Whenever people tried to coax me into skiing, I envisioned myself like a cartoon character rolling down the hill in a giant snowball, with skis and poles sticking out in all directions. My vision wasn’t too far from reality.
After four years working at a ski resort, I finally worked up the courage to hit the slopes for the first time. I had no idea what to do with the equipment in my hands as I hobbled out of the rental shop wearing ski boots. When I met my instructor, I asked, “How do I put on these skis? Is there a right one and a left one?”
We headed for the bunny slope; it looked to me like we had just entered Candy Land. The ski slope was decorated with giant gumdrop ski markers and colorful arches. The bunny hill, intended for beginners, was swarming with expert skiers—all of them appearing to be around five years old. I was old enough to be their grandmother.
We approached a giant conveyor belt called the Magic Carpet. I watched a few tots glide onto it and float up the hill. I quickly learned the Magic Carpet must require some magic I don’t possess. As I tried to get on, the Magic Carpet grabbed my skis, pulling my legs forward while the rest of me lurched backward.
On my second attempt, I managed to jam one ski under the lip at the side of the belt. One leg started up the hill as my other ski wedged in the snow perpendicular to the conveyor belt. For one terrifying moment, headlines flashed through my mind: “Middle-aged Woman Dies on Magic Carpet.” What will the children think! I worried. Just as I was about to be drawn-and-quartered, the operators shut off the Magic Carpet to extract me from its clutches. During the delay, I thought I heard an impatient child asking, “Mommy, what’s the funny old lady doing?”
Getting up the hill was traumatic enough, so I asked where to get on the carpet that went down. I was pointed toward the ski hill where all the tiny pros darted back and forth between gumdrops.
Learning to ski is complicated by the fact that everything is backward: to turn right, push left and to turn left, push right. Before long I could no longer tell left from right. Perhaps this is where the five-year-olds had me beat.
Maybe I could learn to ski if I didn’t have to turn, but that would restrict me to being an Olympic ski-jumper. I always fell on the left turns, but right turns I could manage. Unfortunately, that is only helpful if you’re learning to drive—just make right turns and you’ll drive around the block. If I go skiing and don’t come back, look for me on the back side of the mountain going in a giant circle. Tell the ski patrol, “She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes.”
The first time I fell, I did the splits. Another time I fell with my pole lodged in the snow with my hand, still grasping the handle, stretched three feet above me. I nearly jerked my arm out of the socket. Once I managed to flip my right ski all the way over so it pointed uphill while my left ski stayed behind me. I had achieved the shape of a W. My instructor talked about pizza (making a wedge with the skis) and French fries (keeping the skis parallel). Never mind that; I felt like a pretzel.
At one point the wind changed, and I caught a whiff of pizza being served at the base lodge, just below the bunny hill. I suddenly realized all this talk about pizza and French fries had little to do with technique. I was being bribed to get back on my feet after each painful crash. Like one possessed, I followed the scent down the hill toward the base lodge, but Candy Land was fenced off and my only choice was a return to the terrifying Magic Carpet. After a few circuits, Candy Land felt more like Chutes and Ladders as I struggled to climb up the hill and slide down again.
After numerous trips up the carpet (or should I say tripping on the carpet?) and flailing my way down the hill, my instructor announced I was now a skier—an overly optimistic appraisal—and said good-bye. He skied off, undoubtedly to share a good laugh with the other instructors. That was when I realized I would have to get down by myself.
I did make several runs on my own though they were more like fits and starts. My final spill left me with skis heading in all the wrong directions. Unable to untangle my legs, I decided to take my skis off, but my glove got caught in the ski binding. I pulled my hand out of my glove and sat on the hill for several minutes, trying to figure out how to release the glove from the binding. I pondered how much grief I’d take if I skied down, with my glove flopping, and returned the ski to the rental shop with the glove still attached.
As I sat there, watching the little experts whiz past, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Maybe I could call for pizza delivery.
Note: This is a funny story of a specific incident and in no way reflects on the resort or the instructors. The six years I worked at the ski resort were the best years of my life. I never took another ski lesson, but that reflects my aversion to pain and nothing else.