First Time Skier (Long Time Listener)

by stephancox


What is it like, you may well ask, going skiing for the first time in your life at the ripe age of 43? I’m going to go ahead and assume that you, like most people, have skied in your life, and that you probably started at a young age. I’m honestly not sure why I never have. It just wasn’t something my family did, even though I grew up in California where, even though we lived on the coast where there’s no snow, EVERYBODY skied. If you live in Northern California, you go to Tahoe, and if you’re in Southern California, it’s Big Bear, and you take off school for a week and ski and then you come back to school with that reverse raccoon face sunburn from wearing sunglasses and no sunscreen, because no one wore sunscreen back then, and furthermore, we had metal jungle gyms underneath which was maybe an inch or so of dirt or sand but was more often just plain old concrete and not every damn kid was allergic to peanuts and even though we had video games we actually got out and played and got exercise and were not dangerously obese and oh my God I never thought I’d say this but what the hell is with kids today?

Anyway. I digress. Back to skiing. I was fortunate enough that, on the weekend I chose to go skiing for the first time ever, Lori’s cousin, Ian, happed to be in town. To call Ian an outdoorsy, adventure-type guy would be like calling the pope mildly Catholic. Not only does Ian not own a TV, I think he’s uncomfortable with the very notion of a roof. He and his wife travel the world kayaking, camping, hang-gliding, hiking, and yes, skiing. So Ian was there to help me (and Lori, who had also never been on skis before) get the hang of having two giant planks attached to your feet and falling, in a semi-controlled fashion, down a hill.

And fall, I did. Wow, did I fall. After renting and assembling all our gear, we started out on the bunny slope, which is meant to be a mild incline on which you’re supposed to be able to practice and get your footing. I did not find the incline all that mild, and additionally, the slope had four giant poles smack in the middle of it that someone had wrapped about a half-inch of bubble-wrap around, maybe as an afterthought. Not confidence inducing. I mean, you’re not going to get up enough speed to Sonny Bono yourself (too soon?), but it sure as hell would hurt, and why did they put the practice slope in the middle of these giant poles? This, of course, was all I could think about as I headed down the hill: avoid the poles. Since you, gentle reader, have skied before, you know this, but it’s not hard to get up some speed on skis. What’s hard, at first, anyway, is steering and stopping. Because I’m somewhat foolhardy, and, oh, I forgot to mention that I have cross country skied before, I thought the principles would be basically the same but Oh My God They Are Not.

“Lean on your downhill foot,” I would hear Ian shouting behind me and I went careening down the hill straight toward a pole. I would think about trying to lean on my downhill foot for about a second and when my brain couldn’t work that out, I hit the ice. And it pretty much was ice, as there’s been hardly any snow at all and what was there to ski on was man-made and compacted as hell and you could see brown patches of dirt through it. What I’m trying to say is, it’s not like wiping out in powder. That shit hurts.


Meanwhile, my wife, who, despite never having been on skis before, took to it like a fish to water because she used to ice skate as a kid. While I’m doing face plant after face plant, Lori is taking the slaloms already like she’s goddamn Lindsay Vonn. Additionally, there are kids, little kids, zooming past me, skiing backwards, executing jumps, aerials, the whole nine. After about an hour of this, I was ready to quit. I honestly was. I was, like, okay, I said I would ski, I have skied, it hasn’t gone that well, but I did it and I’m sore and I want to go home and get back to something that I do well so that I can feel less like a tool. And then… something clicked. Ian’s instruction about putting the weight on your downhill foot and lifting up your uphill foot started to make sense. I made it down to the bottom without wiping out. Then I did it again. And then again. And as Ian went off to hit the black diamond runs, Lori and I skied the bunny slope over and over, and over and over, I didn’t crash.

After a couple hours, we were getting tired and hungry, and decided to head in to the lodge and wait for Ian to finish. But somehow, on our way back to the lodge, we got in the wrong corral and wound up in the line for a ski lift. Up the mountain. To an actual ski run. Now, Lori and I have this philosophy called Hold at 18. This means that if you’re sitting on a decent hand of 18—it’s not 21, but it’s not a 15, either—you should probably just hold. Like how Michael Jackson should have held after that first nose job. Or even his eleventh. But he went too far and wound up looking like the Crypt Keeper and there you are. So I had gone three hours now without breaking anything, without running into one of those poles, etc. I could walk, I was un-concussed. Hold at 18. But that is not what Shit That Scares Me is about, now, is it? No. Shit That Scares Me is about facing your fears. So after some hemming and hawing about how we were hungry anyway and how the hell would we get down if we decided we didn’t want to ski down, we suddenly found ourselves, skis adangle beneath us, riding high above the ski resort up the mountain. It was exhilarating. Honestly. It felt… alive. Like I was really doing something I hadn’t even intended to do when we came. I was going to be perfectly content spending my day on the bunny slopes. The experience turned out to be even more exhilarating than it should have been, in fact, because, newbies that we were, we didn’t even know that you were supposed to pull the safety bar down over you, so we were riding along, on a bench fifty feet up, with nothing in front of us but mountain air.

We get to the top and to get off the chair and onto the snow without falling. A good sign. Then we found the green-dot (the easy course indicator) path, and without over-thinking it too much, we were off. And… I’m not going to say I’m Jean Claude Killy or anything (kids, ask your parents), but I somehow managed to schuss my way to the bottom of the mountain without wiping out once. I am extremely proud of this fact. (Lori didn’t wipe out either, but as I say, she proved to be something of a natural) It went so well, that we actually did it again (remembering this time to pull down the safety bar).

And—here’s the best part—it was fun. It was really fun. I had a great time. I get what the fuss is all about. And I’m going to do it again.

Now, for my grade. If I had quit after an hour on the bunny slope, I would have given myself a C+. Showed up, made the best of it, didn’t ace it, went home. If I had just spend the whole day on the bunny slope, I probably would have given myself a B+. I stuck it out, figured out how to actually ski a little, and lived to tell the tale. But since I not only went up on the ski lift to the top of the mountain and skied down, not once, but twice, without wiping out, and even had fun in the process… Well, I get an A+. I don’t give those out easily. I’m kind of a hard ass. But there it is. And even though she isn’t officially participating, I’m also giving Lori an A+. Hell, since we’re giving them out, Ian gets one as a teacher, too.

Oh, and quick update: I have now signed up for the New York Triathlon (which is in July), I am about a third into “Ulysses,” I have just about completed the structure for the novel and will begin writing in earnest in a couple days. I’m also meeting weekly with a really great French instructor, and will be doing a Zen retreat the first weekend in March.

See you on the slopes!