With the start of the New Year, and all those resolutions soon to be ignored, taxes yet to be done, and days until the stores are once again full of lawn chairs and sun hats, we also start the ski season or at least we used to when the weather wasn’t as capricious as it is today. Unlike 2015, the Year of Our Lord (YoOL) 2016 seems to be sending rain rather than snow, warm rather than cold. Much unlike the bitter winds and feet of snow we endured last year, which is to say from the perspective of skiers, enjoyed last year. While Vale, Breckenridge, Squaw Valley and even Jackson Hole were scraping by with whatever moisture and cold weather they could get, the northeast had conditions so good [editor’s note: this is still NE skiing conditions] that smaller ski mountains that had not been open regularly in years were booked solid.
This writer is not a life-long skier. Truth be told, I have some experience in the sport.
Sometime in the 1970s, my family took up skiing. By “took up skiing” it was more that my parent found some old skis in a thrift shop (we may have paid money for some of the equipment), and we took to the LOCAL bunny hole. The bunny hole was called the Ski Bowl, and this “facility” was less of a hill and more of an extra large divot in a golf course out in Lawn Guyland. I remember that it snowed quite infrequently back then on the island (apart from it snowing too much in 1976 or 1977 or something). However, when it snowed, all the bunnies would emerge from their various tract homes and scurry to the Ski Bowl to attempt to see how hurt we could all get on such a small incline. The place has since been turned into condos. As has everything else in the area that wasn’t already a gas station.
If you are of a certain age, it must be impressed upon you that back then ITD (In The Day), skis were long sticks of wood with some bent tin on the edges, some springs invented to be absorb snow and adhere to bare skin, and everything needed four bars of wax depending on the snow to slide but the paper box the wax came in turned into pulp and took the directions on the box with it, so it worked out more like, so is today the silver wax, the yellow wax, maybe a candle?
In time, we got some modern equipment. We had two modern pairs of skis made of this material called fiber glass. I remember these one-colour plastic boots that attached to these skis using a clamp that no longer required a wrench or some machine press (unlike the leather ones that needed the wire spring contraption to hold them into place). Each one of these plastic boots weighed three to ten pounds. It took about an hour to get on and two hours to get off. We wore lots of socks in the boots since they didn’t quite fit. Also, we took to wearing socks on our hands as gloves. As the tips got wet and froze, you would pull the sock down just a little further to the still dry part, repeat until the socks were at their ends dangling and no longer cover one’s hands, but then you knew it was time to go in so perhaps this was a more than clever invention.
My parent taught us to ski. In the backyard of our tract home, we were able to sort of skate back and forth on the flat ground (which I cannot think how we did anything useful since the backyard was perhaps twenty feet of uncluttered ground not including “the woods,” the pony paddock, the trailer, the junk pile). At the Ski Bowl, we took the divot down and the tow rope back. Again a little history. The tow rope was apparently invented by a chiropractor in Denver when business got thin and he needed to fix more dislocated shoulders. This device works by means of a rope attached to an flywheel of some ingenious engine at the top of the hill, or divot, and then that rope loops about another wheel on the bottom next to the line of twenty or thirty skiers waiting for their next run. At the bottom, some young boy guides your hand to the knot in the rope and you hang on skis forward to be towed to the top, or if you trip over your skis dragged to the top. At the top you have to let go or be crushed so some slightly older boy with frozen cheeks and broad shoulders named Robbie or Ryan makes sure you don’t keep hanging on to the rope and then get caught up in the flywheel of the loud sputtering two-stroke engine that once upon a time was attached to a threshing machine or some other mechanical peasant grinder. I recall being “on the slopes” once or twice. I accompanied a parent, we passed the bunny hill, the smaller part, and took the ride to the summit of some large mountain. At the top the view was magnificent. However, we faced what looked like a frozen cliff. My parent, in a rare moment of clarity, went to ask the attendants if we could return down on the lift. We weren’t allowed to, however there was this back way down we could take. I remember on that flatter back trail a snow machine was coming up, one of those huge groomers, and perhaps this is a false memory, as all memory alas are, but did they run these things during the day then? I truly remember being face-to-face with such a machine.
When we moved closer to the mountains, our parent disengaged from the world, but certainly lost all interest in skiing and whatever wonky equipment we had lay idle and moldered, crazed, and eventually was tossed into the landfill of history. I did not pine for this loss since we didn’t move more than dabble at the sport and my ski coat had but a few of those old paper lift tickets by the time we quit so I guess it seemed less a fun thing and more a chore of sorts. Plus, the rides down really sucked with shitty equipment.
