Like every Newfoundland driver I’ve encountered, Ralph MacWhirter zips along the island’s serpentine, snow-packed roads at speeds that mock posted limits and gives merely a passing nod to stop signs. Left hand on the wheel of his Buick Park Avenue Ultra and right hand gesturing, he turns to me, grins and asks: “Where ya to?”
My brain struggles to decipher the garbled, run-together patterns and words that mark Newfoundlander speech. I return the smile, and, hoping I’ve guessed the question correctly, stab at an answer. “Cat skiing.”
He nods: “Whadd’ya at?”
“Uhm, good; skied Marble yesterday.”
He smiles, confirming I’m two for two, nudges me and asks: “Whereyou‘longsto?”
Cracking the code, I reply: “Maine. And you, Corner Brook?”
“Garanteed-b’y,” Ralph backhands me with a light slap while chortling a deep, raspy smoke-enhanced laugh.
Blame it on The Bird Artist and The Shipping News, but Newfoundland conjures up images of codfish and four-pound lobsters, oilskin-clad fishermen and ramshackle houses perched precariously on cliffs, icebergs and gale-force winds. But alpine skiing? On an island in the Atlantic Ocean? Arn! Flat on the back for that!
Remote, wind-scoured, expansive and populated by barely a half-million souls, Newfoundland’s isolation has preserved its quirkiness. For starters, the island keeps time to the tick of a different clock: It’s an hour and a half ahead of Eastern Time. “It’s convenient,” quipped one local. “We’re ahead of everybody, even when we sleep in.”
In this province, Cod is God. Communion is taken in the local specialties, cod’s cheeks and cod tongues, and the baptismal ritual, a screech-in, involves chugging a shot of local rum, kissing a codfish on the lips, and a choral “ranting and roaring like true Newfoundlanders.”
The skiing isn’t quite as quirky. Marble Mountain rises 1,700 feet from the Humber River, prized for its salmon (70,000 swim upriver annually) to just below what locals call the Governor’s Balls, two gigunda rocks overlooked by a Doppler radar tower. Views extend down river to Humber Arm and out to the Bay of Islands, framed by the alluring Rubenesque Blomidon Mountains, a line of rounded, downy peaks, all curves and cleavage, descending to the sea.
The terrain surprises me. Wispy intermediate trails and a lone lollygagging green frame a steep, muscle-bound black core. Aptly named Corkscrew drops, rolls and twists, begging to be skied again and again. It’s one of the best-designed and most delightful trails I’ve skied, anywhere. Boomerang is not only steep, but also narrow and choked with cliffhanger moguls. Another plus: Thanks to the sparsely populated region combined with limited lodging, weekend lift lines might be all of five minutes; midweek, they’re nonexistent.
I reward my efforts with a lunch of artery-busting poutine: French fries smothered with gravy and cheese curds. Marble specializes in the Newfoundland version, which adds hamburger to the mix.
Of course, there are always cod cheeks. Mmmmm: Pucker up!