Back in the days when Black Rapids ski slope was open to civilians, my wife wheedled me into renting some downhill skis, and buying a pass and a lift ticket. She bribed me by describing panoramic vistas, exhilarating outdoor air, fun, excitement, and exercise. I didn’t realize that the “romantic bonding time for our relationship” she was extolling was going to involve me bonding with every tree, bush and rock on the slope.
Oblivious that my sweet and devoted spouse had made a Faustian pact with the abominable snowman, I told myself that downhill skiing couldn’t be that bad. You just stand on those little planks with the pointy curves on the end and ride them down the hill. Right? After all, didn’t they give you those sticks to jab in the snow and stop yourself with if things get hairy?
As I rode the lift to the top, I mentally perfected my style. I had seen some really cool moves in a James Bond ski chase scene that I wanted to try out. I licked my lips in anticipation and then spent the rest of my lift ride trying to unstick my tongue from the steel tubing of the T-lift. When the thing reached the top and I tried to get off, I found that I couldn’t. Not only did I have the tongue issue, but somehow, the strap of my snow pants had gotten snagged on the stupid lift as well.
With all our modern technology, you would have thought that they could make a ski lift stop at the top to let a skier dismount and retrieve his taste buds with dignity. But, no, it just kept moving. Frantically, I gave a mighty wrench and felt a pair of tearing sensations–one in my tongue and one in my pants. I didn’t much care about the pants. They were an old duct-taped pair of camo snow pants, blackened by the patina of a dozen hunts. It was my tongue that disappointed me the most. I was going to have difficulty managing those snappy James Bond one-liners now.
As I reeled backwards, my skis and poles simulated a Viet Cong man trap, forcing me onto the snow with my leg canted under me in a painful and unnatural position, and my ski poles impaling me in the calf and ribs. To add insult to injury, I looked up to see some skier in a three hundred dollar pair of goggles and color coordinated pastel ski suit peering down at me with an expression of revulsion.
“Good grief, man!” He sneered. “There should be some sort of screening protocol for purchasers of lift tickets. Are you OK?”
I lifted one eyebrow in an expression of disdain. “Thaken, not thtirred,” I replied in my most debonair British accent. It was difficult to maintain a British accent with two thirds of my tongue surface missing. The skier shook his head and shot away in a hiss of skis and a flurry of snickers. Carefully I began the process of untangling myself. It proved to be a procedure that I became very adept at as the day wore on.
About then, my wife showed up. She wondered why I why I wanted to lay around making snow angels when there was a mountain to be skied. I just smiled enigmatically and using my poles, managed to gingerly ratchet myself into a standing position atop my skis.
Then she began to give me pointers. It was something about bending at the tongue, leaning into the knees of your snowplow shift to turn, and weighing your boots to stop. The only thing I clearly remember was her admonition: “Just remember, if you start to feel out of control, all you have to do is fall down!” From my vantage point, teetering on the brink of the expert slope, I didn’t see how her advice was particularly useful, since it appeared like skiing was basically going to consist of a prolonged fall down a mountain anyway.
All of my 007 fantasies forsook me and I became obsessed with but one thought—how do I get back to the chalet alive? It seemed decades later that, crawling on hands and knees, I found the beginner’s trail. It was slightly more sloped than the top of a pool table, and slightly wider than a football field. It was the most frightening thing I have ever encountered.
Some four-year-old kid shot nonchalantly by me, leaning into the tongue of his boots with his poles tucked, forgotten, under his armpits. He didn’t have to rub it in. I briefly wondered if ski poles would work as little kid shish-kabob skewers, but by then he was at the bottom of the slope, and riding the lift back up.
I vaguely remembered my wife saying that if the slope was too steep, I could zigzag back and forth across it to control my speed and angle. I fastened my bindings, took a deep breath, and pointed obliquely down hill. At first I tried my skating freeform style, thinking that the wind milling action of my arms might provide some gyroscopic stability. It seemed ineffective, so I sat on the back of my skis in the fetal position and covered my head. I became one with nature—or at least that small part of nature that consisted of an alder thicket on the far side of the slope.
It took some time for me to distinguish between ski poles, alder trunks, arms, skis, and legs. When I had gotten them all sorted out, I aimed at an even shallower angle for a very soft looking snowdrift on the opposite side of the trail and pushed off. I was able to practice steering this time. Lean. Pivot at the hips. Dig in with the edge of the skis. Let the snowdrift gobble you up.
It took me an hour and a half to make it down the beginner’s slope to the chalet. I would simply shoot across the slope until I encountered an accommodating bush, snowdrift, or rock. It would stop me. I would then chase down my escaping skis, pick a new drop zone, and repeat the process. I was still picking impacted snow pellets out of my ears and nostrils the next morning.
When I reached the chalet, I knelt and reverently kissed the level ground before it. I kissed the chalet. I kissed the little four-year-old kid. I even tried to kiss the bull moose that stepped out of the brush. When he chased me inside, I kissed a tall mug of hot chocolate until my wife arrived with frost in her hair, a glow in her cheeks, and a sparkle in her eye. I didn’t talk to her, let alone kiss her for about a month.