It was then years later that I became older, a process of aging that is still in place. As an older person I was able to work and to drive places and do things without the need for another adult. I don’t know why, but skiing just didn’t seem to click. Perhaps the imagined difficulty of my youthful venture into the sport, the tales of skiers being total ass-holes as a theme among the people I knew, the knowledge that Upstate in the Forgotten Kingdom skiers rented old and once grand houses and then tore them apart and who wanted to be part of that sort of thing. I took up hiking, drinking, fighting, and travel, but didn’t return to ski. In college, this aversion grew since there was not much of a ski club at the school, the price tag was way too expensive and not covered by my scholarship, and one of the friends in our tight circle was a young man who had become paralyzed from a horrific accident while skiing. It seemed like being absent for a weekend to ski would not have been the right message to my friend circle.
After graduation and the young years of a young younger adult now in the old old New York there was no time nor money nor car so those mountains that had once been far, then close, were now far again almost distant imagined memories. Then, when older still, and more friends collected and more life and art and achievement event parties to attend at various bars and such, some group of the friends broke off and rented a ski house for the season and trekked up to Vermont just about every weekend. This cost time and money. I was in graduate school or some shit or just poor or maybe just got married to a sportive but not at all coordinated spouse or bought a house and adopted a cat that needed medication three times a day or something else that kept me distracted from taking on a sport. Whatever it was, I didn’t money up and rent a share, suit up, or equipment up, and maybe it was the ghost of the frozen socks on my hands that crept into my soul and whispered, just don’t do it. And so it went for some time, perhaps years.
Suddenly, I was on the verge of a very clever and somewhat media exposed Midlife Crisis (MidLiCri) that had put me again out of Gothem an within the range of the various ski mountains. I toyed with the idea, perhaps just for a moment. One snowy weekend, I had occasion to meet the gang at the rented ski house and thought, maybe I should reconnect and make an effort to join the gang and take on skiing in order to be more social and take up some activity. Unfortunately, the gang got caught in a snowstorm, and when I arrived at the lost chalet in the middle of the woods on an uncertain cliff, I was met with a very drunken friend and his girlfriend who were in the middle of some long and tangled argument that eventually ended in marriage and annulment. He was shooting off firecrackers from the desk. She was washing down pills with large glasses of white wine. I had a MidLiCri girlfriend of my own, and brought an artistic hippie who I was infatuated to whom (did I just use that word right?) I had promised would meet all these clever people and enjoy the vibe of the ski life for a night or two. However the night was not as expected and what we witnessed was an episode of Brideshead Revisited meets Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf with a touch of Frozen (she had a guitar and attempted to alleviate the tension thought song…. it didn’t work. As a matter of fact, my friend said, ‘don’t ever bring that fucking hippie around me again).
We barricaded ourselves in some corner of the ski lodge, and when the blue-green dawn of a winter’s day in Vermont broke, spirited away before “the gang” showed up. In this way, I managed to have the worst timing for so many life events of those who were around me. Oh well.
Anon and some years later I had a phone call.
Come ski, said the voice on the other end. I don’t know how, I replied, it doesn’t matter you can learn, ok, so come up this weekend, ok, and bring whatshername – not the hippie – oh we’re not together the hippie dumped me, ok so bring whoever you’re with, ok I will, where will we stay, I rented a place but it’s cheep, ok I guess I will go skiing then, great see you soon, ok bye.
I was encouraged since through some cosmic alignment and events fitting with the mirth of Dame Fate the story of which falls for now outside the ken of this blog, blessed with spikiness, jacket, goggles, helmet, and gloves. All of where were in a bag ready to go to the thrift store since I thought… shit, I don’t ski.
And so, after many decades, I was again in equipment. The shape had changed. The technology had changed. It was as if I was left apart from society in the woods and just wandered into town and saw cars and track phones for the first time. I marveled at these improvements and after a few lessons, I was taking some first turns and runs up even to the top of the mountain. My friend guided and pushed and by day four or five I was blundering about in the woods and all the time wondering, what have I been missing out on all these years? For a moment on the lift, I was sad as my lost youth and all those things that made me not ski. I blamed myself. My parent/s. My money situation. Myself again. I looked to the cold mountain covered in ice fog and mystery. I looked at my skis dangling, hovering it seemed, over the snow below as I rode the lift higher and higher the bitter wind and sound of sweet turns being carved the only noise in my ears. It didn’t matter. I was here, now, today, and at last.
To this, it is now the fourth season, and I guess that means I am a skier. And older skier, but having done five mountains in the northeast and one out west, I guess that makes this a real thing. While I miss my youth and certainly those friends who used to be together and more in my life, I am somewhat glad that I have allowed some activities and challenges to wait until later in my life so that I can still enjoy a new and exciting thing. Even one that my break my increasingly older neck.
Errata: The author mis-remembered a ton of shit. To learn more about the real “Ski Bowl” read this article HERE.