Ah, the joy of skiing. CNS photo/Matt Riedl

Ski hills don’t care that we are fallen

  • January 25, 2024

One winter when I was 13 and my brother was 14, we took a family trip to New Hampshire. To ski. Because my brother really wanted to. He promised he would teach me how to ski. My elderly dad, an avid outdoorsman and sports enthusiast, had never, however, in his long life, skied, and was wary of its potential dangers involving bone protrusions and close encounters with trees. He agreed to take us despite.

Dad did all the worrying for the whole family. My mother never worried. She cared, but she never worried. We called my father “Disaster Dad” because he would always imagine the worst case scenarios of even the most innocent activities and rattle off statistics that would make a paramedic cringe. My brother took to leaving the house with a cheery: “Back in a body cast, Dad!”

So there we were in North Conway, New Hampshire, home of Mount Cranmore, a welcoming, innocuous, tiny bump of a mountain in the summertime, with little lethargic red electric sleighs that carted you up the mount for a breathtaking view of other tiny mountain bumps. Many years later, flying out to Western Canada, I was flabbergasted by the size of the mountains (which the plane was flying almost level with) and felt like a total Back East yokel.

But when the snow flew, Mount Cranmore might as well have been one of the Himalayan peaks. A formidable, looming white challenge, daring you to conquer its craggy, slippery heights. Our first day skiing (and my last), my Dad stayed at the motel because he was too worried, and my mother came with us because she never worried. My brother got me all situated with my rental skis, boots, poles. Ralph, took me to the “bunny hill” where both small children and first-time adults could practice their downhill technique.
He tried to teach me how to “herring bone” it up the hill, basically walking duck foot with your skis on to give you traction, but I found it too exhausting. So I removed my skis and trudged up the hill in my ski boots, and when we finally reached the top, I dropped a ski. It skittered (with admirable technique) all the way down to the bottom of the hill. Back down the hill I huffed, getting shin splints from the unyielding molded plastic of my ski boots. When I reached my brother again at the top of the bunny hill, the soles of my boots were encrusted with ice that took considerable time to chip off before we could fasten my skis.

Ralph tried to teach me how to turn. For skiing uninitiates, “turning” is the most important thing to learn. If you don’t master turning, you will be reduced to “bombing” down the mountainside against your will and against all laws of inertia and sanity. Turning — from side to side — is a piece of cake when you’re going at slow speeds, but next to impossible when going fast. At least it was for me. I was either born without the muscles to accomplish this feat, or they had atrophied from hours of sitting in my beanbag chair reading. “Turning” is also how you stop, similar to ice skating, only in skating it’s called a “hockey stop,” which is much easier to execute because the skating rink is not on a 65-degree incline. Another option is the “snow plow” stop which involves maneuvering your skis into a pigeon-toed position and bearing down. Theoretically, you will come to a screeching halt. Untheoretically, you will do a cold, gritty face-plant on the crest of the new-fallen snow.

When you fall wearing skis, which for me was very frequently, your legs do terribly unnatural things that would make Gumby balk. All I can say is: Man, those skis are LONG. After only 15 minutes of Jack and Jill on the bunny hill, my brother decided it was time we hit the big kid slopes. We started with a medium slope that featured a lift called the T-bar which alone required some serious skills to get on and stay on. A T-bar is a vertical pipe with a tiny round seat at the bottom. Now, ski aficionados know that ski lifts don’t stop for any reason. They are going up that mountain with or without you. The universe doesn’t care? Well, the universe must be a ski lift.

Read part 2

(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. HellBurns.com, Twitter: @srhelenaburns  #medianuns)

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