On February 3, 2021

A riff on skiing and more with the Tree Man

Gary Chimerane recounts “ski offs,” week-long ski vacations, old tech changing to new

By Karen D. Lorentz

Every once in awhile, a good day happens.

Normally, that would be a trite observation. But given the times, a recent chat with a ski instructor I had only met briefly some time ago turned from an interview to a good old-fashioned riff on the ski life and more.

It’s fun when you meet someone who hails from your own old stomping grounds and, like you, moved to Vermont to pursue skiing and the mountains.

It’s even more fun when they are reminiscent of the original ski bums and lived the history Killington is renowned for. Add some similar likes and the theme of kindred spirits being found among skiers makes for a good day. Here’s one of those stories.

Gary Chimerane was born in Summit, New Jersey (same hospital as the two sons of this author), lived in towns I was familiar with (I lived in Murray Hill where his father worked at Bell Labs), graduated from Watchung Hills High School, and knew all the places I could recall, including the Bowcraft Sports Shop where he remembered the outdoor trampolines, miniature golf, and such and I recalled my Dad buying us kids skis.

While he and his Dad had hiked the Long Trail over three years during his teens, Gary Chimerane didn’t ski until his early 20s. He had visited a high school buddy in Bradford, and had his first-and-only ski day that year at Burke Mountain (late 1970s). More ski days followed at Pocono and Jersey ski hills. A trip to Stowe with a group of work friends (in the tree business) netted his first lesson. “I wrote down some notes on a pad of paper,” Chimerane recalled, explaining the instructor had suggested the notes and that today his students would likely take notes on a device.

The tree man becomes ski man

In 1988 Chimerane saw an ad for the Killington School for instructors and signed up. While he wasn’t immediately chosen to join the ski school, he credited Wendy Hill, a legendary Killington instructor whom he had learned from that week, with encouraging him to tell (then) Ski School Director Johnnie O that he “really wanted to teach.”

That led to Johnnie O giving him the opportunity to fill out an application and his first season teaching at Killington (1988-89). Like many a ski instructor, he waited tables and washed dishes to supplement his winter income.

When spring came, he returned to his tree work in New Jersey and came back the next winter to teach, finally finding work that enabled him to live here permanently in spring 1991. He then established his own tree business, which earned him the moniker of “the Tree Man.”

Asked about the biggest change he’s seen in 30-plus years of ski instructing, Chimerane said the demise of the ski week was the most striking.

He recalled the years when people registered for a week of daily lessons on a Sunday evening at the Snowshed Vacation Center and got their rentals, attended a Monday après-ski welcome party, and participated in fun races (on Snowshed or Upper Snowden), and the Thursday wrap party.

Noting he had the same eight or so people for the week’s five lessons, he fondly recalled the camaraderie of the group lessons.

Killington had initiated ski weeks in the early 1960s and built a reputation for teaching that saw thousands take those ski weeks and propelled the growth of the ski area. But the 1990s “brought all kind of changes to the market with so many options” [for busy families] that the demand for ski weeks tapered off, Chimerane recalls.

He also recalled the days of “ski-offs” where students would ski a short run and be assigned to a class based on ski ability. That ended, Chimerane said, with students assigned to a class based on instructors watching how they handled themselves and answered questions about their skiing. Other changes included the switch to MAX 5 (no more than five persons in a group lesson).

Now due to Covid, Killington is only offering “private” lessons, but that “doesn’t mean only one person in a class,” he said. “Related persons like a family or couples can take the three-hour lessons together. Due to social distancing we have had to make adjustments, like if a child is very young a parent needs to be nearby,” Chimerane noted.

In a recent class of siblings, he enjoyed inspiring the oldest child with the idea that skiing can become a lifelong sport.

Asked about the change shaped skis brought to the 1990s, Chimerane said, “The beauty of shaped skis was that they enabled mere mortals to carve. Tipping skis on edge and pressuring them a little made skiing easier and more enjoyable. They also made it easier for older people to continue skiing so we see more people in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s still skiing,” he added.

He recalled the first Elan SCX skis and that Killington greeted the initial skepticism of shaped skis by offering free trials that included rentals and lessons.

Since then, there have been “all kinds of changes to skis with new materials, varying widths, lengths, rocker, and flex patterns, but skiers can still use a blend of skidding and carving skills – versatility is key to skiing,” Chimerane added.

One thing that hasn’t changed is “the importance of terrain selection. It’s very important to choose appropriate terrain to help students advance,” Chimerane said. He also still imparts safety awareness and tips to make the experience more enjoyable. “I like to tell students that when the trails are busy, they can safely stop and let others go by and resume skiing when the traffic slows down,” he notes of a tip that continues to resonate through the decades.

Appreciating the fabric of the ski life

“When you do certain things like skiing, you can become in the moment,” Chimerane said of focusing on a run, which enables you to forget about all else during this trying time of Covid.

“But being mindful of where you are doesn’t mean that you have to work at each turn. Breathing and a rhythm to one’s run can put you in the zone,” he noted, adding that “flow” is a great experience on the mountain.

“There are all kinds of meditation, you don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor to meditate. There is walking meditation — skiing can provide that, too,” he observed.

Being out in nature and experiencing beauty —the scenery and everything from rime ice to islands in an ocean [when mountains peek above clouds below], sun dogs to the sky’s colors — are an important part of the ski experience, he added.

Chimerane also delights in animal sightings from ermine to snowy white owls, snowshoe rabbits to bears and porcupines to say nothing of noticing bird nests and various animal tracks at Killington.

Then there’s the social aspects of the ski life, he noted, fostered by chairlift rides with strangers or après-ski. Skiers chatting with skiers sharing experiences, enjoying stories and the camaraderie — of the ski life is another part of the experience.

When asked if he has a favorite movie, book, or song. He responded, “Romancing the Stone” was a favorite for its theme of “following a dream.” [The 1984 romantic comedy adventure with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny Devito.]

“Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Jesus was a Capricorn’ was a great song for its subject to treat each other right,” Chimerane noted, adding how it’s still appropriate today.

Chimerane closed with a few words of wisdom: “Life is always a series of challenges you got to get through. Or as Roseanna Roseanna Danna of ‘Saturday Night Live’ was fond of saying,  ‘If it’s not one thing, it’s another’.”

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