A long ride back from a weekend on the slopes


Leave it to a 15-year-old boy to put things in perspective after a record-breaking snowstorm.

Standing outside The Mall in Columbia next to one of nine huge luxury buses that brought 450 Maryland kids back from a weekend's snowboarding/skiing fun on Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Jonathan Brand had one question for his parents, Steve and Pat Brand.

"Are you going to be here today, or tomorrow?" he asked - half joking - over his cell phone, as his friends Robby Bromfield, 16, and Andres Menocal, 15, all of Frederick, snickered.

The teens had spent nearly 18 hours on the luxury Gunther Co. bus, said relief driver Bill Gilchrist, who took over in New Baltimore, N.Y., a 900-soul Hudson River hamlet on Interstate 87. The caravan was halted for 90 minutes on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he said, while plows worked to reopen I-95 early Monday.

The buses delivered their tired charges to the mall and the Columbia Crossing shopping center on Route 175 about 9 a.m. Monday - nearly five hours later than originally expected. Since many parents were having trouble digging out, Howard County officials asked mall security officers to let them wait inside the closed center.

Lewis Rhodes, 39, of Fairfax, Va., a trip chaperone, said the kids began calling home early Monday to tell their families they would be late and to find friends, relatives or neighbors with four-wheel-drive vehicles who could come and get them.

Inside the mall, a sleepy-eyed Beth Donnelly, 16, of Dorsey Hall, Columbia, sat on the floor, waiting with the last 15 vacationers for her parents to arrive. Several more had walked over to the Sheraton hotel to wait.

"They have eight people out" trying to help dig her parents' car out of Smokey Wreath Way. "They've been shoveling since an hour before we got here," the Wilde Lake High student said.

The long trip home began at 3 p.m. Sunday at the ski resort, 70 miles north of Montreal, Gilchrist said.

Bromfield said the weekend was fun, and though it did not snow in Canada, it was so cold "my eyelashes froze together," and his goggles became so brittle they broke.

The trip home was long, but OK, they said, rattling off the endless series of movies - from Austin Powers to Black Hawk Down - they watched on overhead screens along the way. The floor of the bus was littered with empty snack wrappers, water bottles and cartons.

The trip from Frederick to get the boys took the Brands two hours and 25 minutes instead of the normal 50 minutes, Pat Brand explained as she and her husband arrived a few minutes after their son's call.

"We got stuck in our driveway," she said, despite having a four-wheel-drive SUV, and then slid into a snow bank coming into Columbia off U.S. 29.

Gilchrist said his 40,000-pound bus never got stuck on the way home, even plowing through the drifts on Route 175 approaching Columbia.

But after the three boys piled into the Brands' gray Acura and headed home, Gilchrist's bus got stuck almost immediately, albeit for just a few minutes, as it turned to leave the JC Penney parking lot.

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