Between jumps and moguls and the occasional collision with another person, skiing can be a dangerous business.
But, have any of you ever had to deal with a live grenade?
Irwin Tauben has.
The 71-year-old man who divides his time between Stowe and Montreal was a founding member of the ski patrol for Mount Hermon, located in the Golan Heights in Israel along the border with Syria.
In fact, the mountain straddles the very border — the east side is in Israel and the west side is in Syria — with an unwary skier at the peak risking the chance of heading down the wrong side and ending up in a country that has a history of being less than kind to Israelis.
“It would be very easy for someone to ski over to the other side, especially in thick fog,” Tauben said.
Altitude is what allows snow on Mount Hermon. The base of the resort is 5,380 feet above sea level, and the peak is at 6,801 feet.
Tauben was born in Montreal in 1947 to Polish parents who were Holocaust survivors. He grew up skiing in the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec and began coming to Stowe more than 50 years years ago with his brother. In addition to being a skier, Tauben patrolled at mountains within the Laurentian Range, including Mont Saint-Sauveur and Mont Gabriel.
Tauben first visited Israel in 1963 for his brother’s bar mitzvah, and returned again in 1968 at the conclusion of the Six-Day War, when Israel faced off against Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
In 1971, Tauben was again in Israel, this time in Arad as part of a program that taught Hebrew to college graduates and professionals. While there, he answered an advertisement seeking patrollers for a yet-to-open ski resort.
“You can imagine my parents’ surprise when I asked them to send over my skis and my ski patrol gear,” Tauben recalled.
From the start, Tauben recognized he would need a different-looking jacket.
“My ski patrol jacket had a cross on it, and there was no way a cross was going to work, so we got jackets that had the Star of David instead,” he said.
The first lift was installed in 1971, with the resort opening for guests in December of that year. While ski lifts are typically built by people with a background in such things, the lift at Mount Hermon was built by the Israeli Army.
“They told me, ‘If I can drive a tank, I can certify a ski lift,” he recalled.
In those first days, Tauben stayed in the town of Metula, near the border with Lebanon, where anti-aircraft missiles flew over the top of his residence on a nightly basis. By early 1972, he had a girlfriend who lived on the mountain and, understandably, he moved in with her.
Those first guests at the mountain were hardly the type of people who frequented ski resorts. They came out of a sense of curiosity, usually dressed in shorts and sandals.
“I’m pretty sure most of these people had never seen snow before. They brought plastic bags to bring the snow back to Tel Aviv hours away,” Tauben said.
Visitors who wished to ski usually had no background in the sport, and had little interest in formal lessons.
“If Israelis didn’t want to get the chair lift approved, they definitely didn’t want to take ski lessons either,” Tauben said.
But Tauben’s job duties required much more than just corralling strong-headed Israelis. The war with neighboring Lebanon had been over for only three years, and part of Tauben’s patrols included a daily check of the lift’s support pylons for dynamite.
Also adding to the the excitement: Nearly every guest was a veteran of the Israeli Army — with few exceptions, military service in Israel is compulsory — and some of them came armed.
“One day, there was a man on the lift who yelled ‘Grenade!’” Tauben recalled.
Yes, a man thought it would be a good idea to bring a live grenade with him on a ski trip, and the man dropped said grenade while riding the lift.
Ski patrol evacuated the lift and Israeli soldiers, who were always present at the mountain, shot at the grenade — which had fallen between some rocks — until it detonated.
“That’s something you won’t see on Mount Mansfield,” Tauben said.
Something else you won’t find at Stowe or Smugglers’ Notch: sand that had been carried by the wind from the Sahara Desert.
“It was like skiing on sandpaper,” Tauben said.
In April 1972, Tauben left Israel and eventually made his way back to Montreal. That winter had not been his first trip to Israel, and it would not be his last.
In the summer of 1974, he was back working in Israel, and that winter, he found himself once again on Mount Hermon. While there, he rescued a woman who had gotten lost in the fog. The two went on to marry.