This is the story about how I learned to ski so many years ago. Why would anyone care about my learning to ski? I haven't the foggiest idea. But here we both are.
Humans are amazing creatures. Just when you think we’ve done the most amazing thing, we outdo ourselves and something even more amazing has happened. Once, when I was young I read a Ripley’s believe it or not article about a old man who could balance a ladder on his chin! An entire ladder! As if this wasn‘t enough, he had to further shake up the ladder balancing community by adding a basket of kittens on a platform on the top wrung of the ladder. All on his chin! That was amazing! They had a picture of the guy without his ladder and kitten show, and he just looked like a kindly old man smiling for the camera. But he wasn’t just any old guy! This was an old guy who could balance a ladder on his chin with a basket of kittens on top. Such is the potential of man.
I’ve always felt that skiing was an amazing feat. In both the aspect that we CAN do it, and that so many of us WANT to do it. Our cars have so many safety features to ensure that we safely arrive at ski resorts so we can strap two boards on our feet and careen out of control down a rock and tree strewn mountainside. I for one love skiing. I’m not good at it at all, and no matter how many times I try I never seem to get any better at it. One of my ankles is weaker than the other so I can turn left, but turning right is a feat that yet eludes me. This would be fine if ski runs were simply large circles, but by and large they come in far more complex geometric shapes. My first attempt took place at Brighton Ski Resort when I was in Jr. High. I signed up for a skiing class that was held once a week after school, confident that the class was just a formality and I probably already possessed the skills required to ski at an advanced level. I was so excited! I was going to ski! I already had day dreams of me flying down the slopes, leaping over trenches filled with Nazis or lava or some such obstacle. Then when I reached the bottom I would high five a passing Yeti and make out with Kami Hansen. Sometimes I would get to second base if I had leapt over a particularly large number of Nazis. I spent a lot of time alone in Jr. High.
The night before the first class I realized that while the skis and poles would be provided to me, other equipment was needed. A warm coat, gloves, and other stuff to make it so I could stay warm while I soared over solders of various xenophobic nations. After a fretful search, I found a nice wool church sweater that I figured would suffice, based off the fact that I had never seen a cold sheep. For gloves, I managed to track down some leather work mitts that were stained with oil. “All the easier to get on and off” I thought. Finally, for a hat, I found a daring little number featuring a yarn pom-pom that rested atop a knit cap of a truly amazing number of colors. In hindsight, I imagine I looked like a character from a Mexican variety show, or perhaps not unlike a colorblind auto-mechanic on his way to church. Either way, I certainly didn’t look like a guy who was going to get a high five from a yeti. But it didn’t matter. I rounded up my gear and the next day I placed it in my locker, already anticipating the snowy bounty that was my future. Finally it was time, and I threw on my sweater, grabbed my pom-pom hat and boarded the bus. When we got to the ski resort, I was the first one out of the bus as my patience had finally given out. There it was! The snow! The slopes! The trees! The dread of realizing that a woolen church sweater, while appropriate for worship, was not sufficient for prolonged exposure to the elements! I’m not a complainer though, so I figured I could just tough it out, but ever since that moment I have always felt a few moments of apprehension for the sheep whenever the snow begins to fall. The instructors rounded us all up and we all got fitted with rental skis and poles. Oh the excitement! My own skis! And they were on me! I was feeling the satisfaction that only a man who has waddled awkwardly through a crowded ski lodge in a church sweater could feel! My skis were a sweet cherry red, and had flames starting at the tips and stretching all the way to the back. It really wouldn’t have mattered if they were pea-green and covered in dog vomit though. I was so enthralled that I nearly didn’t even notice the biting cold winds that cut through my woolen defenses with ease. One by one we struggled through the snow, with the goal of reaching the lift for the bunny slope, located maybe 300 feet north of the lodge. This may sound like a trivial matter, but it turned out to be an amazing journey in which many of us first used cuss words in an appropriate context. I was immediately reminded of those nature shows where the baby turtles hatch on the beach and have to struggle to the sea all while otters and seagulls pick them off and gorge on the easy meals. Before too long one kid got turned around and began sliding backwards towards the lodge. I remember the terror in his face as he silently pleaded with one of us to help him, begging for a helping pole, or at least for someone to tell the instructor of his plight. None of us did anything though, and he slid off into some trees. I have to assume he was consumed by otters.
