Learning to ski at my age had me worrying about things that a younger person might not have.
What if I plummet over a cliff, break my hip, and die from complications a week later?
What if I take a blow to the back of my head from one of those chair ride thingies and end up like an amnesia-riddled soap opera character?
What if I end up like Sonny Bono and that horrible tree?
But as a committed GypsyNester, it is my duty to step out of my comfort zone and go for the glory with guts AND gusto.
I continually needed to remind myself when I started “what if-ing” that the huge majority of “ifs” turn out just fine, sometimes even excellently. Besides, my affairs are in order, my kids are grown and have burden-proofed my life.
Should I take the big spill, the world would go on without me. So, by golly, I’m going for it.
I wasn’t subjected to snow while growing up in the desert so I’m ignorant in its ways. Exotic words like “packed” and “powder” were being flung about by the giddy skiers surrounding me and I found it very infectious.
So with a smile on my face, on a beautiful sunny day, I was ready to charge the mountain.
At the lodge’s rental counter, David helped me into the daunting ski equipment as if he were dressing a two-year-old, complete with runny nose.
I was horrifyingly inept.
The boots alone were very complicated buggers. They were foot prisons made of a brutal, inflexible, space-aged polymer that doesn’t exist anywhere in nature. For maximum support, the footwear apparently must be clamped down tight enough to cut off all blood flow below the knees.
My legs were getting all tingly and I couldn’t feel my feet at all.
Since that seemed to mean that I was properly booted up, David lead the way toward the slopes with our skis and poles. I basically had to relearn the art of walking in order to follow him.
Add in two pairs of pants, four layers on top, scarf, hat and gloves and my limbs stuck out like a freakin’ starfish, only less mobile. But I managed to shuffle my way across the room toward the exit and still keep my good humor intact. I was even starting to find it quite comical.
Until I got to the stairs. My feet might as well have been nailed to the floor. The boots prohibited me from mounting a single step.
I tried pulling one leg up the first step with my sweating, mittened hands. Squatting a tad, I grabbed my thigh above a bent knee and yanked. My shoulder almost sprung from its socket, but the boot remained firmly planted on the floor.
Attempting to execute a crablike maneuver, I shuffled sideways whilst doubling myself over the handrail. Great energy expense with no ascension. But, if I am one thing, that thing is resourceful. I found my method.
For the remainder of our stay, I ascended the stairs back-end first. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
My intention was to first take a lesson, thus enabling the Colorado-raised David to get his gazelle-like self straight to the slopes without having The Old Ball and Chain literally be an old ball and chain.
Unfortunately an instructor wasn’t immediately available, so David escorted me to the Bunny Slope.
He listened to my lame jokes disguised as self-deprecation while he bestowed beginner slope gearing-up tactics upon me.
“Keep your skis sideways to the slope.”
“Keep your weight on the uphill ski.”
“Pop your boot into the binding.”
He might as well have been blithering Swiss Alpine gibberish. Time and time again I misdirected my feet and sent my skis flying. Time and time again David retrieved them. The man was a saint.
I tried to keep his pending canonization in mind as he pointed me toward a clanking contraption of spinning frozen rope dragging Gore-Tex coated three-year-olds with boards strapped to their feet up a gentle rise.
“What the hell is THAT?” He had to be kidding if he thought I was going to attach myself to that thing.
“The rope tow.” More Alpine gibberish. He looks at me as if I were one of the three-year-olds. “That’s how we go up the hill.”
Good thing I was very determined to master skiing, because the rope tow was almost as determined to kill me. These gizmos are not made for anybody with a center of gravity higher than Minnie Mouse.
It was a thing of beauty – my stiff starfish self being dragged up a slippery surface while flailing forward and back. I looked like one of those dancing inflatable men at a car dealership.
Add waving ski poles to the mix and it was gorgeous, a sight to behold.
Standing atop the mountain erroneously called a Bunny Slope, David coached me in the art of snowplowing and edge-digging before pointing me downhill.
