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Cold shoulder

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff January 29, 2009 09:08 AM

It was subtle, but an encouraging moment all the same.

I was riding up the gondola at Stratton Mountain Sunday morning, protected from the negative temperature atmosphere that howled outside the frosted windows. The reading displayed as low as minus-5 in the car on the way up earlier that morning, before the sun decided to show up for the day. My cohabitants hovering over the Vermont resort's terrain were bundled up in preparation for their first run, eyes peeking out of wrapped-up faces amidst a cloud of steamy breath.

Among those on board were a father and his two sons, each within the age range of 8-10. The boys, helmeted and suited up, shuffled their feet, shifted their poles from hand-to-hand in anticipation of the day’s activities, weather be damned. Dad was, it seemed, a little colder.

“You guys know, we’re going to have to go in after three runs or so to warm up,” he said. "Maybe grab some hot chocolate.”

One of the boys said nothing. The other, standing adjacent to me on the moving car, released a puff of haze from his lips, scoffing the mere suggestion of his parent.

“We came here to ski,” he said. “Not drink hot chocolate.”

I wanted this to be my son.

If there is such a thing as an approval rating amongst strangers on a ski lift, this kid had just hit the jackpot. No offense, Dad, but it seems we came here to ski. It’s cold. Damn cold even. Go figure, it’s January. Oh, well. Let’s roll.

Sadly, if there is also such a thing as a minority, this kid’s in it.

That’s not to say every nine-year-old kid should want to enjoy the rigors of negative wind chills, frostbitten hands, and chattering teeth. But it’s becoming clearer that, in the midst of this New England winter, well, Tom Brady isn’t the only one going soft.

We all are.

The perception of the hardened New Englander is becoming a thing of the past, as we continue to spiral downward into a society of whiny, anxious nimrods, grumbling about snow, cold, and whatever other weather comes our way that isn’t 79 degrees and sunny. This week, for the second time (maybe even third) this season, Massachusetts schools closed their doors the night before snow even made its way to the area. Not to sound like a codger, but can anyone in their mid-30’s remember this happening when they were younger? Even once?

We live in a community with fear of the Doppler, sucking up every word of what the ratings-driven forecasters have to deliver. Most of them cause panic, tossing it back to an anchor desk featuring bubbleheaded "talent" shaking their heads, saying, “Oh, not again.” How many of them grew up here, and would seem more apt to shrug their shoulders and take four inches of snow as just another winter day in the Northeast? It has to be a number so low we can count them on one hand. This is where NECN’s Tim Kelley gets the props. While his colleagues are warning against the “brutal” conditions even a light dusting can bring, the meteorologist, a Cape Cod native and an avid alpinist, is plainly giddy with anticipation for what the storm means for outdoor recreation.

Recreation for his colleagues in these times comes with a different message: “Stay indoors.”

Today’s Globe featured a story of locals complaining about the weather, weather apparently they forgot was part of the deal during winter in New England. "I feel like I'm in Minneapolis,” one woman is quoted as saying. Apparently in January 2008, she must have felt like she was spending her days on the Miami strip.

Complain, whine. Moan, grumble. It seems it is all way do these days about something nobody can control. Some of us revel in the snow, tracking its every movement and anticipating its arrival for what it means for the sports that fuel passion in our winter lives. Everyone else just carps about the weather. How will they survive until May?

We have become so feeble here in New England, and I’m not really sure who to blame. Part of it belongs with the media for getting everyone into a tizzy every time precipitation nears since it drives ratings. That, in turn, causes everyone to overreact. You name it: schools, parents, the government, they have all seemingly forgotten that you either deal with the elements or you find ways to enjoy them. You don’t have to love winter, that’s not entirely the message. But our incessant complaining and grouchy persona over its presence is embarrassing to say the least.

I can only hope in a few years that my own son is the one jumping at the foot of my bed at 5 in the morning, flighty over the foot of snow that landed overnight and begging me to take him to the mountains, no matter the elements. And while his classmates are biding their snow day off with video games, Pop Tarts, and nonstop Channel 7 weather “alerts” breaking into morning programming, he and I will have fresh tracks, laughing with our chairlift associates about the stupidity of it all.

