He who hesitates gets stuck on the lift

Posted March 21, 2010, at 6:21 p.m.

My oldest son, Ford, 9, has always been an affable kid, but he isn’t very fast. His dad, Dustin, swears Ford has the unusual talent for running in slow motion. Ford is slow in all endeavors, from putting on his shoes to running to first base to retelling a story, especially when retelling a story.

Yet he has a positive attitude and a game show host smile that rivals most motivational speakers. These traits were never more apparent than when we took Ford skiing for the first time last week.

It was a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine and snow on the ground at Sugarloaf ski resort. Dustin and I looked forward to teaching our three boys how to ski. Of course, we hadn’t accounted for the fact that corralling children — something like herding cats — while wearing heavy plastic ski boots would be difficult and sometimes humorous. But, whatever. We laughed at ourselves running with big, exaggerated steps, like walking on the moon, to chase Lindell, 3, around the rental equipment office. By the time we had suited up ourselves and the boys, we both were sweating.

Outside, we breathed in the fresh mountain air. The five of us stood in a row, our skis dug like walking sticks into the snow beside us, and admired the mountain. The skiers in the distance looked like a busy colony of ants working their way up and down a mound of sugar.

This is skiing, we told the boys. We paid no attention to the fact that we looked like a family from Florida who is more accustomed to watching the annual mullet toss on the Florida-Alabama state line than to understanding how and where to attach their lift tickets on their jackets.

Oh wait, we are that family from Florida.

We set down the five sets of skis and instructed the children to step their boots into the clips. This is when all heck broke loose. Owen, 7, and Lindell had a strong reaction, shall we say, to their child-size skis. I think Lindell’s exact words were, “Get these things off of me. Get these things off of me right now.” He looked like a crazy person.

While Dustin and I struggled to remove Owen’s and Lindell’s skis, our backs were turned to Ford, so we didn’t realize, until it was too late, that Ford had already started down the beginner slope. Think Clark Griswold when he goes down the hill on a greased-up sled.

When I turned around to look, Ford was screaming “Whoa” and shooting down the mountain like a bullet. Other skiers were frantically looking over their shoulders and diving out of the way.

Dustin quickly stepped into his skis and went after Ford. He caught up to him near a makeshift ski jump. “Don’t go over the jump,” Dustin yelled to Ford. But it was too late.

Ford skied up the front of the jump and was propelled through the air off the back of it. This should have been enough to make any 9-year-old terrified and afraid of skiing. True to Ford’s character, however, he came back up the hill, where I was still wrestling with Owen’s and Lindell’s skis. He was grinning ear to ear. I knew that Ford thought he was the best skier ever to go down the beginner slope at Sugarloaf.

Next it was my turn to ski with Ford. I love everything about skiing except the chairlift. Still, I put on a brave face for my son as the basket seat scooped us up, and we began a steady climb up the mountain. About halfway, I began my usual freakout session about how and when to get off the lift. “Relax, Mom,” Ford said. He had all the confidence of a pro skier. So when I finally skied out of the chair and down the small hill at the lift’s exit, I thought Ford would be right behind me.

“Whew, we made it,” I said. “That’s my least favorite part.”

Ford didn’t answer. I looked behind me. He was still on the chairlift and headed the other direction, back down the hill. He was screaming. “Whoa! Whoa!” Then, when the chair was about 2-3 feet above the snow, Ford jumped out. The lift came to a halt.

Fifteen minutes later, the lift was still not moving as technicians tried to fix whatever emergency stops my son had tripped. But Ford was already skiing down the hill again, oblivious to the commotion he had caused. He sped past skiers who had stopped on the slope to look up at the suspended chairlift. “Wonder who broke it,” some of them said. Meanwhile, just past them, Ford was flying off the ski jump and screaming “Whoaaaa! Whoa!”

It was the fastest I had ever seen him move.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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