Doesn't this seem like a good idea? See those people ahead of me? Don't they look relaxed? Wouldn't you want to do whatever they did? Me too!
Unfortunately, as we approached the top of the lift something began to dawn on me. I watched as each chair dropped down on the other side of the slope and I couldn't see a single thing. Panic set in. What was I going to do? How steep was the slope on the other side? Did I just stand up? Wouldn't the chair lift hit me in the head? Wasn't this thing traveling at like 85 miles an hour? Couldn't that knock me out? Did only stupid people stand up and try and outrun a charging chairlift? My options were rapidly narrowing.
I was able to see the skiers in front of me lift the tips of their skis. It seemed this was to keep the skis from popping off or toppling the skiers forward into death's waiting jaws. But then the people disappeared over the slope. I did all I knew to do. I lifted my skis until they were flat and parallel with my ear lobes. It was a good look.
Suddenly, the top of the slope was directly under me. If I was going to stand up I would have to lower my skis and do it NOW. But was I supposed to do that? A few more feet forward. I noticed the empty chairs flipping in the turnstile and heading back down the mountain. I could see myself sitting there riding all the way to the bottom. Not an option. Humiliation for stupidity is worse than humiliation for broken bones. The slope descended. The ground was quickly moving away from me. I was still chair bound. "Do something! Hurry!" I yelled at myself inside my cavernous head. "Jump, you idiot!" I commanded. So, I jumped.
And jumping would have been a good option had I been two feet off the ground. But I wasn't. I wanted to be sure the demonic chair lift couldn't catch up to me and bash my skull in, so I waited until I was ten feet above the snow. I was relatively sure my legs would splinter but my brains, such as they were, would be intact.
I was wrong on both fronts. If I'd HAD any brains I would have realized the chair would have simply given me a gentle push and propelled me slowly forward. And my downward trajectory would have supplied ample head room. I also found that hitting the snow caused nothing to splinter. I didn't even fall. Right away. I landed with both skis pointed downhill and in a slightly crouched position. The perfect position, it turns out, to launch me as rapidly down the slope as possible. Which would have been okay if the hill hadn't ended and made a hard left turn. And if I had any idea about HOW to turn in that position.
So I gained speed and began to flail with poles flying wildly around me. My skis began to separate as I lost control and did a free-style cartwheel. It's always nice when these things happen at the bottom of the lift because you are guaranteed an audience. At any given time 20 people are standing around waiting for someone or trying to decide what direction to head. It's gratifying when you know you have provided a fun-filled moment in their day.
I lay in a position that should only be possible if you were a performer with Cirque de Soleil. My girlfriend skied comfortably up to me. "You okay?" she asked. "I have no idea," I mumbled. "Help me figure out where my legs are in relation to the North Pole and try to unwind them from my right shoulder." Any skier knows that, in theory, my boots should have popped out of my bindings. And any skier knows this is only guaranteed to happen if you catch the most delicate edge and take a tiny fall. At that point your ski will come off, fail to deploy the brake, and will finish skiing down the hill without you, determined you will not spoil its good time. You will then be free to walk/ski down the remainder of the hill and pick it up while it mocks you.
My skis were still attached. But I was young and supple and therefore didn't qualify to be lifted off the mountain by the ski patrol. No, I had to get up, spit snow, dust off, and act nonchalant as my audience laughed themselves silly. Being the center of attention is overrated.
By now my snow legs were wobbly and I was a nervous wreck. Not the best condition for your first descent. And it was cold and overcast, without snowing, which meant lots of ice patches. And ice patches meant less control, especially for the inexperienced, horrified, terrified, stupefied, and wild eyed. What could possibly be more fun? I couldn't wait to start. I saw signs. Black. Blue. Green. Were these the colors I could expect to be when I was all done? My girlfriend explained they were levels of difficulty. I asked if there was anything pink with little ponies pulling a cart. I would ride the cart down.
