My First Skiing Trip

My First Skiing Trip

One lazy afternoon, my friends talked me into going skiing.

“I dunno,” I said. “I’ve never been skiing before.”

“Nothin’ to it,” they said. “You’ll pick it up in a minute. We’re going up on the ski bus and you get free lift tickets if you chaperone the kids. You ice skate, don’t ya?”

“Well, sure,” I said, striking a self assured pose.

“Well, then, you can ski.” They grinned. ” ‘S all edge work, you’ll see. It’s the same thing.”

I didn’t have the fancy snow outfits my friends were wearing so I put on all ten pairs of my blue jeans, six tee shirts, four of my heaviest sweaters, my heavy pee coat, and the only cap I could find—a newsboy’s cap. I hate caps.

Riding that ski bus was pure misery. Squeamish cries of pain, “Ow, my stomach hurts!”, whining, “Are we there yet?”, persistent demands, “I’m hungry!”, endless complaining, “I have to go to the bathroom.” And the kids weren’t having a good time either.

My friends informed me I would have to go to the ski rental shop and get outfitted with all the proper equipment. I rented, among other things, goggles, very expensive goggles the rude young man behind the counter said were what everyone was wearing. He pointed out the features, “Just look at the snow-glare reducing, yellow tinted lenses.”

He, no doubt, considered me a novice—even though I told him I could ice skate—and rented me the worst skiing equipment he could find. The boots were at least one size too small but he reassured me, “You need a good tight fit to keep from breaking a leg.”

Breaking a leg! We were just supposed to have a leisurely afternoon playing in the snow.

I managed to stand up on the brightly colored skis, the young man snapped the bindings shut, and I looked around at my grinning friends. They led me outside the ski shop to a rack where a collection of ski equipment stood.

“Do I need those?” I asked, pointing at a strange looking assortment of what looked like badly bent walking sticks.

“Well, not to start out with,” they said. Take a little time to get used to your skis.”

I slipped and slid behind my friends to a gentle slope where a line of people stood at the end of a moving loop of rope. I watched the skiers grasp the rope and move off up the slope. It looked so graceful, so easy.

“It is easy, man,” my friends reassured me. ” ‘S where everybody starts out. Jus’ grab the rope and ski up the slope. Let go when you reach the top and you’re all set.”

I had been watching my friends as we approached the rope tow and I adopted their crablike stance hoisting the awkward skis across the crusted snow. As I stood in line, I asked one of my friends, “Are you sure these boots are supposed to fit this tight?” My calves were beginning to swell like Popeye’s forearms.

“Sure,” he said, grinning. “Keep you from breaking your leg.” I watched him slide up the slope with one hand on the rope. Show off, I thought. When my turn came, I reached down and got a firm grip on the rope, and was promptly jerked off my feet. I kicked and struggled all the way up that slope to get my other hand on the rope and my cramped, booted, ski bound feet under me. I reached the top and heard above the pounding in my ears the muffled shouts and laughter of people telling me to ‘just let go the rope’. I finally extricated myself and fell to the ground in a snow bound heap, fighting for my breath.

After a moment—okay, fine, about half an hour—I was able to talk without stuttering and stood shakily to my feet.

I watched everybody else gliding gracefully down the slope while I scraped the packed snow from between my layered clothes and my bluish skin. So far, I noted, the yellow goggles were no help.

“Do you know how to stop?” my friend asked.

“Sure, no problem,” I said, kind of cocky. He said maybe I should sit down for a while. I thought if I sat down I might never get up again.

I decided to give it a go, held my arms out in front of me, like I had seen the other skiers do, took a deep breath, and pushed off down the slope.

The wind whistled past my ears and made my eyes water as I watched the snow fly, alarmed at first as I gained speed. I was approaching the speed of light and people and trees were assuming a vague sort of blurry shape as I neared the bottom of the slope mere seconds later. My friend’s words echoed in my ears and I knew I should have heeded his advice. I wondered how one applied the brakes while on skis. I also wondered what color cast I should request for my broken leg. While pondering the possibility of stopping in some sort of prearranged fashion, I reached the end of my downhill trip and found the requirement to stop urgent. The solution came to me in a flurry of inspiration. Snow is soft, fluffy, fun. I would simply tip over and slide to a safe and comfortable stop. Relaxing, I deliberately fell, exploding in a snowy flash of tumbling skis, yellow goggles, mittens, and assorted personal effects. Sliding to a stop on my back (that part of my plan worked to perfection), I came to rest at the feet of a small group of people at the bottom of the rope tow slope. They were all dressed in the latest skiing fashion—not one wearing yellow goggles, I noted—discussing the virtues of various skiing equipment, slopes, types of snow, etc.

