December’s sun makes its welcome rare appearance. Several hours of new snow have quietly floated to earth like millions of white parachutes. The air is crisp, but not painfully so. Another season on the slopes has arrived at last. Alas, I won’t be there.
My “alas” is fake. While I admire and at times envy those who gracefully ski our nearby hills, I am content (actually relieved) to stay at home by the fireplace on a brisk winter’s day. It was not always thus. At one time, many years ago, I called myself a skier. Admittedly, I did so only to impress my then girlfriend who, being Scandinavian, made this winter skill a prerequisite before agreeing to date any potential suiters.
I recall how quickly she caught onto my bluff once we drove to a tiny ski venue at Hockley Valley. I was immediately relegated to the beginner’s hill. There, I learned to execute some passable snowplow turns. As I cautiously descended, that old adage played merrily in my head: “Skiing is a dance and the mountain always leads.” But then I suddenly remembered that I didn’t know how to dance and promptly fell on my head.
My other problem with the beginner’s hill was that the rest of the “beginners” were four and five years old. Being built much closer to mother earth than I was at 76 inches, these little ones would briskly zip around and through my legs as if I were a slalom gate. Back in the day, kids at school sometimes got promoted because of their age and size rather than their ability. I soon received this kind of social promotion and found myself confronting the scary world of T bars, moguls and other foolishness.
My initial T bar encounter did not go well. The concept was simple: every few seconds, a horizontal piece of wood about four feet long and attached at both ends to an overhead rope pulley, passed by each skier eagerly lined up at the base of the run. The idea was to quickly position oneself in front of the next T bar and let it gently fit comfortably on one’s backside like a swing seat. Instantly, the rider would become part of a long line of skiers being pulled rapidly up the slope.
When my turn came, I managed to miss the bar but recovering quickly (and demonstrating athletic prowess for the crowd,) I grabbed my fast-moving T with both hands, like a rodeo star wrestling a steer by its horns. As onlookers gasped and then cheered, I was dragged on my belly part way up the hill. Even the young guy running the lift mechanism hurriedly emerged from his warm little shack atop the hill, joined the cheerleading and shouted encouragement.
At least, that’s what I thought was happening. The reality was that everyone was yelling at me to let go of the T bar. After I was pulled about a hundred feet with powdery snow invading my exposed fleshy parts, the whole mechanism abruptly shuddered to a stop. All twenty five riders craned their necks to ascertain the reason for this unwelcome delay. As I clambered to my feet, dusted myself off and trudged back down the hill, they chorused a variety of comments which fortunately, under my cozy ear muffs, I could not hear.
My other memorable trek down a winter hill occurred near Ottawa at Mount St. Marie. By then I had “graduated” to a chairlift. No longer would I have to fret about grabbing some T bar. Now, I could sit placidly and gaze with appreciation at the glorious world of nature unfolding beneath my chair as I steadily rose higher and higher in the air.
Arriving at the summit, I immediately paused to pose athletically, leaning on my poles while happily surveying the mountainous vista around me. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that ten short seconds behind me, the next chairlift would be depositing its riders onto my turf. In fact, these three newcomers were actually being deposited right into my back. Apparently, the unwritten rule was that, after reaching the top, one was supposed to quickly vacate the arrival spot, leaving that small space for those following.
After my due apologies were hastily extended, I turned to survey my presumed route of descent. All I could see below my lofty perch was ice. No powder snow, no packed snow, certainly no mushy, spring- type, yellowy, corn snow—just ice. At that moment I realized a profound thought; if God had really intended humans to ski, he would have created us with much longer feet. If I continued, I would be risking my life. But how to get off the mountain without losing face with my girlfriend? Once I concluded that I would literally risk losing my face by skiing that slippery slope, my desperation gave rise to an inventive solution.
I took off my skies and carrying them over my shoulder, began to clamber down the mountain with my heavy boots causing me to walk like Frankenstein’s monster. Forcing my face to look as tragic as possible, I stoically brushed aside concerned inquiries. Could I help it if my bindings had broken? Sure, I was bitterly disappointed, Fate had dealt me a cruel blow. As other skiers, including my sympathetic girlfriend, roared downward past me, seemingly unperturbed by these icy conditions, I descended alone, but blessedly safe. Then I hung up my skis—and amicably parted ways with my bemused Scandinavian girlfriend.