30 comments so far...
  1. Ths entry came off sounding very "Back in my day".....

    Posted by Scott January 29, 09 09:42 AM
  1. Agree with what you say about weather hysteria but skiing when the temperature is around zero is not a lot of fun. I have done it and it just isn't. A few runs tops.

    Posted by Bob Griese January 29, 09 10:02 AM
  1. Thank you Eric. Well said. As a skier and general cold weather enthusiast I am always in the minority when the mercury starts dropping. But this winter has the cold-weather haters more worked up than usual for whatever reason. I would hope that people could find at least one thing they like about winter, and focus on that instead of being miserable due to the weather.

    The weather may not always be nice (yesterday was downright nasty), but it's a lot easier to deal with if you are enjoying the season.

    Posted by Dan January 29, 09 10:08 AM
  1. OK, so apparently it's a slow sports news day. That's ok, because this piece really does nail it. People do seem to have indeed gone soft, and the media, with its chronic insistence on treating every bit of frozen water that falls from the sky as a major Life Ending Event, takes some of the blame. Wait...some? Let's try "a lot of".

    Nothing's more annoying than watching tv, and, during the commercial break, hearing something like "We're tracking a snowflake over the Yukon; how will this affect YOUR morning commute? Tune into Fox News at 10!".

    Personally, I don't mind the snow. the hysteria that precedes the snow, that's another story.

    Now, out of fairness, it's always been every New Englander's God-given right to snarl about two things: the weather, and the Red Sox constant ability to be the bridesmaid but never the bride. Now that the latter is no longer true, perhaps more people are focusing on the weather?

    Also bear in mind, that if the winter was mild, we'd have lots of people screaming in our faces about global warming. Really, you just can't win.

    Posted by StartedIn67 January 29, 09 10:14 AM
  1. "Get off my lawn!" -Eric Wilbur

    Posted by d. chuck January 29, 09 10:44 AM
  1. Amen Eric. And suck it up Bob. There are plenty of us who still go skiing when it's 5, 10, 20 below zero. If you've got the right gear skiing in subzero temps can be just as fun as skiing when it's 35. No crowds, great snow, and the lodge bar is that much more inviting at the end of the day. Can't wait for my week off next week, spending the whole time on the mountain.

    Posted by kessler January 29, 09 10:47 AM
  1. I'm a New England transplant living in Georgia. Down here they freak out over a dusting of snow and heaven help us if the temps go below 40...we had temps in the 20's earlier this month and someone was complaining. I told them to let me know when it got below zero because in winter, when you're from New England, 20's is balmy.

    Posted by Mickey January 29, 09 11:48 AM
  1. The media get everyone hyped up not only about winter but also summer ("Today's high temp will be 89 degrees BUT IT WILL FEEL LIKE 99 DEGREES!!!!!!"). Everyone needs to relax! When it's winter, it'll be cold; when it's summer, it'll be hot. Deal with it!

    Posted by Len January 29, 09 12:12 PM
  1. Everything is just fine in northern VT. We had over a foot of snow last night and no school delay. Two weeks ago it was -24F and there were kids standing outside waiting for the school bus. Doesn't seem like the folks in New England South are getting their money's worth out of those North Face Jackets. That logo sure does make you look outdoorsy though.

    Posted by Nate January 29, 09 12:23 PM
  1. And do we really need a Live Shot of the reporter in front of a pile of sand every time a flake falls...we get it, it's snowing, I'll wear a hat today!

    Posted by Chris January 29, 09 12:26 PM
  1. Remember when you would laugh at North Carolina for shutting down the city when they "only" got 4 inches of now. We are slowly turning into that...

    Eric, any chance you do an article on the Alpline World Championships next week!?!?!

    Posted by If Ski Slow Why Ski At All January 29, 09 12:40 PM
  1. Just more romanticizing about the past. People are no different today than they were 20 years ago.

    P.S. I don't want to hear you say one peep about it being too hot in August.

