Friday, April 18, 2008

On Skiing and Vacations

First things first. This is the last guaranteed post for at least a week as Saturday I am officially on vacation. I may post while on vacation, but don't make waiting for a post an integral part of your day as you will indubitably be let down. Come to think of it, that's not much different from any other day of the week. I will regale you of tales from the middle of our great nation upon my return. Right now the plan is to eat a lot and sleep a lot while on vacation, and not do much else, so I can't say that my vacation stories will be all that exciting. Again, not much different from any other day of the week.

Yesterday when speaking of Wii Fit, I mentioned that I don't ski and that there was a story there for another time. Well, lucky for you, that time is now.

When Linda and I were both in graduate school, we both worked in the university's health center. This was the doctor's offices that the students could go to when they had the flu, or needed to be tested for the venereal disease du jour. We worked there with Linda's mom, as well as some other students, including a guy named Brian. Brian was the quintessential all-American guy. He was good looking, could wear cowboy boots without looking like an idiot and had a slight drawl to his voice that made the ladies swoon. All of the women, and I mean all of the women, at the health center absolutely loved him, and on top of it all he was actually a very nice guy, so it was hard to not like him, even when every ounce of attention went his way once you entered the room with him. Brian gave Linda the nickname "Linda-Lou" which I use to this day.

Along with Brian, I had also struck up a friendship with one of the administrators at the health center and one day she offered to take Linda, Brian and I skiing along with her and her kids. I was a little hesitant, as I was the only person going who didn't know how to ski, having never been. Despite growing up in upstate NY, with several mountains within a couple of hours of me, skiing was something I never got into. For one, I wasn't one of the Ski Club kids in high school. I wasn't cool, as they all were, I didn't have the money to pay for the trips, and invariably I worked on Friday nights, so Ski Club wasn't really an option. As no one in my family skied either, save my sister who used the Ski Club trips as an opportunity to socialize so she really didn't count, the activity was one I was able to safely ignore up until my early 20's. Linda and Brian both had ski experience though, and they promised me that it would be easy to learn and that I'd have a great time.

Either they underestimated the difficulty of learning to ski or they overestimated my ability to coordinate myself with two boards strapped to my feet, but skiing was a far cry from being easy to learn. Simple movement was an issue, and even on the slightest of runs, I was unable to go more than five feet before my toes would point inwards and I'd tumble over, or simply stop with no way to get back going. Linda tried to teach me and between our mutual frustration with each other, things didn't go all that well. Eventually Brian stepped in and for whatever reason, be it him just explaining things differently, or me just finally learning how to coordinate my unresponsive muscles, I started to get the hang of things.

By "get the hang of things" I mean that I could go to the top of the run, ski down without hitting anything, and manage to turn myself so that I could stop. Usually before I slammed into the equipment rack, but not all of the time. Given how long it had taken me to get to this point, simply making it down the run at all, much less without serious injury, was enough to keep me happy, but Linda and Brian were no doubt tired of the same boring, beginner level skiing and wanted a chance to tackle something lengthier and more challenging.

Now, if ever I were to tell you this story while in the company of my wife, this is where the story would diverge. I would tell you Linda and Brian wanted to go on a longer run and told me that it wouldn't be hard for me to do, so I should come with them. Linda would tell you that it was my idea to take the longer run, which, given how the story has gone up to this point paints me as either incredibly adventurous or completely out of my mind. I am, and was, neither. I don't know why my wife remembers this story so incorrectly, no doubt an effort by her subconscious to assuage her guilt in instilling in me a life long fear of snow sports, but nevertheless, her memory of the events are wrong.

The first thing that tipped me off to the fact that this new, longer run would not be the piece of cake it was promised to be, was the fact that we had to ride the ski lift up to the beginning of the run. About half way up the mountain, I looked ahead of me and could not see more than ten chairs ahead of me, so tall was the mountain, so thick was the fog. I looked behind me and couldn't see more than ten chairs behind me. This was the second thing that led me to believe that things were not going to go well.