The rest of us made it safely to the base of the lift. I slipped on my work gloves, because it was obvious that things were about to get serious. We did some stretches, learned a few techniques about how to stop should we get out of control (fall to the ground) and other basic goals that we should have for our first run. The great journey from the lodge did more than thin out the weak, it proved that some of the kids already had a pretty good idea how to ski. They traversed the great divide with relative ease, and turned to watch their less coordinated classmates flail, crawl, curse and slither towards the lift. How I hated these advanced kids! They lined us up two by two so we could board the lift that would take us to the top of the hill. Again, you could pick out the kids who had either done this before or were sensing that learning to ski wasn’t going to be as hard as they thought. They eagerly approached the great steaming beast that would bear them upwards! Although my journey hadn’t been as trouble-free as some of the others, I was still confident that I would prove to be quite the ski-smith on the slopes once I had a chance to really open up the throttle. I gladly paired up with a fellow classmate and awaited my turn. 3.…….then 2.…..then only 1 pair left in front of me. I could taste it! Victory! Achievement! The WD-40 on my gloves! All these things added up to nearly whip me into a frenzy. At last I lined up, pulling even with a red line painted in the snow where the lift would slow down to pick me up and take me to Avalon. The chair swung around and caressed my bottom with the same care as a overprotective mother. In same motion, a safety bar lowered down and secured locked me into place. It was all going so well! I was on the lift! The hard part was over! I was the Ghandi of skiing! I was going to do it! Kami Hansen had better be ready for some action! Now just to sit back and…..
My left ski fell off.
I watched in horror as the bright red glory that was my ski danced in the sky for a few seconds before landing in a snow bank far below where it sat morning the fate of it’s still attached mate. The kid sitting next to me was just as horrified as I was. I think he was worried that when it came time to leave the lift, I was going to take us both out. He was sitting on a lift with a grenade, and the pin had just been pulled. He shrugged in response to my “what do I do now” look, and we both turned around in the lift just in time to see the last of my ski fading into the mist. Despite the cold, I felt beads of sweat form under my brightly colored cap. Sometimes, thought fate or divine intervention, ordinary people are called upon to do amazing things. Backup basketball players have to hit game winning shots, elderly women have to lift cars off loved ones trapped below, that that guy has to balance ladders and kittens on his chin; all amazing things. I was a guy in a church sweater who had to simply not kill everyone at the top of the hill. Up ahead, I could already see the end of the lift at the top of the hill, and probably only had another 30 seconds or so to formulate a plan. Do I kick off my other ski and just hit the ground running? Perhaps I can fashion a crude replacement out of nearby materials? Even at my meager ski level I could tell that both these plans were hopeless. I was going to have to figure out how to stick this landing with only half my landing gear. As I got closer I could see a pile of kids who had already exited the lift and felt the cruel sting of inability. The instructor had been first to the top of the slope, and was currently trying to sort out the pile of squirming skies and the kids helplessly attached to them. He had just managed to upright a particularly portly child when he turned to see my approach. A bomber was coming in hot, and the runway needed to be cleared. Just a few more seconds now, and it would be up to me to save this. The kid next to me scooted as far over as he could, and muttered something about staying away from him. The safety bar lifted, and it was time to raise the tip of my remaining ski. The instructor motioned me to head to the right when the big moment came, as if I had any control over where I was headed. I could do this, it was all a matter of keeping my boot off the ground. How hard could it be to ski with one foot? The snow drifted upwards to meet my lone support. Just a few seconds now…..
My ski kissed the snow like a gentle lover. Maybe this would work! Maybe I would get my Yeti high-five after all! Now just to stand up. I saw the kid next to me take off and dive to the left as fast as he could, where he was quickly devoured by otters. I lifted my bottom off the seat and put my full weight on the ski. For a few seconds I actually thought I was going to survive this. Maybe I wasn’t going to plow right into that pile of already injured and surly skiers! But, as with most things, it was not to be. The second I let go of the bar on the lift, my booted foot swung down, and the dramatically increased friction acting on my left foot soon pointed this bird down the one way road to disasters-ville. I crumpled to the ground and slid with the ease of a dog-less dog sled towards the recently up righted portly fellow. He saw it all happening, but was powerless to do anything to stop it. The landing, the crashing and the inevitable fat-kid destabilization. Had my face not long ago been planted firmly in the snow, I’m sure I could have seen the wide-eyed terror on his face as my squealing mass rocketed towards him. Ka-blam! I clipped the chubby kid right in the knee, my pom pom hat flying off into the trees. For an instant I was able to see upwards as the victim of my attack shuddered from the impact, then, like some sort of majestic chubby redwood being chopped down, he began to fall to his side. My last moments of the crash were filled with the image of this mass of tree-human landing on my stomach and someone shouting to stop the lift.