Learning to Faceplant with Grace, Part I

As the snow falls in quiet, blanketing quantity on the already buried yard and roof, Action Girl and I scurry around in the kitchen in an effort to get food on the table for the kids before blood sugar levels start to droop and turn the light hearted laughing in the living room into maniacal cackles followed by periods of lavish crying. It’s always a challenging race.

“You know,” My wife paused as she got the various drinks ready. “We really ought to look into getting Short Stack into skiing. Reflexively, I grimaced a bit but then quickly conceded the point. She continued, “ There’s a place right up by my folk’s where he could give it a try and see if he likes it. It’d be good for him.” I tried to be noncommittal, but upon being pressed to define my neutral sounding mumbling, I agreed out loud with the idea. It’s not that I don’t approve of skiing or anything. It’s more insidious than that.

I’m spoiled. Poisonously so.

When I was not much older than Short Stack is now, my father decided to initiate me into a great New England tradition and take me alpine skiing. Skiing was introduced to American here in the northeast and has been enthusiastically embraced ever since. My Dad was really excited and partly due to his own enthusiasm, I was pretty revved up as well. I got to have new, never seen by me before, equipment and a day out with Dad. What could be better?

I actually remember the day quite well. After a short drive early one wintry morning, we arrived at the base of the mountain. Cars lined up in a snowy lot as kids wearing orange safety vests waved small flags directed us to our spot amongst all the others. I clambered into my red snow suit, was wedged into the most uncomfortable boots I had ever experienced in my short life and then tromped off like a miniature Frankenstein’s monster, following Dad to the lifts.

The lifts were, to be frank, imposing as hell. At the age of four, I felt that I had pretty much mastered the art of sitting down with out assistance, but this was a totally different situation. The chairs and benches I was used to didn’t move of their own accord on an endless loop and I rarely worked with a live audience waiting to see how I managed. We stood there and watched it for a while and then, just as I was getting used to the idea, Dad redirected me to something totally different.

The T-Bar.

Nowadays, we are firmly in the era of high speed quads and even fully enclosed gondolas. They might as well have mini bars and wait staff in comparison to the T-Bar. A T-Bar, and its slightly eviler cousin, the J-Bar, are simply a bit of pipe with a backless, armless seat, all hanging from a moving cable that zings along at a speed that seems way, WAY too fast. The biggest difference between a regular chair lift and one of these monstrosities is that there is no “lift” aspect to the ride. It’s all “chair.” Your skis never leave the ground but instead are used to “steer” you up the side of the trail, or in my case, to certain doom. They do build in a spring mechanism into it up where the pipe attaches to the cable, and this is intended to make your transition from zero to “Oh my GOD!” a little bit easier to take. For me, all it did was prolong the moment of impending faceplant so I could savor my terror a bit longer. My first attempt did not go well.

Neither did my second.

On my third, I hardly screamed at all. I was making progress!

At some point, with my snow suit having been forcibly crammed with roughly eight pounds of slushy-snow mixture from all the mechanically induced white washes, I managed to get up high enough on the hill to try out the skis. It was “go” time!

As it turned out, all I could go was about six or seven feet until my brain would take over and yell, “What the hell are you doing?!? You’re gonna DIE! Fall over now before you get going too fast!” and obediently, over I’d go.

WHAP!

I got terrifically good at this as my Father did his very best to dredge up every ounce of patience he had available to him. To his extreme credit, I can not recall him at any time speaking through clenched teeth during the day as I listened to his instructions, lined up on the bunny slope and then promptly fell over for no readily apparent reason. The good part about collapsing in a heap mere moments after starting a run was that I didn’t have to take my chances with the T-Bar all that often. One ride to the top of the slope was good for at least eight or nine falls!

We did this all morning and by lunch, we were starved, wet to the skin and both feeling pretty frustrated and we decided to let the cafeteria’s American Chop Suey and hot chocolate do it’s best to cheer us up. As we munched away on our lavishly expensive ziti in cheeze and meat sauce, I kept thinking about all those times spent flat in the snow and what I needed to do differently to remedy that. Dad, I’m guessing, was focusing on the idea that at least he was out for the day with his son and that was all that mattered. The skiing was unimportant. I’m betting that he thought about this looooong and hard, possibly repeating it like a mantra.

“Hey, Buddy. What do you say? Want to just go home?” His comment caught me off guard. Dad didn’t give up on anything easily and the offer, though I knew it to be sincere, was out of character for him. I actually found it a bit unsettling. Yes, I did, but that wasn’t the point.

“Let’s try just one more time.” Was the only answer I had. I wanted to go home, but it just didn’t seem right to throw in the towel now, no matter how snowy and ice encrusted it was.

We suited back up into our damp outerwear and after another pitched bout with the infernal T-Bar, I found myself looking back down the slope that I had grown to know intimately at toe level. Dad gave me one last pep talk and asked if I wanted to hold onto his poles as he went down backwards. “Nope. I’ll try by my self.” And with that, down the slope I went… all the way, and most importantly, on my skis rather than under them. The rest of the day, the two of us skied happily together and other than a few more flops in the snow followed by quick recoveries, I had it nailed.

As the years went on, Dad and I went skiing quite a lot. It was our winter “father/son” thing to do and we both enjoyed it immensely. I wasn’t too bad, and gravitated toward the wide open intermediate trails the most. Mostly free of moguls and as wide as a football field in places, they allowed me to get into a tuck and fly like the wind. I’d smile all the way down, hooting like a lunatic where appropriate. We were fairly evenly matched in skill, though I always seemed to have more of a need for speed than Dad did, but it worked our well. I’d bomb ahead at crazy speed, almost wipe out and then come to a semi-elegant stop blasting up a tidal wave of snow in the process. There, I’d wait for my father to come into view and once visual was established, bomb off to the next logical place to stop and wait. The system worked fine.

Anyone who knows me at all knows one thing for sure: sports don’t interest me in the least. I never played Little League, never tried out for track and field and simply never wanted to. It wasn’t my idea of fun. When I got to high school, as a non-sports player, I stood out; especially since my uncle was the head coach of the highly acclaimed school football team. In a moment of weakness I bowed to pressure and signed up for the only sport that held any appeal to me at all: alpine skiing.

Big mistake.

More later…

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5 Responses

  1. I learned to ski on ski trips at jr. high school.
    I don’t think I learned anything from my parents. hee hee!

  2. ahhh, the good old T bars – for me, going on a T bar was a sign of maturing (i.e. not being stuck on the “baby lift”, the one that has a “plate” instead of a bar). I find it amazing that your dad took you to a ski lift before you learned the basics technique – over here, the standard initiation drill would always include “going” up the hill in small steps, sideways. So the first “rides” were short and well earned 🙂

    • Now that I think about it, I do remember doing a little bit of the walk up/fall down practice of which you speak, but i don’t think it lasted long. Either that or my T-Bar experience has burned out the memory of what just proceeded it. I never really got used to T-Bars and avoided them where possible. Now, mercifully, I think they are a thing of the past. You could probably use them to tell scary stories to the young pups around the fire at the lodge.

      “And then, when you least expect it… WHAM! The bar grabs you by your butt and drags you away from your loved ones! They say that on moonlit nights, just like this one, you can still hear the tow cable creak and the muffled screams of those being dragged through the snow! MUHAHAHAHAHA!”

      -TP

  3. hahaha.
    though I think they still use them over here 🙂

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