Learning to Faceplant with Grace, Part III

A trick of the light, a moment of distraction, what ever it was, I did something wrong.

In a heart stopping, bug-eyed, “Oh CRAP” moment, I was cutting the wrong way; not down to the next flag, but into the dark woods. Back then, no one wore a helmet when they skied. It simply didn’t happen. We didn’t even think of is as being “wimpy” or less manly or any of that, because you just never saw it. You would have been just as likely to think, “Hey, no one here in the swimming pool is wearing shoulder pads” as you were to think, “Wow, no one on the slopes is wearing any head protection.” It simply wasn’t on our collective radar. The only time I ever saw a helmet on the slopes was during an actual competition, and even then, it was for only for competitive jumping, not slalom. We would have been as surprised to see a unicycle going down the trail as a person in a helmet. It goes without saying that my knit hat wasn’t going to do me much help in this situation except maybe keep the smaller skull fragments from flying loose on what was looking like a highly likely impact. For that split second, I was truly terrified.

Looking into the trees, I knew one thing. If I went in, I wasn’t coming out. Not breathing, at any rate. I was going perhaps thirty miles per hour or better, could barely make out the trunks in the dark and shadows and it was all unbroken, deep snow. Somehow, at the very edge of the trail, I managed to pull my skis up and redirect myself back onto the course and into tree free territory. I missed a bunch of flags, botching my high speed run, barely missed the coach as she rolled out of the way when I whipped by her at the finish line and came to a stop a short down the slope, completely freaked out.

It took me a while to calm down and let the adrenalin subside. Somehow, I screwed up enough courage to hike back up and make the other two required passes, but this time, my speed was horrible. I practically coasted down and I remember the coach being ticked off at my obvious lack of effort. I don’t think she understood how I, at age sixteen, had come face to face with my own mortality that night and the very powerful effect it held over me.

I didn’t make the A list.

I stayed on the team for a while longer but I decided that there just was no way I was going to get near that situation again, and the coach new it. I only actually raced once and, surprise, surprise, didn’t win. Honestly, I don’t remember if I finished the year out with them or not. If I did, it would have only been as a bench warmer.

One of the unforeseen side effects of my skiing this hard and pushing my self to achieve more and more ability was that skiing with my father had changed for me too. Skiing now, even at what I considered sedate speeds, I was far faster than Dad and outstripped him quickly, often loosing each other for an hour or so and cooling my feet at the lift line while scanning the crowds for his familiar hat or coat. The other problem was a classic catch-22. I didn’t want to ski at full throttle, on the outer envelope of my abilities any more, so I didn’t. But now, the slower pace and wide, meandering trails that I had enjoyed before, now bored me.

Image from Skiernet.com

Skiing had lost its allure. Other than the good company and the spectacular views, I just didn’t find it much fun any longer. I’d still go with Dad, but we went less and less as I found excuses not to go. I knew he still enjoyed it, so I’d go from time to time but honestly, I would have been just as happy to spend the time with him doing just about anything else.

When I went away to college, I mostly stopped all together. There were a few times here and there, but they were pretty few and far between. When I moved to Maine, I stopped entirely. When I was a kid growing up in New Hampshire, there was fantastic skiing to be had about forty minutes away and a half-day ticket was eleven bucks. Today, we’re more than a two hour drive from anything that could be called a real mountain and once you add in having to get off the island into the mix, you are talking about one serious time commitment. That, on top of a lift ticket fee that will make your heart stop and your wallet try and scurry down your pant leg and into your boot, and I just haven’t even been tempted.

I had been spoiled by proximity,cheap lift tickets and abilities that ruined me for anything slower than ludicrous speed.

Short Stack, on the other hand, hasn’t. This was being brought up to me again, first by my own mother a few weeks ago and now separately by Action Girl.

“I was talking to a friend of mine who’s taught ski school and he says that Short Stack is old enough to learn. We should give it a try!”

