I used to be a good skier. At least I skied somewhat regularly, since my father lived and worked at Mount Snow in Vermont. I was never a great skier, mind you, but I could hold my own on most slopes.
I remember a time in college when my roommate, Mike, and I decided to head for the slopes. What I didn’t know was that Mike didn’t know how to ski. I think I can set the tone for what happened by describing our first trip up the chair lift: We hadn’t gone a hundred feet when Mike dropped his hat right under the lift.
Getting to the top, Mike was determined to recover his hat. I showed him how to snowplow, and we cautiously made our way down the mountain. Mike did okay; no style points, but he made it down. We found where he had dropped his hat: we could see it right in the path of the oncoming skiers. It was about a twelve-foot drop to where his hat lay on top of the snow.
Mike started his descent. Unfortunately, he didn’t remove his skis first, and he very quickly became buried up to his chest in the soft, ungroomed snow. At least he could reach his hat. Now all we had to do was figure out how to get Mike back up on the trail. Meanwhile, Mike had to duck the skis worn by the people on the chairlift that was just over his head. Somehow he got his skis off and tossed them up to me, and I held one out for him to grab and pulled him to safety. Mission accomplished.
By this time, Mike was convinced he knew how to ski, so off we went to the top of Mount Snow. Mike, being the observant person he is, noticed that in the chair in front of us were two very attractive young ladies. The plan was to chase them down the mountain and then casually stop near them and attempt to engage them in witty conversation.
That’s not what happened.
We followed them from a safe distance, and when they stopped to catch their breath, I headed straight for them and did a beautiful stop in a spray of snow about ten feet below them. Pretty impressive, I must say! As I looked back up the mountain, down came Michael in his ungainly snowplow. But that wasn’t really the problem. The problem was that he was headed straight for the girls, and I knew he had no idea how to stop.
Well, he did stop—but he accomplished this feat by plowing straight into both girls, and they all ended up in a heap of tangled bodies and skis. Ever the optimist, Michael popped his head up, and I heard him say, “Can we buy you girls a hot chocolate”?
Without a single word, the girls skied off down the mountain, and we never saw them again.
My next skiing adventure didn’t happen for almost twenty more years. I was living in Schladming, Austria home of the Planai—a series of four mountains right next to one another. You could ski down one mountain, take the lift to the top of the next mountain, ski down, and eventually cover all four mountains. It was Alpine skiing at its finest, and I did pretty well for someone who hadn’t skied in twenty years.
What made skiing in Austria so special was actually the Schladminger Beer Company which was located right at the bottom of the first mountain. They offered a 36 ounce glass of beer in a frosted mug. I don’t drink beer but I made an exception in this case. The beer was so fresh it hadn’t even been bottled yet. After some fortification, we would head to the slopes and begin our very own Austrian Olympics. The most amazing part is that I didn’t break anything - although not everyone could say that. I now live by the motto - Don’t Drink and Ski.
In the late 1990s I was working as a consultant at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, and skiing was once again on my activity list. Skiing in Lake Tahoe is very different from skiing in Vermont. Out west, they’ve never heard of “loose granular” conditions. If you don’t know what that means, it means that you’re not skiing on actual snow; you’re skiing on ice. This is infinitely more difficult than skiing on snow. If you’re a decent skier in New England, you’re a great skier in Lake Tahoe! I did pretty well, and my interest in skiing was renewed once again.
I did get tired of such perfect skiing eventually, and so I had a friend make up a fake cast for my left leg. I could wear my ski parker, put on the cast, and sit in the bar at the base lodge with a perfect excuse for why I wasn't skiing. I was also able to make up some amazing stories of my derring-do on the ski slopes. I got a lot of sympathy from wearing that cast—and people bought me a lot of drinks.
My last attempt at skiing happened a few years ago, when the Lovely Louise and I took the boys skiing in Stowe, Vermont. It had been a few years for me, and I was a bit older, so we decided we should take it easy at first and just try the bunny hill. The first attempt went well, and I was starting to feel my ski legs come back, so the second time down I tried to impress the family by attempting to execute perfect parallel turns. I was terrific until the third one. That’s when my right ankle looked up at me and said, “Nope, I ain’t doing this no more,” and proceeded to collapse.
Damn—a severely sprained ankle. That’s not a good thing when you’re trying to impress a woman. I do believe that the boys were impressed with some of my colorful language, though. Louise was not, however, and I got in trouble. In any event, that was the end of my skiing on that trip, and I haven’t been since. That’s fine, because I find I no longer have any enthusiasm for the snowy slopes; I’m perfectly content to sit in the bar and watch other people risk their lives and limbs. Besides, a ski trip nowadays requires the equivalent of a down payment on a house.
In case you’re wondering, my ankle didn't completely heal for almost eight months. I just don’t bounce like I used to.