Short Hills, Hot Laps

Somewhere in the cold, unrelenting Michigan winter exists the perfect ski run

The ski club bus sat idling in the Bittersweet parking lot for five hours. The driver read mystery novels. We lapped a burner of a run called Hawthorne.

200 feet of pure Michigan vert, wide as a football field, and tilted at a speedy 30-degrees, Hawthorne sat far skier’s left, tucked back in the trees. A blue square at any ski hill on the planet, Hawthorne donned its own black diamond at Bittersweet.

We’d often be the only people on the run, the hordes of neighboring school ski clubs staying over on the freshly installed high-speed quad. We’d mob Hawthorne for hours—20 or 30 laps in a night—taking off from the top like racers out the starting gate. We ran it in railroad track GS carves that we’d admire from the chairlift.

Time flew by on those nights. At around 9 p.m., a voice over the loudspeaker would tell us to get to the bus—it would be leaving in two minutes whether we were aboard or not. Lucky for us, 30 seconds of pure racing tuck could get us from the top of the Hawthorne triple to the parking lot. Once we were old enough for driver’s licenses, we’d stay until last chair—and have time to drive through Taco Bell on the way home.

Snow conditions and weather never seemed to matter—by our estimation Hawthorne was good no matter what. We’d bomb it in single digit temps on boilerplate, balling fingers on the chair to keep them from freezing. We’d ski it in pouring rain and slush that soaked us all the way down through our cotton base layers. Then there were those perfect cloudless nights when the snow finds that ideal balance between soft and fast, breath spilling out in long lingering clouds.

Sometimes we’d tuck it en masse for Chinese downhill laps. Sometimes we’d turn as big as possible, seeing if we could hold each carve across the entirety of the run. Sometimes we’d figure 8 each other’s slalom turns in a Midwest imitation of the powder 8s. Always, we’d skate off the triple chair’s top ramp straight to the fall line—no time for dawdling or boot buckling.

The lifties of that slow triple thought we were crazy, and they told us as much. These weren’t friendly folk with matching jackets and smiles, but were, instead, Michigan lifties–workers ripping cigarettes in dirty Carhartts while blasting Limp Bizkit who’d probably never clicked-in to a pair of skis in their lives. They stopped greeting us after five laps and stopped bumping chairs after ten.

On the chair, we talked about girls. I snuck my first chairlift kiss on that chair. We dreamed of the future on that chair, wondering what real mountains were like, what our first real trip “out West” might look like.

The Hawthorne triple was perfect for our constantly changing group of eight or so. Perfect for dumb teenager stuff like hockey stop spraying each other with ultra-fine Midwest manmade snow dust, lawn darting ski poles from the lift at targets we’d carved out below, and un-clicking a buddy’s ski, stealing it, and catching the next chair.

A creaky triple that accessed an icy 200-vertical foot blue square dressed as a black diamond. Beyond it, cornfields and water towers as far as the eye could see. It wasn’t a great ski run. But skiing Hawthorne was, for me, our first real taste of teenage freedom—dropped off in a parking lot and left to spin one perfect lap after another with friends as the bus idled away in the crisp, clear, Michigan night.


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