The top of the mountain was chaos. The snow machines were running at full tilt, and made a horrible, wailing dirge. Snow was blowing everywhere and between the snow, and the fog, it was hard to see much. I quickly got off of the chair, no doubt falling on my face in the process, and we moved away from the machine so that you didn't have to scream at the top of your lungs to be understood. Linda and Brian brought me over to the top of the run, and pointed down to where we'd be skiing.

I don't scare easily. I'm not particularly brave, I just don't scare easy, no doubt because I'm not smart enough to contemplate the level of danger ahead of me, but when I looked down this run, I got scared. Fellow skiers where streaking down the mountain so not only would I have to contend with my own lack of skills, but I'd also have to hope that they didn't run into me, or I into them, no doubt causing severe bodily harm to both of us.

Not having any other way to get down the mountain, I pushed off and was on my way. Immediately I headed sideways, towards the edge of the trail, rather than down the mountain. I don't know if it was the setting, or just my fear magnified or what, but the stopping I was able to do earlier in the day eluded me, and as I headed to the edge of the trail, I had no recourse but to hurl myself into the snow and hope for the best. I landed, stopped, and peered over the edge to see an almost sheer drop down into snow, trees and certain death. That, as they say, was that.

Even if had wanted to get back up and ski, my body simply would not listen to my brain. It knew better even if I didn't, and wanted nothing to do with continuing this farce. Linda and Brian came over to encourage me to get back up and I told them, probably rather impolitely, that I would have no further part in this hell spawned sport. I crab walked down the entire mountain, skiis on my feet. It was only when I realized that I had reached the entrance to the beginner's run I had skied on earlier that I got back up and skied down to the bottom. Upon reaching the end of the line, I promptly removed my skis, removed my boots, and went into the lodge, never to ski, never even wanting to ski again.

It might not seem like much, and I'm sure that I'm not retelling it in a way that conveys the full extent of noise, fear and confusion that was present when I pushed off of that larger run, but I can tell you, unequivocally, that in my 35 years on this planet, I have never been so scared, so utterly terrified as I was when I looked over that edge and realized that I could have plummeted over it. It's entirely possible that the totality of the experience magnifies in my memory just how big the drop was, and if I were to go see it now, I'd laugh at being scared over such a thing, but regardless, you'll never get me back up on a ski run. Not for nothing. I'd be happy to go in the lodge, sip warm beverages and play whatever handheld I bring with me, possibly both, as others carve and jump all the live long day, but these feet have worn their last pair of ski boots, and these hands have held their last pair of poles. From here on out, it's all SSX and balance boards.

It's odd to have something that I'm this afraid of, and even stranger that the thing is "skiing" and not "bears"or "death by immolation" but regardless, I'm afraid of skiing, and I don't see it changing any time soon. The very fact that I live in the south makes it that much more difficult, yet not impossible, for me to go skiing, and there's no interest on either of our parts to expose the kids to it, so I think I can safely tuck this phobia away, never to have to face it again. Should you be the type of person who enjoys skiing, and enjoys bringing new skiers with you, be sure to let them ski at their own pace, or at least get them good and drunk before taking them on the longer runs. Too, watch out for the flaming bears. Those fuckers can be terrifying.


MQ said...

What is it with skiers/snowboarders? They are sports righteous! My husband tried to get me on a diamond run my second time snowboarding and the ski patrol actually stopped him!! The could see the fear in my eyes from the back of my head and pointed us to a less terrifying run. Still, after boarding the bunny slopes all morning and unable to carve, my leg muscles were jello. I was lapped twice by a five year old skier. Seriously. So, the same ski patrol saw me and offered me a ride down the mountain. I took it, to my husband's utter snowboardification. Whatev. I was tired. I'm from California, I don't like to play in the snow. And I'm scared of falling off a cliff. :)

Booster MPS said...

You know I have promised myself that I would go skiing or boarding for the last few years and I just have never made the effort. It's so beautiful on the mountains and a great way to get in shape. Have an awesome trip.