One young lady bent over, peered into my face (I reached over the red stained snow—I managed to get a bloody nose—and pulled the yellow goggles under my pee coat) and gasped, “Wow, that was incredible. Are you okay?”

I staggered to my feet, wiped at my nose, and brushed idly at the snow crusting over the back of my jeans. “Uh, yes, fine.” I smiled at her, “I like to warm up a little (I waved at the nearest chair lift, hoping she couldn’t see the fear in my eyes) before I tackle the slopes.”

My friends congregated at the foot of the slope, congratulating me on my unique method of stopping. Laughing hysterically, they made for the edge of the forest and disappeared over a snow bank in a powdery cloud.

I gathered up my skis, goggles and personal effects, held one mitten to my leaking nose, and looked around searching for shelter, warmth, and band-aids, while trying to appear nonchalant. I started toward a group of people standing on the edge of an impressive precipice. They were discussing moguls and other unfamiliar skiing terms. After some moments of regular breathing, my nose stopped bleeding, my confidence soared, and I decided to tackle the slope that dropped away from my feet and began strapping on all the cumbersome gear. Noting that my right foot was totally numb, I wondered what color my swollen calves were as I pushed off the slope, hoping I wouldn’t repeat the rope tow experience. I heard someone shouting ‘traverse the slope, traverse the slope’. Having no idea how to ‘traverse the slope’ or even if the shouted instructions were for my benefit, I continued straight downward at a smart pace.

I had been staring dumbfounded at my vibrating, bouncing skis when I shifted my gaze upward and saw a long line of people at the base of the slope waiting for their turn at a chair lift.

I watched the distance between the people at the chair lift and myself diminish rapidly and wondered why they just stood there staring with their mouths open. I was feeling mounting fear as I careened downward at a dizzying pace straight toward the chair lift queue.

As the skiers saw the direction I was headed in, they began scrambling  out of the way, and I heard myself laugh, surprised I could in the face of imminent death.

I was picking up speed like the space shuttle straining to escape Earth’s grasp and heard more yelling so I waved as I shot down the slope and saw, out of the corner of my tear-streaming eye, other skiers waving back, well, sort of. My yellow goggles had vibrated down my face until they rested askew over my mouth and chin.

“Get out of the way! Stand back! Look out!” I yelled, waving desperately as I shot past the chair lift, through the fast-scattering line of skiers, and over the bank into the deep, dark forest below. I saw the chair lift operator grab for my coat as I passed. He missed.

Deeply ensconced in a snow drift, I noted with relief that I was still alive and could breathe after a fashion. I felt proud. I had managed to stay upright and had avoided all the trees.

After extricating myself with a great deal of struggle and numerous pauses to refasten my skis, I reached the top of the slope and waved at the chair lift patrons who waved a similar sign back at me.

I decided to make my way up hill to yet another ski lift that looked a little less crowded. Watching the operators help people on the small seats, I realized I was perspiring and beginning to shake. My turn finally came and, after several abortive attempts at sitting down, I was swept off my feet—somewhat violently, I thought—and carried away high above the snow covered hills and trees. I was enjoying the view immensely, even letting go of the chair lift supports with my teeth long enough to flash a grin at my traveling companions who were in the chairs directly behind me.

I was just starting to calm down and regain some measure of composure, when  I saw the chair lift approaching the end of the ride. I watched with rising alarm as the people in the chairs ahead of me simply stood up and gracefully glided away in the afternoon icicle shower. My turn came and I attempted to follow their example. Unfortunately, my skis crossed and stayed put, stuck fast to the ice covered chair lift platform while I continued forward to my hands and knees.

I was struggling to place the slippery lumber under my feet when the chair behind me arrived at the platform and I was abruptly speared, carried forward to the end of the platform, and dumped on my face in the snow. I must say, the young woman deftly extricated her skis from my posterior and skied around the obstacle in her path, for which I was grateful. I cannot say the same for her male companion. I didn’t mind his ski tracks over my back so much, it was his pointy ski poles I objected to. I stood and tugged the yellow goggles back in place, smiled and shrugged at the chair lift operator, and began shuffle/stumble/sliding down the slope.

I tried a few small turns here and there, which I found more convenient than bumping into trees, struggling out of the hole around the trunk and repeating the exercise endlessly.

I got a long way down the mountainside, when I noticed the snow piling up on the tips of my skis. I wondered what made the snow do that when all of sudden the tips of the skis and I both nosed right over into the deep snow. And I was promptly buried.

