It’s that time of year when a certain breed of people has grown tired of the heat and begun to pine for the snow-covered slopes to which a second mortgage will provide access, if only for a half-day.
“Skiers” these people are called. Over the years I’ve made detailed notes about skiers. We’re talking “downhill” skiers as opposed to cross-country skiers. Those who prefer downhill have wardrobes of puffy clothing to keep them warm and dry which, of course, they don’t. Cross-country skiers are those who prefer to ski wearing the same clothing one might wear to feed cattle.
Despite their obvious differences, both drive Subarus.
I believe that skiing began someplace where it is desperately cold and mountainous. Norway comes to mind. Ancient Norwegians lived on the tops of mountains—mostly because they liked the views—but needed to shop at the bottom of the hill where the stores were—mostly because delivery vehicles could reach them with fresh supplies of lutefisk, potatoes, lingonberry cream, and the occasional sheep’s head.
The Norwegians would tie lengths of 1x4s to their feet and zoom down the hill, where they’d purchase all the stuff most of us would not eat unless you found yourself trapped in the basement of a Lutheran church, surrounded by ladies in floral-print dresses. Anyway, the Norwegians would schlep all the stuff up to their mountaintop homes and, one week later, they would repeat the process.
Nobody really liked this, but being Norwegian, they didn’t complain.
Downhill skiing grew in popularity once Sven Pinnekjøtt invented the towrope. A couple centuries later, somebody invented the chairlift and skiing became so popular as to warrant its own glossy magazine, Downhill Methodology and Theory, and be recognized as an Olympic sport with no fewer than 33 individual categories of competition, many of which involve being airborne for several minutes.
Ski hills, those snow-covered places where skiing takes place, began popping up in the most unlikely of places. Abu Dhabi, for instance.
Ski Dubai is an indoor ski resort in the middle of the desert. Actually, it’s in the middle of a mall. The mall is in the middle of the desert. An amusement park unlike any other, there is skiing and snowboarding, in addition to bobsledding, snow tubing, snow play, the Zorb Ball and an ice cave. There are also penguins. The whole thing is as preposterous as golf in Siberia.
I tend to think that skiing belongs where there are tall mountains and an abundance of snow. It seems untoward for it to be anywhere else. Sort of like ice hockey in Tampa Bay or Anaheim: it just seems wrong.
The Rocky Mountains are full of ski hills. Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado come to mind. Montana has a handful of what are called “local” hills; it also has the Yellowstone Club that requires proof of a personal wealth of untold billions of dollars.
The local hills of Aspen, Colorado, are akin to the Yellowstone Club, except there are strict dress codes.
The New England region of the United States have hills similar to the Rocky Mountain region, the difference being that Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have snow that is actually ice. Skiing in New England is fast and furious—dangerous because there are no soft and fluffy places to land after losing your balance getting off the chair lift.
California, which has dozens of ski resorts sprinkled throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is where I learned that skiing and I would never be friends. On one of my four attempts at downhill skiing, I got slammed in the back of my head by the chair lift because I dallied on the little ramp thing that gives you the sense that you’re skiing. It hurt. A lot.
I grew up in Illinois. There weren’t enough slopes in the terrain to allow a decent sledding adventure, let alone one that called for skis. There are now, however, five ski resorts in Illinois—four of which are within spitting distance of Chicago. Like I said, I grew up in Illinois, mostly within spitting distance of Chicago. The landscape was as flat as flat can be. We named mounds of dirt and the depressions along riversides. While the weather was certainly conducive to winter sports, if something froze in our great outdoors, it was probably flat enough to play hockey.
No doubt driven by financial opportunities, places like Alabama, Tennessee and Texas have ski resorts. Of course, many of those states have homemade hills with snow blown out of machines to give the illusion of winter. So far, there are no ski resorts in Florida or Louisiana.
But skiing is big business, so I imagine that plans are being made as we speak to open indoor ski resorts in Miami and New Orleans.
If only Sven Pinnekjøtt could see what he started.
Photo Illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Chicken and Mushrooms in White Wine
A simple weeknight dinner that we can’t seem to get enough of.
4 tbsp butter, divided
¼ cup flour
2 cups chicken stock, lukewarm
½ cup dry white wine
4 Tbs. heavy cream
1 tsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 lb chicken or turkey breast, cut into chunks
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
Handful of finely chopped tarragon or parsley
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large pan over medium heat. Add flour and beat hard until you have a smooth paste. Continue to beat until roux begins to have a golden color. Take off heat and gradually add stock, whisking constantly.
Place pan back over medium heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes, whisking frequently to ensure none of the sauce burns on bottom of pan. If sauce becomes too thick, whisk in a little more stock.
Add wine and continue simmering for 10 minutes, then take off the heat and whisk in cream and lemon juice. Taste for salt and pepper.
While sauce is simmering, melt 2 tablespoons butter in large frying pan until sizzling. Add chicken and fry for a few minutes until golden. Add mushrooms and fry for another 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
To serve, mix sauce with chicken and mushrooms and sprinkle with some fresh tarragon or parsley.