Scott: Congratulations on being selected as User of the Month! You’ve been very active on DCSki for over a decade, posting over 2,000 messages under your username marzNC. Do you remember how you first discovered the site?
Meimei: As I remember, the first online ski forum I found was SkiNC/SkiSoutheast since I live in central NC. Once I decided Massanutten would be my home mountain, I found DCSki. It didn’t take long to decide that DCSki was a good place to hang around. I have friends and relatives who live in DC/NoVA so know the area pretty well, even though I’m originally a New Yorker.
Scott: A lot of readers may not realize that there is a “doctor” among us: you have a Ph.D. in Biostatistics. What are some highlights from your career? What was your dissertation? You told me once that you started as a statistical programmer in the 1970s. As a computer scientist myself, that piqued my interest.
Meimei: It’s been a long time, I finished grad school in 1986. Had to look up the title of my dissertation: A Modeling Approach to System Evaluation in Research Data Management. The goal was to develop a probability model to show that independent double-entry can be a cost-effective method to create high quality data intended for statistical analysis. I did the research while I worked as a programmer at the Highway Safety Research Center at the UNC in Chapel Hill. The title of my Master’s paper finished in 1981 is a reflection of the mainframe computer era: Documentation System for Datasets Stored on Magnetic Tape. My specialty was not statistical analysis but instead the focus was on research data management. My view is that if the data stored in a computer is not quality data, then any statistical analysis will not be as useful as it could be.
What was more fun than Ph.D. research was creating a small book geared towards introducing the data manipulation required for statistical programming based on the Base SAS. Concepts and Case Studies in Data Management was published by the SAS Institute in 1996.
After grad school, I worked in the Biostatistics Department of Quintiles (evolved into IQVIA) for about fifteen years. The company is a contract research organization in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry. I joined in 1987 when it was a start-up with forty people in Chapel Hill. Quintiles grew quickly into a successful public company with close to 20,000 employees worldwide. At the time, most of the services were related to clinical trials for drugs or devices. Early on I worked closely with the Data Management department on the home grown data entry system based on independent double-entry to produce high quality clinical trials data. After a while, it was pretty satisfying to see ads for a drug that went to market after being on a project team working to get FDA approval. I helped figure out how to deal with safety databases from multiple countries. A bonus of the job was the opportunity for a few business trips to other countries.
Scott: What are your favorite computer programming languages?
Meimei: The language I used the most was SAS® for both data manipulation and statistical analysis. It was an easy transition since I used PL/I in college at UNC-Chapel Hill. I started using SAS in ‘79 for highway safety research, often using very large files. At Quintiles all the statistical programming was done in SAS.
Scott: Now that you’re retired, do you find that you have more time to ski?
Meimei: Being retired certainly made it easier to ski but it still took a while. I retired early to become a relatively relaxed older parent. Much easier to have fun with a young kid when not juggling a paying job at the same time. It helped that I married a scientist who had every intention of working at IBM for 30 years. That’s why I had the time to get my daughter started on skis at Massanutten when she was 4. My husband turned out to be a non-skier though. What made a big difference for my skiing was when I started taking my daughter to an annual gathering of good friends at Alta Lodge in April.
Finding good ski schools has made a big difference in my enjoyment of ski trips, both in the southeast and at big mountains. Between Massanutten and Alta ski instructors, my daughter was a better skier than I was by the time she was 11. I didn’t start taking lessons myself until she was old enough that I could take a mid-season trip with adult ski buddies. After knee rehab (2012, not a skiing injury), I really got hooked on lessons geared towards advanced skiers. I’m skiing terrain at age 64 that I never imagined possible at age 50.
Scott: What are your “go-to” resorts in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast?
Meimei: My home mountain has been Massanutten since 2004. The Ski School was a perfect place for my daughter to learn to ski. There are several very experienced instructors who I like working with myself. We own a timeshare at Massanutten so I’m spoiled because I usually stay on resort. Paradice from the top of Lift 6 is my favorite trail. There is never a lift line for Lift 6 because it only serves the two black runs that are about 900-foot vertical. I was glad Massanutten joined the Indy Pass during the inaugural season.
