Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On Skiing

When I was about 16 years old, my dad took my brother and I on a skiing expedition- the first of my young life. By the time we left that afternoon, I was convinced it would be the final one as well-- it did not go quite as I had envisioned.

When my dad was young, he and his cousins would go skiing. According to my dad, he and his cousins were reckless youths. They would rent skis and head straight towards the highest, most dangerous looking trails, not worrying about trivialities such as knowing how to stop or steer. He assumed my brother and I would follow suit, so on that fateful day that he packed us into the car and drove us up to the Adirondack mountains he was not planning getting us skiing lessons, depending on our wits and inherent athletic ability to get us down the mountain in one piece.

Unfortunately for my father, though he and my brother both share the ability to a) play most sports with a surprising degree of skill and b) pick up any musical instrument and *gasp* make music with it, I must have taken after my mother in more than my good looks because I am tone deaf and a klutz. We got to the mountain, rented our equipment and my dad halfheartedly offered words into the air such as "snowplow" and "weaving." He showed us how to use the tow rope, and within moments, my brother was graduating to the double diamond slopes as I stood frozen at the top of the "ski school slope" paranoid that I would move and start hurdling down that steep (well, slightly inclined/ not quite totally flat) frozen path towards my imminent death.

I eventually gathered up my nerve and pushed off, hurling aimlessly down the hill. I looked enviously at the groups of people standing around an instructor, listening intently as he explained that "pizza" would slow you down and "french fries" would speed you up. Going faster and faster, I became further concerned as I realized that I did not know how to stop myself and would likely crash straight into the lodge at the bottom of this treacherous hill. Luckily, for me at least, there was a group of people standing directly in my path. Smart people, who were busy learning what I did not know- how to stop these damn skis. One of the group of beginner skiers quickly got wise as she glanced up and saw me aiming directly at her, yelling that I was sorry, but I didn't know how to turn or stop. The instructor saw my predicament, and started coaching me with the best advice I had gotten that day-- "FALL!!!!"

Now, gentle reader, I don't know if you realize this, but when you are on skis hurling to certain doom about to kill yourself and others on this most dangerous of slopes- the ski school slope- the last thing you want to do is speed up that death by falling on purpose. The whole goal of skiing is to stay standing. Falling is scary. However, killing a perfect stranger who just wanted to learn how to ski is also a frightening prospect. I am certain you can understand my predicament. Go against every instinct in my body and hurl it towards the ground, quite possibly breaking my bones and getting several unsightly bruises, all for the good of humanity; or crashing into a stranger and breaking and bruising my body along with hers (and possibly others, if the domino effect went into play). Being the selfless humanitarian I am, of course I gathered my courage and fell to the ground, skidding harmlessly into that poor ski student's legs at a surprisingly slow and nondestructive speed. After that traumatic episode, I determined that I was not destined to be an Olympic (or even casual) skier, and retired to the ski lodge to enjoy hot chocolate and firm ground while my dad and brother continued to show off their feats of agility, speed and skill.

So as you can see, it is quite understandable that at the age of nearly 30 I figured my skiing days were over, if they had ever even started. Life however, seems to have other plans. In a twist of fate, my in laws have recently relocated from beautiful, flat, below sea level Long Island to the mountainous (well, at least for the East Coast) Catskill Mountain Range. Yes, within 30 minutes of their house are at least 3 or 4 places to ski. Being practical people, my husband and I decided that it would be a waste to not take advantage of this vacation get away and spend some of the season skiing. Keep in mind that my husband has *never* skied before, and my only experience included hurling to certain doom about 15 years ago when my bones were *much* springier. But this past weekend I borrowed some ski clothes (my closet is suspiciously bereft of anything appropriate for skiing) and after a late night target run for waterproof pants, we were ready to attempt to ski.

My one requirement for this ski trip, in order to right the wrongs from my youth was to take a lesson. My husband, being a smart man who appreciates knowledge, agreed to this wise plan. We met with a lovely man named Mike who hailed from Jamaica, Queens (he wore a nifty name tag reminiscent of people who work at casinos in Vegas) who taught- and made us practice- all those wonderful terms that I had only heard about when I was 16. I learned how to snowplow and traveled down the ski school slope at various elevations practicing. I then graduated to learning how to turn- both left and right. When I was doing something wrong, Mike, or one of the other ski instructors, tried to explain what to do correctly. The only flaw I saw in their technique is that they tended to explain themselves the same way every time- as a teacher, I know it is important to try to vary the way you explain something if a student is consistently not getting what you are trying to teach. However, I caught on fairly quickly- I was able to stay upright and generally weave my way around the orange cones put there for that purpose. After a hearty lunch of chili, my husband and I went back out for an attempt on a slightly (very slightly) harder trail- this one with a chair lift and everything!

We were not perfect, and both of us had some unfortunate falling incidents, but we manged not to injure ourselves or others as we whooshed down the "mountain". In fact, we might even do it again some day... but not before we get another lesson!

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