Faith in Vermont: Oh, Gear!

The mild winter of 2012 was our family’s first winter in Vermont. “How lucky,” locals said, referring to the lack of snowfall, “you’re getting an easy first winter.” But we didn’t feel grateful; we felt gypped. In my opinion, if you’re going to have winter, you might as well have plenty of snow to go with it. Snow is an excuse to get outside and have fun despite the cold. Last winter was just cold and grey and bare. We spent months huddled inside, staring longingly at our unused snowshoes and sled.

Thankfully, this winter seems to be acting a little more like WINTER; thus far, there’s been enough snow for our family to ski, sled, and snowshoe multiple times. It’s as we pictured Vermont during our last rainy California winter.

What we failed to picture was the gear.

By gear, I’m referring to the long underwear, snow pants, coats, boots, gloves, hats, and maybe even scarves (we usually skip scarves out of sheer exhaustion) required for every snowy excursion. It’s bad enough trying to get myself into all those layers… then there are the kids.

If you’ve never tried dressing a child for winter, here’s the best illustration I can think of: imagine there’s a 35-pound squid in your mudroom. The squid has just taken methamphetamine, so it’s floppy and spastic at the same time. Now, try forcing that squid into all the aforementioned items. (In my own case, multiply by three).

I’ve solicited advice from other mothers, but until the kids can dress themselves I don’t think there’s a shortcut. Sure, there are boots that are easier or harder to pull on (and some that were clearly designed by people who’ve never met a preschooler). There are various philosophies about whether it’s better to put on snow pants and coats before leaving the house, or in the car upon arrival.  But whether or not you delay the struggle, at some point you still have to stuff a resistant child (or three) into multiple bulky layers.

This year, two of our daughters are participating in the Bill Koch League (the youth league of the New England Nordic Ski Association) at Rikert Nordic Center. They take two hours of cross-country ski lessons every Saturday morning. The girls love it because their best friend is in class with them. I love it because my husband and I get two quiet hours to ski or snowshoe (while pulling our sleeping third child behind us in the polk). But by lunchtime every Saturday I am a broken woman.

I blame the gear.

Here’s a snapshot of a typical Saturday morning: We get three girls into their three layers, either before driving to Rikert or immediately upon arrival, because the walk from the car to the lodge is usually cold. Then we enter the toasty lodge to pick up their ski boots and skis. Off with the snow boots, on with the ski boots (which involve LACES). Then over to the Team Room to wait for the lessons to start. When we enter the Team Room, the girls start whining about the heat, so it’s off with the hats, gloves and coats – which then have to go back ON when their lesson begins. You know what else has to go on? The skis.

Now, every other parent seems to have no problem helping their children snap the toes of their boots into their skis. I, on the other hand, am always kneeling red-faced in the snow, a daughter clutching a hunk of my hair, grunting “Point your TOE!” as I wrestle toe into binding.

Then they’re off, until it’s time to replace ski boots with snow boots again. Two hours has never felt so short. In the meantime, God help anybody who needs to use the bathroom, or decides they’re too hot to ski with gloves/coat/hat.

Since we live in a small town filled with people who like to have fun in the winter, when we go up to Rikert on Saturday mornings we know almost EVERYONE there. Which means that I’m wrangling my little squids into their winter gear in front of my husband’s co-workers, friends from the girls’ school, friends from church, the Realtor who sold us our house, my editor at this very paper, and some lovely people who’ve introduced themselves by saying, “I read your Independent column.”

All of which is very humbling, especially having to be myself in front of people who’ve met me first through my writing. When I write, I have some control over how I come across; I can select the facts I disclose and edit obsessively until I appear to be a Nice Person: somebody who has it all in perspective, who can laugh at life’s foibles -- or who can at least form a grammatically correct sentence.

Up at Rikert, I am not somebody who can form a grammatically correct sentence. So if you see me one of these Saturdays, grunting and cursing at all the gear, don’t be alarmed. Feel free to introduce yourself -- especially if you can give me some pointers on how to get my kids’ boots into those skis.


Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, three young daughters (with another on the way), one adorable puppy — and writing for her blog,

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