I struggled there for awhile, laughing hysterically, my tears freezing on my cheeks, rolling back and forth, retrieving one ski, putting it on, digging in the deep powder for a lost mitten, straightening my yellow goggles, trying to find the other ski and put it on.

I finally gave up and settled back waiting for that peaceful sleepy feeling one is supposed to get when one is about to die from hypothermia—it never arrived. When my breathing slowed and my vision cleared somewhat, I resumed my struggles, eventually succeeding in getting my skis on the right feet and escaping from the deep wallow I had formed in the snow.

Several falls later I arrived at the foot of the mountain and found a large group of people criss crossing down a bumpy near-cliff. Skiers were zooming downhill, swerving and swooping around those small hills like crazy people.

I stared, wiping my shattered yellow goggles against the soaked frozen fabric of my jeans. I enquired for the nearest route back to my starting point and the young lady said there was only one way back: a chair lift.

I fought back the tears, “Isn’t there a ski patrol or something?” I asked, feeling kind of weak and winded.

“Well, yes, but that’s only for skiers in trouble,” she said, laughing.

I restrained the urge to wail I am in trouble. I wanted to shout I need the ski patrol. I wanted to sit in one of those little wire baskets and get a ride in a helicopter, and maybe pet a real St. Bernard and get a nice drink from that little barrel they have around their neck. Instead, I just sniffed. “Oh, I see. Well, is there a walkway, or stairs, or a path, or something where a person could, you know, walk back?”

All my panicky petitions went unheeded. I stood at the foot of the chair lift and tried to get on each time a vacant chair swung wildly over the platform. The sun began setting behind the ridge and the chair lift operator got impatient.

“Look. I’ve got to head home soon. We’re going to shut this lift down tonight.”

“Alright. Just let me try this one more time,” I pleaded to the tune of snickers and groans.

It looked like things were going to get a little out of hand so I held my broken goggles over my eyes and let the chair lift operator help me into a chair as it rushed across the platform. When he shoved me into the chair he was standing on one of my skis, which popped free of my foot. I leaned over the wildly swinging chair as we shot into the gray sleeting sky. “Could you please. . .?” I asked.

He grabbed the ski and threw it at me, shouting something intelligible, which was just as well. My knees were too shaky and my nerves too shattered to care.

We finally reached the top of the hill and I stopped screaming and saw a road of sorts in front of me. At the end of the road stood a brown building that I hoped was a public facility of some sort where I could rest and wait for the ski bus to load. The chair swung over the platform and I jumped off wearily. Hey! I didn’t fall, I didn’t collapse or even get run over. Now we’re talking, I exulted. I started shakily down the road and wondered why it was so shiny. Too late, I discovered it was a sheet of slick, crystal clear ice. I felt I was about to repeat my earlier performances and heard a whimper escape my mouth.

As I lay on the cold wet ice, wondering if any bones were broken, I heard a swish, swish sound, felt a little spray of ice in my face and looked up to see a very small little girl standing over me. She was dressed to the nines, tiny little ski poles in cute mittened hands, goggles—not yellow ones—covering her face. She cocked her blonde, ski-capped head, peered into my bloodshot eyes and asked, “Are you okay, mister?” I managed a disgusted nod and she straightened up, giggled a ‘see ya’ and swished off toward the building in her smart attire as gaily as if heading for the park to play.

I rose to my knees muttering, “Alright, that tears it,” as I began crawling down the road toward the building, dragging the annoying planks behind me. Maybe it was the yellow goggles, I thought. Of all the people I saw on that mountain, not one wore yellow goggles. I finally made it to the lodge and dragged myself inside to the sound of lively music and the smells of hot chocolate and brewing coffee.

I sat on a bench near a heater and began unbuckling the ski boots. I pulled off my socks, inspected the damage to my feet (I hoped the toenail would grow back at some point) and began massaging my swollen feet and calves. After putting my socks back on, I limped toward the ski shop hoping to find that young man and give him a piece of my mind. As I reached the door, one of my friends shouted, “Hey, the bus is about to leave, c’mon.”

The ride home was every bit as miserable as the ride up had been. All the screaming, crying, whining, shouting, and complaining. And the kids were throwing food, the older ones making the weary smaller ones cry. Right up to the time I stood, reached in my pocket and pulled out the remains of my expensive, snow-glare reducing, blood-stained, shattered yellow skiing goggles, held them high above my head and said, “Hey, you guys know what this is? All that’s left of that ski rental kid. Now, sit down and shut up!” We had a very pleasant ride from that point on home.

I’ve never been skiing since. Sky diving, yes. Alligator wrestling, yes. But never skiing!

The End

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