Look at me, man, I'm the oldest dude on the slopes!

Who's the, like, weird guy in pink? It's Geoff Hill. He's learning to snowboard in Vermont, in spite of being far too old and far too tall
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The Independent Travel

A glance in the mirror confirmed my worst suspicions. Twenty years ago, I had been an international sportsman and Master of the Universe. But now my body had been stolen by the aliens of middle age. My six-pack had become a party seven, and muscles of iron had become muscles for ironing.

A glance in the mirror confirmed my worst suspicions. Twenty years ago, I had been an international sportsman and Master of the Universe. But now my body had been stolen by the aliens of middle age. My six-pack had become a party seven, and muscles of iron had become muscles for ironing.

There was only one thing for it: go to Vermont, learn to snowboard and become a dude again. Vermont, you see, is where snowboarding was invented in 1929 by Jack Burchett, who tied his feet to a plank with some horse reins.

Fast forward, then, to 1965, when Sherman Poppen invented the Snurfer, two skis stuck together, as a toy for his daughter.

Further tweaked by entrepreneurs such as Jake Burton, the Snurfer became the snowboard, and today in Stowe the Burton Method School is alive and well and developing radical new methods which it claims can teach even idiots to board.

Which was why I found myself standing on top of a mountain the next morning with Will the instructor. He was looking puzzled, and no wonder. The ideal snowboarder is 16 and stockily built. I am 46 and 6ft 7ins. Furthermore, snowboarders dress like rejects from the Oxfam shop in Kabul. I was wearing a microlight flying suit which, since my skiing gear was in storage, was all I could find that was warm and windproof. I'd ordered it from the makers in tasteful lilac with pink bits, but the request had somehow been translated into pink and even brighter pink. When I'd appeared on the slopes with it that morning, several small children had fainted and their parents been rushed to hospital with snowblindness.

Around me, the rest of the instructors and boarders were gathering for the day. One of them, a languid youth with a tea cosy on his head and a pair of trousers which would have fitted a small African elephant (including the ears), said: "Wow. Like, man, you are sooo, you know, tall?" People are always telling me this, as if all these years I had thought I was a leprechaun.

Will, meanwhile, was the man for whom the word cool had been invented: six feet two, eyes of blue, a shock of blond hair, taught snowboarding in the winter and surfing in the summer in his native Devon. "OK, man, let's get you on a board," he said.

Now, I've been skiing a few times, but this was like going back to nursery school: the struggling with bindings, the panic attacks, the feeling that someone had stolen your feet in the night and replaced them with two left ones.

It was the strangest of feelings: the principles of weight shifting and using the edges were similar to skiing, but it was more of a Zen activity, in that you looked where you wanted to go, then instinctively went there. Then instinctively fell over. Sort of Ommmmmigod.

Still, after an hour I had staggered through a couple of linked turns, and Will was well pleased. "Doing great, man. Up to Stage 3 this afternoon," he said.

Well, you know what they say about hubris, dude: messing about by myself after lunch, I managed to do something strange to my knee. Still, God bless America for having ice machines everywhere, and at least it gave me the chance to limp around the Vermont Ski Museum. On a giant video screen, Craig Kelly, the world's top snowboarder, was weaving poetically down a vertical cliff face in Canada.

"People always ask me when I'm going to grow up," he said. "Well, I say plenty of time for that. People grow up too soon." Tragically, he was never to find out: he was killed in an avalanche in February, aged 36.

I limped back to the hotel, glad to be alive, put some more ice on my knee, had a hot tub and discovered one of the great truths of life: you should never put bubble bath in a Jacuzzi. Several hours later, after hosing away the last of the suds, I went out to dinner. The two last drinks on the cocktails menu, spookily, were The Nutty Irishman and The Twisted Knee.

After another day of ice packs, I went looking for some heat rub, and found Kelly Stafford behind the counter of the eponymous general store, pharmacy and funeral home her family has owned for three generations. Stafford's is one of the many reasons why Vermonters have so far resisted the lure of giant stores such as Wal-Mart. In those, you go in, gaze in bafflement at a selection of 4,836 heat rubs for half an hour, then ask for advice from an indolent youth who has just started work there that morning.

In Stafford's, you tell Kelly what you need and she gets it for you. That leaves the rest of your half hour free for talking to her about life and the universe, until the phone rings. It's Nancy: she's 92, is coming in to get her blood pressure checked and is worried about getting a parking space.

"I'll put up the 'Funeral Today' sign to save a space for you, dear," Kelly tells her. "But don't take it personally, now."

And so, iced and rubbed and strapped, it's back to the slopes for another morning with Will. After several tentatively spectacular falls, what he was saying suddenly clicked, and I had a Dude to Damascus revelation: if I put all my weight on the front foot, it took the weight off the back. Swish that around and, hey presto, you've turned in a flash.

That was the beginning of the transformation. The day after, having exhausted two more instructors, both knees, a groin and all of Kelly's heat rub, I made it down the mountain in a relatively elegant series of turns, then did a 360 and a jump – at least one of which was deliberate – and buried myself in a snowdrift.

As I dug myself out, the languid youth from the first day sailed blithely past. "Looking good, dude," he said, raising a fist aloft. It was official. I had been elevated to dudedom. To celebrate, I had a beer and drove back to the hotel in the hire car, completely ignoring the advice of Dean Martin when he said: "Don't drink and drive. Don't even putt."

The Facts

Getting there

Geoff Hill was a guest of Crystal Ski (0870 160 6040; www.crystalski.co.uk), which offers seven nights in Stowe from £598, including flights from Heathrow to Burlington, transfers, and seven nights in the Green Mountain Inn ( www.greenmountaininn.com). Hertz (08708 484848, www.hertz.co.uk) has car hire from £24 per day.

Further information

For snowboarding in Stowe, call 001 802 253 3500 or visit www.ridestowe.com. For information on Stowe, visit www.gostowe.com. For information on Vermont, call 020-7771 7022 or visit www.skivermont.co.uk. At the excellent Vermont Ski Museum in Stowe admission is free; donations welcomed. Call 001 802 253 9911.

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