I had a meeting with my Achilles tendons, ankles and knees a few days ago. We were staring at the bags containing my wonderful skis, poles, boots and assorted clothing.
We decided: no more skiing.
I am too old. Sugarloaf is too far. Even the Snow Bowl is too far. The ticket is much too expensive. Everything hurts.
The euphoria of skiing is letting go of your fear and gliding down a snowy slope, making the best turns you can, then just letting those skis run free. That’s hard to do as you consider the ramifications of a broken hip. Or leg. Or ankle.
It has been a hell of a ride. I started in the mid-1960s at Snow Lake Lodge in Vermont when I ran away from my “career” in Boston insurance to join the lucky legions of mountain waiters, or “ski bums.” The ticket was free, the skis were cheap, and Austrian ski instructors offered free lessons every morning. The key word here is “morning.” I was much more interested in the valley nightlife than morning exercise.
One of the many opportunities I have had in life that I passed by.
Instead, I staggered down the mountain on my own, gradually gaining confidence until one fateful day on an icy slope when I met a Sno-Cat on the way up. It was, as they say, a “lawn sale,” with a hat over there, gloves over there, poles bent over there and skis running down the hill without me.
One day in an icy rut, my skiing companion fell and I skied right into her back — under the chairlift. Naturally, it was the moment that the Austrian instructors were taking their classes up the hill. They took full advantage of the situation as we stumbled over each other, trying to stand up.
Anything for a laugh.
Many years later, I ended up in Camden and visited the Snow Bowl, which I find very difficult to ski. I used the old rope tow and fell from one end to the other, as usual. My confidence was not helped at all when Courier reporter and Blueberry Queen Natalie Slefinger snapped her leg right in front of the lodge. Humiliating. Scary.
It wasn’t until my daring daughter Aran decided she would take ski lessons that I learned anything. She went five days in a row and I took her and went skiing while I waited. I skied five days in a row. Hey! I finally got the hang of it after skiing only once or twice a winter.
I took my Humiliation Express to Sugarloaf, where Blue Eyes and I decided to take a big-time lesson. We auditioned in front of the instructors. Blue Eyes continued her snowplow turns while I showed off on the easy terrain. I got into the advanced class somehow and ended up on the very steep slope under the old gondola. I fell at every stop and during most turns.
At the end of the lesson, the instructor gave everyone a personal tip on advancing their technique. Unweight that downhill ski. Weight on the inside of the foot. Use your poles more. That sort of thing. When he came to me, battered and snow-covered he said, “Emmet, I don’t know what to tell you.”
Several years later, when I got pretty good at skiing (for me), I decided to return to that gondola trail. We stood there and looked at the steep drop, the icy spots and the possibility of a hospital bed in our future. Blue Eyes was willing, of course.
We had to take off our skis to walk back up the snowy hill to the other trail. Skiers coming down would stop and ask if the gondola trail was closed. Naturally, I blamed Blue Eyes.
“No it’s not closed. She’s just too scared to go down the trail.”
One of the many reasons I adore the woman is that she did not say a thing.
We skied at Wildcat one day when the wind off Mt. Washington was so strong that we had to pole our way down the slope. We skied on ice and rocks and absolutely perfect conditions at Sugarloaf. We skied in sub-zero temperatures at Saddleback on perfect snow. One afternoon, we stood overlooking one Saddleback trail covered in fog so thick you couldn’t see more than 15 feet. We must have stayed there for 20 minutes, laughing as we watched the other skiers disappearing into the fog.
We had loads of fun, even after skidding off Route 27, backwards, into the path of a fully loaded pulp truck. He missed.
I always thought that the ski industry had it backward. They should let you ski for nothing, then charge you $50 for taking off those damned boots.
Those boots will stay in the bag now. They might emerge at some lawn sale, down the line.
Thank God that’s over.