In NC, my favorite was probably Beech when I explored other locations in the southeast with my daughter. She could ski the Massanutten blacks by age 6. I went to Cataloochee for the first time last season using the Indy Pass. I was impressed at how much fun it was considering the small size. My daughter is in college at UNC Asheville, so I’ll likely ski at Cat again using Indy.
Scott: During your “skiing career,” what are some trends you’ve noticed that are positive? Negative?
Meimei: As a traveler from the southeast, multi-resort passes have been very helpful. I started with the Mountain Collective Pass and have since switched to Ikon. I’ve considered getting Epic for a tour of Colorado ski resorts owned by Vail Resorts. I’m most curious about Vail and Beaver Creek.
One negative is that lift lines on weekends have become so long that it probably discourages some families who ski only a few times a season. When I was getting friends started on skis at Massanutten (2013-17), we would avoid skiing from noon to 2 p.m.
Since I learned in straight skis, there is no question that the invention of “shaped skis” made a big difference. The first time I demoed modern skis was in 2000. I wasn’t really a parallel skier. But with those skis I could make parallel turns without any effort. I also appreciate the evolution of ski boots.
Scott: Describe your best ski day ever.
Meimei: I’ve been lucky to catch several amazing powder days in the last decade. A recent trip that stands out included Grand Targhee, Bridger, and Big Sky in February 2019. My primary ski buddy (a former New Yorker who moved to Albuquerque years ago) and I drove from Salt Lake City and finished with a week at Big Sky. We had two powder days at Grand Targhee, which isn’t that unusual. What made it amazing was that there was blue sky too. The untracked powder was knee deep and great fun! A few days later, we also caught a midweek powder storm at Bridger, and more fresh snow at Bridger.
Since many people reading this are from the Mid-Atlantic, they may remember the 2009-10 blizzards. The best skiing day I’ve had at Massanutten was during the February storm. I made a special effort to be settled into a unit on the mountain before the snow started on Friday, Feb. 5. That was the only time I’ve ever driven my 4WD pickup for a ski trip. The storm total was 16-20 inches, with 8 inches of dry powder on Friday night. The skiing on Saturday was amazing! Needless to say few people could make the drive, so I had little competition for powder turns off Lift 6.
Scott: How often do you get to ski outside of the area? What are some of your favorite destination resorts, and what makes them special to you?
Meimei: Being a retired ski nut with a few ski buddies who also like to travel, I generally fly out west for a mid-season trip and finish up with at Alta in April. My favorite has been Alta for decades. New favorites I’ve explored since 2012 include Taos Ski Valley, Big Sky, and Grand Targhee. Note that any trip to Big Sky includes 2-3 days skiing at Bridger as a warm up. What these places have in common is a more relaxed vibe, more people who just care about skiing and not après ski or shopping, and a variety of terrain that’s fun for intermediates and experts. Not all of my travel companions are advanced skiers looking for steep terrain, bumps, or trees. While I’m quite adventurous now, I’m also looking for places I can enjoy in the future for a 2-3 week stay. Meaning after age 75 or so.
Scott: Are there any ski areas in the world that you’ve always dreamed of visiting, but haven’t been able to yet?
Meimei: I would like to ski in Europe and Japan at some point. For the Alps, Trois Vallées, Chamonix, Zermatt are at the top of the list. Pictures of the powder in Japan are amazing.
Lately I’ve been paying attention to skiing in Australia and New Zealand. It would be fun to go check that out in person. Even though Australian skiing is more like New England than the Rockies. Freezing rain seems more likely than a powder storm.
Scott: Have your charted out your upcoming ski season? Is COVID affecting your plans?
Meimei: For 2020-21, my plan for ski trips is not much different than the past few years. However, my friends and I are staying slopeside more often. For motel stays, we looked for exterior doors. While we would normally consider VRBO, the cancellation policies for motels are more flexible. The resort list includes Jackson Hole, along with Grand Targhee and Snow King (Indy), Alta, Snowbird, and Taos. Also plan to check out Wolf Creek, Monarch, and Loveland after Taos but just for a day each for future reference. Although we have plane tickets on Southwest booked and lodging reserved, we are prepared to cancel or change our plans if necessary.
