I hadn’t skied since college, and I never was that great to begin with. For one thing, I prefer not to think of gravity as the enemy. But when I’m at the top of a large hill strewn with fallen bodies and teen-aged speed demons armed with lethal ski poles, it is apparent that gravity is the boss and, however treacherous, I have no alternative but to proceed downward.
Skiing is great fun – in good conditions, with the right people. The boots alone are worth the price of rental because I can lean farther forward or backward than regularly possible. For a moment, I can be Harold Lloyd. I course, when I walk in them, I become Herman Munster.
Clomping on the wooden floors of ski lodges and smelling the coffee and burning logs is pleasant too. In the lodge, no one knows how badly I’ve skied or how my legs feel like they belong to someone else, perhaps a moon-walking astronaut or a triathlon contender. Lounging with the gorgeous, coordinated ski bunnies and bums is fun, but there is always at least one healthy-looking someone with a Gargantuan cast on his or her leg. When you see that, it brings eternity one step closer, somehow.
I remembered all this when, years after my last skiing adventure , I was asked to fill in one Monday night for the faculty ski club advisor at the school where I taught. This didn’t necessarily entail skiing, but since I was to drive three high-schoolers, I figured it would be a terrible waste not to hit the slopes. I even took my old skis, the ones I got at a house sale in 1969, with me.
Before I put them on, though, I decided to have the bindings checked to make sure they were safe. The fellow in the equipment room just about had a coronary when he saw the skis.
“Where did you get those old things? I haven’t ever seen anything like that!”
I took another look at my skis. They looked like 2x4s compared to the sleek ones in the racks. And my black leather lace-up boots were a far cry from the shiny thermal plastic ones that lined the walls.
“Lady,” he said, “we won’t let you on the slopes with those things. Toss ’em.”
Toss my skis with the plastic ladybugs and daisies (a la 1969) on them? And that darling boot carrier with the bunny fur on the handle? Well, it was that or die, so I rented.
Hours went by with me on the baby hill. I was riding the T-bar like a pro, traversing my heart out, and avoiding falling, which would have been a damp experience since I had out-grown my size 7 ski pants more than a few years back and now wore jeans over long johns.
After awhile, one of my students whizzed by going straight down the hill – no snowplow, no traverse, no parallel, just pure daredevil – and shouted at me, “Wow, Teach, you can really ski!”
I, the fool, believed him, and soon after I left for the BIG hill, the one with the CHAIRLIFT. The ride up was exhilerating. With my legs dangling and the crisp night wind in my face, I could imagine myself in Aspen, Vail, the Olympics!
But then I was on top, and the chairlift was nudging me off, onto the largest, slickest hill in all of Ohio. It was practically straight down, and most of it was ice – gray blobs of gripless frost with a little snow here and there. I stood for a long time at the top, trying to map out a route around the ice. Movie phrases like the Cowardly Lion’s “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do” and children’s book lines like “I think I can, I think I can” jumbled in my head, and I wondered if I shouldn’t take off the silly skis and walk down, nodding at people and saying, “Darn binding broke. Mumph.”
But nooo. For reasons having to do with vanity, honor, and resentment of the aging process, I had to try. The snowplow position – knees bent, pigeon-toed and ridiculously uncomfortable – was my only hope. I started off, so slowly I barely moved. Then I began to slide uncontrollably, along with everyone else on that darn hill. People were falling and crashing with horrible thumps, and out of the corner of my eye I could see the Ski Patrol eyeing me, sizing me up to see if I’d fit comfortably in their handy-dandy dead person’s sled.
No, no, you can’t have me, I silently informed them, as I sped by sideways. I steered around prostrate bodies by leaning left and right and crouching so low I practically sat down more than once, but I made it to the bottom of that hill with all my bones intact.
Yes! I had made it, but I couldn’t get out of the snowplow position for five minutes. Tension had welded my bones and muscles into a bent up old lady pose.
The good part was that I had never been happier to be alive. I had lived through the Giant Hill of Ice and I felt pretty darn good. I went back to the baby hill and went down it. Three times. And then it was time to go home.
Will I go skiing again? Sure, someday. I will ski anywhere there are gently sloping trails, gently sloping hills, and lots and lots of powder. Will I ever go on a hill that has more that a 25-degree angle? Not on skiis. Maybe the Blue Streak roller coaster at Cedar Point Amusement Park, but I prefer a kinder, gentler ski slope.