaven or hell? Our answer comes just uphill, past the ominous warnings, when one of my ski partners flies down through a snow-filled glade of bright-white birch trees. A grinning Sam von Trapp lets out a hoot and stops. "Welcome to Paradise," he says. He scoops up a handful of fluff and blows it into the air. "Utah powder, right here in Vermont."
It was Sam's father, Johannes, who in the early 1980s oversaw the rebuilding and expansion of the famous lodge to which we're headed. Sam has joined me, along with his wife, Elisa, and my wife, Sue Minter, for our foray along the Catamount Trail. The conditions we find there--a foot of soft snow under a bluebird sky--surprise us all.