I have Full Ikon, a Full Season Pass for Massanutten, an Indy Pass, and an Alta Midweek Pass. I got the Alta pass to use as a credit since my April 2020 trip had to be cancelled. I’m going to Utah in December with friends from DC partially because I ended up with the Alta pass.
In early January, I’ll be at my timeshare at Massanutten per usual. Hoping to check out Timberline and/or Canaan Valley. CV is on Indy and I’ve never been. Also plan on skiing Massanutten later in January and perhaps late February if conditions are good.
Scott: There are wonderful virtual communities of skiers across sites such as DCSki, Pugski, and SkiSoutheast. In your view, do these virtual communities enrich the sport of skiing? What are some ways you have benefited from the dialog with other skiers?
Meimei: Over the past decade I’ve learned a great deal about ski travel and ski gear from ski forums. When I was rehabbing a knee, it was very useful to be able to share my experiences and learn from others. Discussions about ski conditioning were helpful when I decided to get into better shape as I started skiing more.
When a community is active enough and has a strong core of long time members who welcome newcomers, it’s very good for the sport. However, forums are not for everyone because of the time it takes to get involved enough to make friends, whether in person or just virtually. I’ve noticed that there are small resorts that do just fine even though the people there have mostly never heard of a ski forum and have no reason to join one. Beech, Cataloochee, Jiminy Peak, and Waterville Valley impressed me in that way. Places out west that are mostly for locals like Grand Targhee and Bridger may be similar.
I met some of my current travel companions and ski buddies on online ski forums. However, the people I travel with the most I met in other ways long before there were virtual communities.
Scott: One thing I really appreciate about your participation on DCSki is that you’re a frequent topic-starter, sharing news and references with the community and bringing forward topics for discussion. What are some ski-related resources you would recommend to others?
Meimei: For info about Mid-Atlantic skiing (WV, VA, PA), DCSki is the best resource around. I appreciate the effort that goes into running a ski forum after being a Moderator for EpicSki for several years. I think smaller online communities are better in many ways.
The SkiSoutheast website is great for NC and WV skiing. As for resources for overnight trips elsewhere, the two that come to mind are OpenSnow for weather and NYSkiBlog. I learned about Plattekill and Belleayre from that forum. For women interested in advice about ski gear for skiing in the east or west, TheSkiDiva is worth checking out. I also follow LiftBlog.
Scott: Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share with fellow DCSkiers?
Meimei: When you are unhappy on a ski day for whatever reason, try not to take it out on the employees. Especially in 2020-21 with all the issues related to a pandemic, everyone needs to work a little harder at caring about how other people feel.
A couple years ago I saw a video about a ski patroller at Bridger who was over 80. The advice that he gave when asked about how he kept skiing at an older age stuck with me. He said that seniors should ski with younger people. Meaning they should work to make new friends a decade or two younger who share their passion for skiing. That’s one reason I make the effort to adjust to the schedule of friends who are still working and/or raising children.
Scott: That’s a great note to end on. Thanks, Meimei, for chatting with us and for being a valued member of the DCSki community.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
Outstanding! MarzNC is a fine skier and true ambassador of the sport. I've had the pleasure of meeting and skiing with her on numerous occasions. She's super smart and knowledgeable about a wide range of ski-related topics. Here on right at her beloved Alta, UT:
Hello Meimei, Welcome to the club!
Always look forward to your posts. Enjoyed meeting and skiing with you and JimK one day at Whitetail Several years ago. Like you, I consider Alta to be the ultimate ski destination.
The Colonel aka MorganB
Thanks all! It's quite a honor. DCSki is a great community.
In the picture Jim posted that's my Albuquerque ski buddy in the green jacket. He's a schoolmate from North Country School up in Lake Placid where he, I, and my daughter went for middle school. The boarding school has a hill with a rope tow on the 200 acre campus, which is where I learned to ski long ago. The boy in blue learned at Massanutten with the help of ski school. They built on the fact that he played ice hockey and had him skiing bumps on the side of Paradice by age 6.
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