The College Ski Area—Coming and Going
by Lloyd Thomas
I was never more than an amateur skier at Williams. Nevertheless the College ski area holds a special place in my aging memory bank.
As a freshman, I was asked to drive a panel van to the ski area. Wow! I considered myself a good and experienced driver at 18, schooled on both stick shift and automatic transmissions, a veteran of both highway and city driving. But this was my first truck of any kind. Never mind that this was all part of the College’s conscription of freshman PE students to help pack the ski jump with snow from the surrounding woods for Winter Carnival (as described elsewhere in the “More Snow, Please” post). Still, it was pretty cool to be in the driver’s seat, so to speak.
Furthermore, witnessing the high jump competition there during Carnival was a real thrill. As a youngster I had developed a love for New England while spending time each summer with relatives along the Connecticut shore line, but this was unquestionably the real deal. Airborne athletes risking life and limb. Somehow it represented a genuine, elemental, atavistic, Northland experience: man vs. mountain.
Much later, on graduation weekend, I paid a last, nostalgic visit to the ski area, driving my mother and brother there to see it with me. Of course, without the cover of snow, the place lost some of its grandeur, but the lush spring scenery brought back the earlier, fond memories.
What was remarkable is that, on the trip back to town, I spotted a bicycle standing on its kick stand on someone’s front lawn. It was definitely my own missing bike. On my return to campus for senior year I had reported it missing from the basement of West College, where I had locked it in summer storage. The chance that I would happen to drive by someone’s house on a day the bike was on display and happen to see it there while driving by was nothing less than astonishing!
The bike was unmistakable, despite some additional rust from being outdoors: it was an old, green Schwinn “American racer”, featuring both hand brakes and coaster brakes. When I contacted the homeowner about it, I learned he had purchased it from someone in North Adams. That individual turned out to be … a College security officer!
The town police told me they had suspected this person of committing repeating thefts of stereos and other student equipment. My discovery could be used to complete the case against him.
The bicycle was returned to me. The perpetrator came to my residential house the night before graduation, pleading with me not to press charges. The town police, however, had urged me to write an affidavit detailing the circumstances of the crime and leaving it with them as I left town after commencement exercises. I did so, knowing it was the right thing to do, and the thing I must do to protect other Ephs.
I recognized that this was a human tragedy—a person who had succumbed to larceny, and ruined his life, because of the temptation offered by working amidst the material goods of students. But it was also an object lesson in the obligation of every citizen to act, assume responsibility, and serve the needs of society.
So Williamstown, that island of innocence and civility, managed to teach me one last lesson before I left. The same place—the ski area—that gave me the thrill of first driving a truck and seeing the high jump competition—brought me face-to-face with the reality that crime and bad behavior can lurk anywhere, and that it can be and sometimes is committed by those in society we are supposed to trust the most.
The same lesson was taught to all of us as young adults, so long ago, when we became aware of the truth behind the words and deeds of those high public officials involved in Vietnam and Watergate.