By “we” she means “me.” Action Girl knows how to do a lot of outdoorsy things, but alpine skiing isn’t one of them. I’m sure she could do it, but she has none of the equipment and, regardless of how rusty and neglected it is, I do. I’m starting to think about it in a positive light. I love spending one-on-one time with my kids and this would be a unique thing I could do with my son, at least until Lulu Belle gets old enough to want to give it a try. We wouldn’t have to go to the big mountains for him to learn, but rather the small, old fashioned, groomed hill near Action Girl’s folks house. We could even spend the night there and thus have plenty of time to recover before heading home.

Against my initial reaction to the idea, I’m warming to it now.

It’s been almost fifteen years since I’ve gone skiing and I’m willing to bet that my abilities have eroded quite a bit, along with the edges on my once cutting edge, racing skis. Perhaps too, my memory of what it was like to be able to fly along like a fighter jet down the face of a ridiculously steep, ice covered slope has faded enough to let me again enjoy a leisurely, weaving ski down a broad, open trail.

Maybe it will be fun again.

I think Short Stack and I will go and see. He’ll need boots, skis, poles and naturally, a helmet, but I’m kind of getting excited to try. There will be a lot to show him. How to snow plow, how to turn, the right way to fall down and then, how to get back up again. I anticipate a very long day with lots of snow filled jackets and pants. I think it will be worth it though, in the end.

And later on, when we are sitting in the lodge, enjoying our twenty dollar cup of American chop suey, I’ll tell him the story of Dad versus the T-Bar. If you happen to come looking for us on the mountain though, we’ll be in line at the high speed quad.

4 Responses

  1. I stopped skiing when I was about twelve or thirteen. At the time, it was very popular (for careless kids, that it) to ski on the narrow strip of snow between the official track and forest, where you would zig zag between tiny pine trees and jump from one snow bump to the other. It was great fun till I flew over my skies that got stuck in the roots and strained (?) my knee muscles. I guess it was not that painful as next year, I repeated the same fall at almost exactly the place with the same muscles involved. That was it for me. By the time my knees were back to their old ways, the prices of tickets and equipment were soaring and I just never went back to it.Now we are more into cross country skiing but even these skies have been gathering dust for a few years now due to kids and warm winter-related excuses. Currently, sledges are the name of the game.
    Next year, we will probably be faced with the same dilemma as you, and skiing being almost patriotic duty in Slovenia, the social pressure will be strong.

    You should definitely give it a go, even the smallest hill can be a dream slope for a little kid. When I go home I smile at the little bump (actually a fallout shelter masquerading as an eught meter high hill) that provided so much fun during the winters of my youth.

    • Ouch. Knees are tricky things. Best to preserve them since we’ll need them later. I love sledding and so does Short Stack. Lulu Bell, not so much, but I think she mostly objects to the cold and (for her) waist deep snow.

      We’ll see if Short Stack gets to ski this winter. At the moment, rain is pouring down all over out beautiful snow cover. What was eighteen inches of powder is going to be reduced to two inches of slop by morning. Still, it’s only January. Plenty of time to get whollped with another winter storm.


  2. Being able to do something and actually liking it isn’t the same thing.
    There has to be some motivation to do something; without it … it’s not fun or rewarding.
    My friend taught his son to skate when he was 2 or 3 and he really enjoyed the time on the ice with his son and watching him learn a new skill.
    I think it was more rewarding for him, but I’m sure he would admit it was fun too.

    Have fun.

    note: I was kind of hoping you went into the forest in the 2nd installment.

    • If I had.. I wouldn’t be typing these words today. I’d have been squirrel food! As I look back on my younger life now, I shudder to think about all the times I had very close calls. Makes me shiver now that I have two kids of my own and know that they will be repeating some of my knuckle headed maneuvers.

      As for being able to do something vs. liking it, this was the experience that has made me stop from pursuing making other activities which I loved in to careers. I love to fly small airplanes but made the decision early on that I wouldn’t get my commercial license simply because I never wanted to walk toward an airplane I was about to fly and go, “Ugh. Not again.” It was about the enjoyment, and I didn’t want to ruin that. Good life lessons, no?


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