    Posted by J-Bone January 29, 09 12:42 PM
  1. I agree - schools being cancelled when the morning commutte was fine. yes the drive home was bad, but deal with it. Damn kids will be going to school on July 4th.

    Posted by damon January 29, 09 12:42 PM
  1. So am I crazy to be moving from sunny Southern California (where the high today is expected to be in the high 70's) to the Boston area? :)

    Posted by lasoxgirl January 29, 09 12:51 PM
  1. I agree about the bitching about the snow and the cold. As I have been saying to colleagues and clients the past few weeks, "We choose to live here". I agree with you Eric on that point. I do not, however, agree with your point that I have to enjoy it or find something to like about it. It's cold, it's wet, it sucks, but I try my best to just deal with it and stay inside as much as possible.

    I am 34 and do not remember cancelling of school the night before. What I do remember is when our school bus slid off the road into a ditch during an ice storm. I don't mind them falling on the side of caution (nevermind potential lawsuits) on that one.

    Posted by Flat January 29, 09 01:06 PM
  1. Haha, this is great. I am from Maine, and WAS that kid back in the day, but I now do Teach For America in Missouri. It is literally 50-60 degrees half the time, and yet every time the mercury drops below 40, my students whine about how cold it is, and look like they're heading for the south pole with gigantic coats... I tell them to enjoy!

    Posted by Tom Gordon January 29, 09 02:01 PM
  1. First Shaughnessy starts spouting off about Tom Brady relaxing with his girlfriend in Mexico (didn't women feed grapes to the rulers in ancient Rome?) and now Wilbur is ranting about...I don't even know what.

    What was the point of this blog entry, by the way?

    Maybe you saw too many "alternative caps" on your way to the office this morning.


    This is what the Globe staff is doing with their time?

    Posted by Gob January 29, 09 04:33 PM
  1. I moved to DE a couple years ago, and you think the whining up there is bad, spend a day down here. I've always loved the winter, but down here it just stinks. People freak out, can't drive in rain, let alone snow and ice, and schools are closed if someone drops a snow cone on the sidewalk. If I'm going to have to deal with winter, at least in NE you get real winter weather. Not the cold gray rain that starts as an inch of slush. Can't even get a good freeze on the pond to skate on. I will say EW is correct with the whole calling off of school the day before, but I blame that more on the weather radars than anything else. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to daydream about walking 10 miles to school in 5 feet of snow, uphil....both ways....

    Posted by Broons77 January 29, 09 04:35 PM
  1. No, it's not New Englanders going soft. It's society in general. It's a product of the instant gratification culture we live in. Most of us don't work as hard for our heat, meals, survival as people did 50 years ago. Thus, any cold/hot weather we have now is more of a big deal than it should be. I'm sure this same complaint is repeated in Minnesota, Texas, Seattle, etc for their weather.

    Posted by Classless January 29, 09 04:48 PM
  1. Try living in Houston where if a Hurricane comes within 1000 miles of us people literally lose their minds. Also, for all the bitching people may do about winter storms having to evacuate a city sucks about 10 times worse than the biggest blizzard. I miss those storms and would deal with that any day rather than packing the car with the dog, kids, and a few things and saying a silent prayer your home won't be demolished when you go return. I've had this wonderful experience twice in the past three years and I would much rather freeze my ass off any day.

    Posted by John January 30, 09 04:07 AM
  1. Thanks for skiing Vermont, Eric. However, if you're looking for real New Englanders at a Vermont ski area, particularly south of I-89, your options are going to be pretty limited. The real Vermonters, at least, are at home feeding the woodstove when it's 5-below. Our woolen ski gear gets pretty drafty south of zero.

    EW: Trust me, that's understood. Had to burn a freebie at Stratton for the day, but it's not particuarly a favorite by any stretch.

    Posted by BryanY January 30, 09 09:10 AM
  1. isn't there just a videogame version we can do inside?

    Posted by boonies January 30, 09 12:02 PM
  1. There might be more school closings now than in the past, but there's also no smoking on airplanes, seat belt laws, and many other changes that have been made for safety.

