Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Ski, You Ski, We All Scream When the Credit Card Bill Arrives

Just before that first time we reached the mountain, we drove past two cemeteries. That's some potentially heavy-handed foreshadowing when your family has just decided to take up skiing.

Turns out, I misinterpreted this sign. The burial grounds we skirted en route to Ski Sundown (there it was again!) in New Hartford, a year ago weren't a harbinger of physical demise to come on the slopes. They were a warning that this hobby could lead to a pauper's grave.

me-thumbs-upThis clarification came a few days ago after having survived my first full winter's skiing with minimal near-death experiences and one huge escape from blowing half a million dollars on a weekend hideaway in Vermont.

The near-fatal fiscal buildup came gradually. The previous summer, we wisely invested in helmets, goggles and arctic wear at mega-low online, off-season rates. Our family of four, still sporting shorts and sandals at the time, visited a local ski shop to be fit for a long winter's rental of skis, boots and poles – all at a pre-snowflake discount.

When December finally came, we hit the slopes. The slopes hit back at our bank account.

Gas. Lift tickets, which resorts upsell with movie-theater concession ingenuity ("Only $5 more for the all-day versus the half-day even though in reality I'll only ski an extra 45 minutes? What a deal!"). Lunch and post-run adult beverages to revive numb feet and soothe sore thighs. Repeated every few weekends and we're talking credit card bills of Swiss Alps proportion.

However, I figured that as long as My Love stayed employed, Wall Street didn't tank again and I avoided hospital expenses by managing to continue to weave around the snowboarders who randomly chill in the middle of every flippin' trail I take, we'd survive.

Then my wife started visiting real estate Web sites.

Although she grew up in the eastern Great Plains where the closest one comes to skiing is sliding down the stadium steps at a Nebraska Cornhuskers game after one too many tomato juice tainted Budweisers, My Love spent many hours swooshing down the Colorado Rockies while on road trips in college and even more so after shed moved to Denver the day she graduated. She gave this up when the company she worked for shipped her East and she meet me, a man committed to always avoiding situations that could land me in a full-body cast. This winter, though, she was in her glory because not only me but also the Things reveled in one of her former passions.

evil-thing2My Love read aloud the descriptions of this potential second home in the heart of the Vermont ski country. Four thousand square feet, 2.1 acres of land, stream teeming with trout, hot tub and just minutes from the slopes of Stratton Mountain.

"We're going to be near there when we stay at my friend's house this weekend," she said last Thursday, sounding even more upbeat than usual. "Let's check it out."

We had talked for years about investing in a property we could use as an occasional getaway and rental unit, but it never happened for several reasons. The biggest, as far as I was concerned, was a poor Schlep Ratio.

Schlep Ratio (SR) is expense and travel time multiplied by the weight and square footage of your luggage added to onsite, non-relaxation time (cleaning your vacation home, waiting in a lift line, etc.) divided by time spent actually enjoying the destination minus sleep but excluding naps. Weekend ski trips to central Vermont from southwestern Connecticut (it’s that little tail part that wags the rest of the state) have very high SR. This means acceptability on an infrequent basis and only if you're staying at someone's place for free.

However, I’ve learned over our 17 years together to never express these kinds of Doubting Thomas opinions directly to My Love. She’s the can-do dreamer; I’m the cynic who tries to disguise his fears as practicality. My negativity only makes her want to work harder to prove me wrong and she succeeds far too much at this for what remains of my ego.

Luckily for me, by the time we reached this mountainside dream home she was drooling over online, it was nearly four hours and a minivan full of kids, a kenneled dog and a ton of ski equipment later, My Love had already done some mental calculations of the Schlep Ratio on her own.

We looked through the car windows, nodded and left.

Somewhere safely down the highway, she started talking aloud – more to herself, really, than me. We’d need to get a third car, a 4x4, because the minivan only has front wheel drive. We’d have to hire someone to maintain the yard during the summer and plow the quarter-mile long driveway in the winter. She didn’t want to spend the weekend’s there cleaning so someone would need to come in at least monthly to do that. And four hours, even without traffic, now that’s a schlep.

It went on and on. I sat there and tried not to agree too enthusiastically.

"Looks like we'll be putting our money in the kids' college fund this spring," she said once we were many many mile down the highway.

For her sake, though, I'm going to start seeding the Things’ little minds about the importance of winning a ski team scholarship.



  1. Long time reader, 1st time commenter.

    Fessing up to stealing your Ed clip on my blog today. BIG Ed fan.

    And, re: the ski house thing? Good move. We spent one winter/spring schlepping to a rental (with canine but sans kids) from Fairfield County to Stowe and it was mis-er-a-ble. All we really wanted was roughly two runs and then twenty-seven hot-toddys in the lodge, anyway.

  2. Ahhh ... the Schlep Ratio, yes that is the very reason we moved from the big city to the place where we ski. Now our Schlep still consists of 3 boys, dog, equipment etc, etc. but on Sunday afternoon when everyone else is leaving the hill to go back to clean and pack up and then get in the car to drive 2 or 3 hours home we are sitting on the deck enjoying a cold one and the last rays of sun as the boys vie to be the last one off the hill. Someone's gotta do it ;-)

  3. 8 hour drive to Burke Mt. in Vermont. To a renal condo. Where I get to cook. I get to clean. Dry wet clothes. Warm cold toes. For a weekend of family skiing. (I don't ski.)

    Schlep Ratio: WTF level.

  4. Hubby and I always agreed that if we ever bought vacation property it could only be two hours away. No long drives and we would want to be close in case of emergency (pipes bursting, flooding, etc.). Luckily, we could never afford it otherwise now we'd be stuck in three underwater mortgages. Something to keep in mind as our economy is hardly out of the ditch as yet (and I don't care that we've had two quarters of GDP growth; the economy still sucks MAJORLY in Michigan).

  5. When I think vacation homes, I think of sun and vineyards, NOT snow! Then again, I'm a cynic and so is Husband. We are destined to stay in this god forsaken city for the rest of our lives.

  6. I don't know....I'd be watching over my shoulder to make sure Ron wasn't ready to PUSH me for that book review.....


  7. Waste of money unless you're going to be there all the time. Or unless you are going to rent it out to other vacationing bloggers so cheaply it's ridiculous. Because I could get behind that.

  8. Chris spent a winter doing sound in VT. I went with him one weekend and did exactly what your wife did - reliving past CO glory.

    Schlep is right.

  9. Schlep factor. That's what it's called! We avoided it. My sister has the house on the lake only two hours away open winter and summer to family. All it takes is a little gas, a small overnight bag and you're good to go.

    Ok, we've schlepped a couple of times in the name of vacations. And, boy, wasn't that fun. And we did scream when the credit card bill arrived.

  10. I live in the cold and snowy berkshires and I have no desire to continue that at a vacation home. Also have you ever seen "The Other Side of The Mountain"? I don't trust skiing one bit!

  11. Cha-ching! Cha-ching! Cha-ching! Cha-ching! Cha-ching!

    Living in Texas, I haven't been skiing or snowboarding since before my kids were born. Of course, every time I went there was a pretty hefty schlep, but seeing as how it was a bunch of single dudes piled into a Forester, it was no big deal, really. One of these days, I'll make it back, this time with my kids.

  12. I love the Schlep equation. May I steal it? :-)


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