Sometime around second grade, as some cruel act of torture, I ended up on a ski trip with a group of classmates. I was already a misfit at that point, as was pointed out to me throughout the day in various ways. I don’t remember details except that I was miserable and hated every minute. I know I took a class with about 25 other 2nd graders who were as uninterested in skiing as I was, and we all learned absolutely nothing before coming back home.
Then in high school, my friend Krissy convinced me she’d help me enjoy the sport of skiing. She went all the time with her family and made it sound so fun, so off we went to what was then called Vernon Valley Great Gorge (now Mountain Creek). It’s in New Jersey, and that should have been my first hint the day would be a disaster.
Krissy helped me out on the bunny slopes for about an hour, showing me how to stop and how to turn. After watching me go down a few times, she declared me ready for my first time down the beginner mountain. I didn’t know any better, so I agreed. My first time on a ski lift! On skis! I didn’t fall off the ski lift or anything, so I figured that boded well.
About 30 yards down the slope, I hit an icy patch and had no idea how to stop myself from going down the mountain at 80 miles an hour, so I did what any rational person would do to stop themselves from falling off a mountain, and I fell down. Well, I fell and rolled and twisted and it was nasty. My left ski (I think) never released and my body was contorted in such a way that even I did not know how to untangle myself. My knee was writhing in pain. I did not know which way was the mountain and which way was the sky. I think I was crying. I know I couldn’t move.
It took about three people to untangle me from that mess and get me lying flat on my back. I made good friends with all the skiers who stopped to inquire as to whether I was dead or just crazy. The ski patrol came and got me, loaded me onto their little sled, and I watched the top of the trees the rest of the way down the mountain and into the lodge. I spent the rest of the afternoon on pain killers, waiting to get to an emergency room to find out what damage I’d done.
Turns out it was just a bad sprain, but I spent six weeks on crutches nonetheless. The one good thing about it was meeting my physical therapist, Kevin, who was my first real crush in life. Sadly, I think he was married, though even at 14 I knew we were destined to be 2gether 4ever. (Turns out I was wrong about that, too.)
Anyway, after that whole experience, I vowed never to ski again. And I held true to that vow for a long time.
I’ve since been skydiving, camping, hiking, whitewater rafting, rapelling, ATVing, and rock climbing without a second thought. But skiing… no way, man. You’ll never see me on skis, amigo.
Well, never say never because last weekend I went skiing again.
It was an Event. I went up to Vermont, where my cousin is renting a house for the season while her son perfects his snowboarding skillz (he is a nationally ranked snowboarder). She and about 12 other people convinced me to give skiing another try. So on Sunday morning I got up at the asscrack of dawn, pulled on all my cousin’s ski gear, and headed out to the snowy mountain.
This time I took lessons from a licensed (are ski instructors actually licensed? I like to think they are) instructor who promised I would not die. We spent most of the day on the bunny slopes, this time actually learning how to stop on a slippery slope (they say you can’t ski up a mountain, so when in doubt, aim yourself in the upward direction – though wouldn’t I then end up skiing backwards down the slope?). I was self conscious the whole time, but I was doing it, and by the end of the second lesson was even beginning to feel something between mild panic and terror, which was actually an improvement of about 85% in my mental state.
My instructor asked if we wanted to try going up on the lift and coming down the lower part of the mountain. I wasn’t about to waste an opportunity after all the money that had been spent on the day. I don’t shy away from fear, my friend. I went to live in Italy without knowing a word of Italian. I drove a stick shift on muddy mountain roads in Costa Rica. I laugh in the face of danger. HAHAHAHA!
So we went on the lift.
Again, I made it up without falling. I even made it down the first of the turns without incident. But about 30 yards down I looked down and realized I couldn’t seen the bottom of the mountain and that I didn’t really have control of my skis and I was definitely going to die. The mountain? It might only be the lower half, but it is still way steeper than the bunny slope.
So I did what any person would do in that situation and I started to cry. I was panicked. I shook all over and clenched my fists even harder than they already were. My poor instructor. I don’t know how he put up with me. He reminded me to breathe, that skiing is FUN! and I should smile. So I did, and I made it down the next section. We kept doing that, over and over, for the next 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes, folks, is a long time for that portion of the mountain. My cousin Andrew, who was learning to snowboard that day, passed me coming down twice in that same period of time.
I cried a lot and fell twice. And when I got to the bottom – on my skis, thank you very much – my entire family was standing there cheering me on as though I’d just finished running a marathon. Relief ran through my veins. I was standing and I was shaking like a leaf, and rational thought had completely left my brain, but I was alive! And standing! And alive!
It took me 18 hours to stop shaking and seeing snow rushing past my face every time I closed my eyes. Even the beer I had afterwards did not calm my nerves. Monday and Tuesday I had to deal not with sore legs, but with sore arms, shoulders, and neck, because for the entire six hours I spent skiing, I’d had my hands clenched tightly in utter fear and desperation.
All said and done, it was a good day, and I lived to tell the tale. Would I go again? I think I would. If only to prove I ain’t no pussy.