An Old Guy on Skis – Pizza and French Fries

The whole concept of downhill skiing is quite fascinating to me.  Strap two slippery boards to your feet, get to the highest point of a nearby mountain, and try to slide down an extremely steep hill, lined with trees, without seriously injuring yourself.   Having grown up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where my high school sat directly in the shadow of Windham Mountain Ski Resort, I really had no excuse not to try skiing.  We even had a program where every Wednesday you could leave school early, ride a bus up to the slopes, and ski for a price that might as well have been free.  But for reasons I can’t remember, I never took to it.

Roll the clock ahead several rotations and I found myself interested in giving this sport I had been ignoring for decades a chance.  My son had been snowboarding for several years and after seeing him having so much fun on the slopes, I decided to give this skiing thing a try.

IMG_20150131_115113062How to walk when your ankles can’t bend…

The first thing needed to hit the slopes is a whole bunch of equipment.  I rented because there was no way I planned to invest in all that gear until I tried it out first.   I had to fill out a pretty extensive survey describing my general dimensions, confessing to my complete lack of skills, and waiving all my rights as a human in the event that I left the slope with fewer faculties than I started with.   I was issued boots, skis, poles, and a helmet that had seen more use than I cared to think about.   I quickly realized that there’s a reason that we were built with an ankle joint, and when that becomes immobile, simply walking becomes quite an adventure…add a set of stairs to your path and it becomes downright comical.

Doing the shuffle…

All geared up, it was time to lock my skis to my feet, don my helmet, and make my way to the lift.   Well, it seems that forward motion on flat ground, and in some cases, a slight incline, is quite a challenge.  There also seem to be a few ways to tackle this problem.   There’s the ‘ice skate’ technique where you push off the side of your ski like an ice skate…  Lack of coordination removed that option from my arsenal.   You can push/pull yourself along using your ski poles.  And, finally, to make that look even goofier, you can shuffle your skis along the ground as you use your poles to propel yourself forward.  I chose the latter and realized that there was nothing efficient about it.

The lift…

The idea of being transported up a very tall mountain by a chair that rides on a cable high above the slopes is fantastic.   Getting on the lift, and worse yet, getting off the lift, not so much.  The whole process entailed shuffling my unstable self to the edge of a loading platform, determining the precise moment to slide down the slight decline to the big red ‘wait here’ line on the ground without slamming into the chair being loaded in front of me, or being wiped out by the chair following behind me, and then waiting for that chair to scoop me up and head up the hill.  Once seated, I found the actual ride up the mountain is quite fun and gives you an opportunity to watch other skiers and fret about how you are actually going to get off the comfy chair you are riding on.  As I approached the top of the mountain, I was greeted by a sign on a pole that said “check for loose clothing” and showed a picture of a skier being dragged by his scarf…comforting.  Before I knew it, I was at the unloading platform, where I needed to get myself off the chair, get to an upright position, and then ski down the exit ramp.  I was fortunate enough to avoid the embarrassing dismount crash, but I saw plenty of people that were not so lucky.  Some crashes included nearly being hit in the head by the departing chair.

The Descent…

IMG_20150220_131237216So, I made it to the top of the mountain and was faced with a choice of trails.  The trails with the Green Circles were labeled the ‘easiest’, so that’s where I headed.  I quickly reflected on all the things I learned in my ski lessons….oh wait, I did not have those.  Yeah, big mistake.   I figured that I could learn to ski by watching videos on YouTube.  About all I remembered from these fine interweb lessons was Pizza and French Fries.   French Fries means putting your skis parallel to each other…resulting in picking up speed.  Pizza means placing your skis in the wedge shape of a slice of pizza… tips together tails apart, allowing you to slow down.   With this vast knowledge, I pointed my skis downhill, pushed off, and found myself attempting to do something vaguely resembling skiing.  I’ll admit that my first time out had a whole lot more pizza than french fries…resulted in several bursts of excessive gravity pulling my body quickly to the earth…and kept me grinning for hours.

…I survived and I was hooked.

After a trip to the ski store to buy my own gear, a few more hours of studying YouTube ski lessons, and ten trips to the slopes later, I have finally reached a point where I’m a respectable novice skier.  I’m not fast, I’m not smooth, I’m sometimes in control, I still spend some time exploring the effects of excessive gravity, and I’m still grinning from ear to ear.   Downhill skiing is the perfect mix of adrenaline and adventure, exhilaration and exhaustion, and fun and fitness.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area where you have a real winter, have nearby ski slopes, and are tired of just enduring winter…get outside, head to a slope, and experience winter.  Wear the right clothes, because freezing your butt off is no fun.   Take lessons because man cannot learn by YouTube videos alone.   And stop making excuses, you’re never too old to try skiing for the first time…. I know.