The boots’ tightness, binding and bulkiness disappeared when put to proper use. I miraculously skied that horrifically steep and challenging Slope of the Small Hare, without wiping out.
After I’d done the same thing two whole times, Jules, my ski instructor, met us at the foot of the hill.
Ready to show off my new moves, I waddled across the flat expanse between us and promptly fell flat at her feet.
This did not bode well for my first lesson, the chair lift.
David and Jules discussed my abilities and potential while I flailed deliriously, trying to get back up on my skis. Had they not noticed me down here?
After what seemed like ten mortifying minutes, I was ultimately hoisted upright with assistance from both David and Jules, and I then began my slide toward the chair lift.
“Keep your knees bent. Stick out your butt. Skis must be pointed forward. Hold your poles in your outside hand.”
I opened my mouth to ask Jules what the poles were for, but after visualizing myself slipping in front of the speeding chair, knocked comatose, lifted up by the scruff of my jacket, carried fifty feet up, and then dropped to my death, I decided instead to concentrate on the task at hand.
I followed Jules’ instruction to the letter. With eyes squeezed tight, I felt a slight bang on the back of my legs, and I was up! Must be how a toddler feels when an adult comes from behind and sweeps him off his feet with no warning – both vomit-inducing and exciting.
Next thing I knew, we were at end of the line. Holding my ski poles in one hand as Jules instructed, I tipped my skis up and felt the ground come under them.
Emitting a strange squeak, I left the chair and made it down the slight incline in one piece. I came to a stop and turned to flash a triumphant grin at Jules. And fell on my butt. Jeez.
Grinning wipeouts aside, Jules decided I was ready for Jelly Bean Hill and Candy Cane Lane. Daunting stuff, those. I breezed through like a pro. I’d become Suzy Chapstick with the wind blowing through my honey blond hair – mall bangs and all.
No longer was I afraid of the Dr. Seuss-type-characters on snowboards zooming by from above. I was on fire. Jelly Bean Hill – I own you!
Having done her job, Jules handed me back into the capable hands of David. This time I was unquestionably vertical.
David, who had been skiing trails with names like Big Cajones and Black Diamond Death Bowl in my absence, urged me to try some harder slopes. The really tough ones, like the semi-dreaded Licorice Gum Drop Mountain.
I relented and, after showing off my new chair lift prowess, went to peer over the edge of the slope. Thank God my boots were so tight that my knees couldn’t buckle at the sight of the drop-off – that was one mother of a Gum Drop. I refused to budge.
David slyly changed his tactics from coddling to out-and-out mocking – until I bit my lip, closed my eyes and dug in, hoping to snowplow my way down the mountain.
Nope, too steep. Instead I turned and careened straight sideways across the slope. Not having covered this special kind of stupidity in my lessons, I did what came naturally. I freaked out.
Ridding myself of the poles, which seemed logical since I still had no clue why I’d been carrying them around all day, I laid out flailing in the snow hoping to stem the velocity of my slide.
It did, but not all that well. My full-body sprawl finally skidded me to a stop about twenty feet below my initial impact crater – and my poles.
“You lost your poles, dumbass,” was the first thing I heard. “Now I have to climb up there and get them.”
“Don’t call me dumbass, I’m trying as hard as I can,” I pouted.
David insisted that “dumbass” wasn’t actually included in the statement. I’m inclined to believe him.
We’ll just call it dumbass implied and leave it there.
Regardless, I was not about to let David come riding to the rescue, I was going to retrieve the poles myself.
Incidentally, it is much less problematic to return to the upright and locked position when collapsed on a steep hill, so I had that going for me.
Using my ski’s edges, my left hip and my shredded dignity, I managed to worm my way up to the orphaned poles.
I soldiered on to conquer the dastardly Gum Drop. Multiple times.
Now that I’d mastered the kiddie slopes, I felt there might be hope for me on skis. It really IS fun to zoom around on the white stuff.
That is why people do it, right? I don’t have to be fabulous to have a great time.
Maybe I’ll even stick around long enough next time to find out what the poles are for.
YOUR TURN: So… how’d I do?
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