"No. It's no big deal," she replied. "The runs with the green signs are really easy. Anybody can do them. The blue runs are more difficult with moguls and steeper inclines."
"What are moguls?" I asked. "Oh, just little bumpy places on the hill where rocks are, underneath. They're easy." I could just envision the complete ease I would, no doubt, experience.
"And the black hills?" I inquired. "What are those like?""Well, just over there is 'The Face.' It kinda goes straight down. It's pretty fast. I don't think you wanna try that yet." Really? Wow. She could have been a hostage negotiator with that kind of instant grasp of the situation.
Green it was. Green sounded good. Nice and easy. Fairly straight. Good places to fall. As long as you don't take wrong turns. Wrong turns are bad and take you to other hills with different color designations. Those are bad. Stay on the right path. No problem. Stay with me Ditzy Girlfriend. Don't forget I'm here. I'll follow you. Our run looked something like this:Easy enough. Straightforward. I was a little squirrely being shaken up and nervous and did fabulous windmills everytime I hit an icy patch, but I was moving. I began to gain a little confidence when I went more than 100 feet without falling down. It actually seemed almost fun. I had no idea how to plant my poles. They were just along for the ride dragging behind me or stabbing the occasional rock to keep me from running into it. Whatever. It was handy. I even passed a couple of people. That must be good! That meant I was going faster than somebody which I thought might be impossible unless someone was actually backing up.
I even got a chance to practice my skiing protocol. "On your right!" I called out to the skier I was approaching and passing, or "On your left!" Wow. I was sounding cool. Using the lingo, man. It didn't matter that little children two feet high were zooming past me with no poles at all. Mere pre-verbal infants looking like Bode Miller. And then there were the hotdoggers. Teen boys who were all flash and splash, with no manners. They seemed to take delight in cutting as silently close to me as possible. I fell over everytime.
I had just righted myself, snapped back into my skiis and was underway when I heard a scream right behind me. I suddenly became "one" with a fellow skier. She was out-of-control and made no attempt to recover. Her plan was for me to stop her. It worked. We were on a descent when she hit me like a Mack truck. Our fall was spectacular. With sixteen legs, arms, skiis, and poles between us we unhooked, unwound, undid, and examined ourselves. Nothing broken, amazingly. And at least she apologized. That was something. I willed my jelly legs to stand. My friend was nowhere to be seen. I thought I had seen her cut to the right. So I turned right.
So I turned right. Four little words that can change your life. I spotted Miss Ditz in the distance. I think she forgot we were skiing together. She was standing in a group. I arrived just as she prepard to take off. I looked down the hill. All I could see was this:Moguls. Not bad hair, "Your Fired!," Donald Trump type moguls. The where in all-that's-sacred-is-there-a-place-to-put-my-skis-flat moguls. My friend was non-plussed. "Just keep your skis pointed downhill and use your knees a lot," she instructed. "Oh, and keep your skis together and try to point your body downhill, too." Try to point my body downhill? Was there another directional option as in, "I think I'll ski UPhill for awhile!" Because if that was an option, I was signing up.
"Just follow me!" she called back over her shoulder. Uh-huh. I'd be following her alright. Probably in a ski litter but I'd be along directly. I finally arrived at the bottom a few weeks later after much prayer and supplication.
I actually signed up to repeat this process many times over the next few years. I learned to love it. I attached ski racks onto my little V.W. convertible. I bought cute clothes. Better skis. Cooler boots. I even accidentally bought smokin' sunglasses. I was informed they were the latest by a pre-teen on the lift one day. "Are those Vuarnets?!" she asked gazing into my face. "Where?" I panicked, feeling around for something crawling across my head. "Your glasses! I hope I can get a pair of those one day." I just liked the color of the lenses. Who knew I'd ever be cutting-edge on the ski slope?
Which goes to show, even uncoordinated dorks who jump off chair lifts rock once in awhile. If only by complete accident. Could there be any other way?