    There's a difference between "sucking it up" and risking people's lives.

    Posted by J-Bone January 30, 09 12:53 PM
  1. It's all in your persepctive...I grew up a Sox fan near Buffalo and we reveled in the hard winters; gave us bragging rights. Let's face it, after the snow and chicken wings there wasn't much else. Now I am in north Florida and when it gets down to 50 people are dressed the way i did on my snowmobile.

    Posted by Cliff Capriola January 30, 09 03:56 PM
  1. On a reasonably different note but with a spot-on conclusion.....
    I work in a collision shop where we provide FREE loaner cars to our customers during repair. They are not old junk, but well-maintained late model cars.
    A woman picking up her repaired vehicle started up one side of me about the
    loaner cars mirrors, and the radio buttons, and the wiper switch on the wrong side, etc. etc. After getting her out the door finally, an older gentleman who had been waiting to get an estimate, stepped up to the counter, shook his head, and simply said, "People have just lost their ability to adapt, haven't they".

    A truer thing has not been said to me since.

    And being up here in Northern Maine, I find snow-blowing to be mind-numbingly therapuetic.

    Posted by holten911 January 31, 09 09:09 AM
  1. good stuff, it's about time these people stopped complaining about winter so much. You don't like it, go live somewhere else

    Posted by Dan January 31, 09 05:44 PM
  1. Eric, at least you don't live out here in Los Angeles, where an approaching rain storm leads every local newscast like it's the Blizzard of '78, and drivers skid and crash their cars like they're on a skating rink. Beyond lame. Most Americans ARE soft and whiney. They have no awareness of what real suffering is, like those living in Darfur or Afghanistan.

    Posted by DavidFromBrookline February 2, 09 04:46 AM
  1. I have some general agreement, but the Dad on the gondola was being a responsible parent. Extreme cold IS dangerous.

    Posted by JP February 2, 09 06:32 AM
  1. I'm glad I'm seeing more articles like this. I'm 34 and not an old fogey whiner. I'm from 'upstate' NY and have been living here for 8 years and the increasing wimpiness of the people here is embarrassing (the recent sledding article is further proof). From what I can see, there are a few factors here:
    1 - True New Englanders don't seem to live in Boston. They're in ME, NH, and VT, where it seems things are still sane.
    2 - People work in offices, not outside or with their hands and are increasingly soft. Anything slightly uncomfortably is deemed 'dangerous'. Increasingly coddled people raising increasingly coddled children.
    3 - As others have pointed out, the media does more than its share to stoke this issue's fires. I love the comment previously of the reporter standing outside next to the sand bank. 'Winterforce 2008 storm tracker - we're getting 4" of snow - it's cold and dangerous, buy extra milk, don't drive, and whatever you do, stay home!'
    4 - We live in more and more of a litigious society. Everyone sues for everything. Schools are scared to death of not canceling school and their being a bus accident.

    Nate's comment's are great; I always laugh at seeing the former alpinist clothing maker 'North Face' on the backs of people hurrying from the T to their office. Funny that these clothes were originally made for people who wanted to be outside as much as possible are now worn by people who try to spend as little time outside as possible.

    Posted by Sam Snead February 2, 09 08:56 AM
  1. I guess if a dad cares about the elements he is puting small children out in, that means he is a wimp. Fro every kid that gets frostbite or chillblains each year i hope you line up to tell thier dads how col it was he let them stay out in the cold for as long as they wanted. Im so sure he will be glad to hear it.

    Besides when we were kids we wore , snow suits, glves hats full face masks, thermal long johns, big socks, boots and jakcets with a scarf big enough to lasso a passing bull.
    Today, i can honestly say these kids wear nothing. Point of fact two weeks ago when we were in the 20's i was out and hapend to meet a family walking by me, with two daughter in the 13 to 15 range. Both with short sleeve shirts and short shorts on, no coats no hats no gloves, none of it. Tou know, ill bet its just their dad making em tough.

    Posted by steveh February 3, 09 03:47 PM
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