Thursday, December 22, 2011
The first time I ever went skiing was in sixth grade at Villa Olivia in Bartlett, Illinois. I went with my best friend Lyndsey and her family. I was really scared when I saw the bunny hill but after a couple hours of hemming and hawing I summoned the courage to snowplow several feet down the hill before freaking out and falling to my butt to slide the rest of the way down. It was a start.
After I’d mastered the bunny hill (and ditched the poles – they just got in the way) I was ready to brave the mountain. Since I already told you we were skiing in Illinois you’ve probably correctly assumed that the mountain was actually just an old landfill (I’m assuming) covered with fake snow (at least when we went) running about a quarter mile long with a 180 foot vertical drop (that fact I actually researched on Google).
Pretty soon I had the "mountain" down too, so Lyndsey and I decided we’d go down Devil’s Run even though it was closed and the entrance had been roped off with caution tape. Red “Do not enter” signs swung precariously in the wind from posts at the top of the run. Apparently it was coated in ice and the party poopers at the Bartlett Park District thought icy hills were a bad idea. Well, not these two bad ass sixth graders. We tore down that thing at a swift pace with our hearts racing. Not really. We did go down it but we dug our skis into the ice and snowplowed down at 2 miles per hour. Our hearts were racing, though, and you know what? No one ever caught us.
The second time I ever went skiing was seventeen years later. I decided I’d go to Vail on Opening Day with some girlfriends. Why not? I mean, I did do Devil’s Run at Villa Olivia seventeen years ago, didn’t I?
So I hit up Burton and The NorthFace and a couple thousand dollars later I had a respectable skiing outfit that said, “I ski all the time so it’s okay for me to pay this much for my outfit. I get a lot of use out of this stuff.” I thought that’s what my outfit said, anyway. It might have just said, “I can’t ski so I thought I’d at least look cute.”
On Opening Day we made a big breakfast at the condo we'd rented and headed over to a little villagey looking area called Lions Head to rent our ski equipment. Inside the shop we were told we were the store’s first customers of the season. The friendly and patient staff at the rental shop literally put on our boots for us and walked us through everything. You could tell they couldn’t wait until we left so they could good-naturedly joke about our lack of skiing experience. And probably also hold a brief discussion on how cute we were.
Once we were all decked out in our gear and had each purchased matching hot pink sunglasses we were own our own. We trudged over to where everyone else appeared to be lining up for ski-type doings and soon found ourselves on a seven hour gondola ride up to the top of the mountain.
“Oh my God,” I said when we reached the top and caught a glimpse of our amazing surroundings. “I just thought of something. Do you think these are the Rocky Mountains?”
Laura said she was pretty sure they were.
Laura said she was pretty sure they were.
“Oh my God!” I said again. “That’s the bunny hill?”
“Yep,” Holly replied.
The bunny hill looked an awful lot like Devil’s Run in Villa Olivia and I started to think maybe I’d gotten myself in a little over my head. I remember thinking to myself that when I got home I’d start thinking things through a little more before I just ran off doing things.
Holly had the most experience skiing – she skied about once a year. Like me, Laura had only skied once before but at least she'd skied more recently than sixth grade. I took the hills as slowly as I could but I often found the snow and my skis worked against me and I’d spiral out of control as trees, poles, and cliffs approached rapidly.
I forced a couple falls to avoid collisions but after a few non-catastrophic runs I gained some confidence. Then I had a beautiful run down the bunny hill and was feeling really good. I saw Laura come flying down the hill, wipe out, and almost fly off the side of a cliff. I’ll show her my tips, I thought benevolently. We rode the lift back to the top of the hill together and I proceeded to give Laura some nuggets of wisdom as we worked our way down.
Half way down, apparently buoyed by my expert training skills, she sped off and made a beautiful stop at the bottom of the hill, waiting for me by the lift. Wow, I thought, I’m so good at skiing I’m teaching people how to be good at skiing.
I confidently pushed off and headed down the hill but something was wrong. I felt I was going a little too fast or maybe I was thrown off by a snowboarder that zipped past too closely, I’m not sure, but suddenly I felt I had lost control of my skis again. They were doing as they pleased and I panicked.
I certainly saw the pole – I had a fantastic unobstructed view of it as I barreled toward it and it had red padding all around the base as if they expected someone might run into it. I watched for what seemed like a long time as that pole came closer and closer. I sensed that I had both the time and the physical ability to swerve and avoid it but I didn’t even try. I felt resigned to hitting this pole, like it was my destiny. I just stared at it and braced myself and then BAM! It was there, in my face, in my abdomen, BAM!
I saw my left arm and my right leg fly up; I imagined I looked like I was a really enthusiastic toy soldier. My right leg went flying off my torso and bounced off my head and onto the snow. At least that’s what I thought at the time. When I’d had a moment to gather my bearings I realized that the appendage I’d thought was my leg was actually just my ski.
Disoriented, I thought I heard a bear sniffling nearby and my heartbeat quickened again but it turned out it was just Laura trying to stifle her laughter long enough to give a pretense of caring.
“Are you okay?” one of the ski lift guys asked.
“Yeah, are you okay?” Laura yelled.
“I’m fine,” I called back. “I’ve got snow down my pants though.”
That’s when I decided I’d stick to the bunny hill for the entire day. It’s not like I was even playing it safe by staying on the bunny hill; I’d almost killed myself colliding with a pole. Laura had almost tumbled over the edge of the cliff. Who knows what we’d do to ourselves - or our cute outfits - if we tried to go down the mountain?
After spending an unreasonable three hours on the bunny hill my confidence was once again artificially bolstered and we started tossing around the bold idea of venturing down one of the greens. (The greens, in case you’re as clueless as I was, are the easiest trails.) An instructor who had seen me fly into the pole and witnessed Laura’s close call with the cliff overheard us and questioned our skill level.
“Are you recommending we don’t try it just yet?” I asked nervously – and not without a little hope in my voice.
“Not necessarily,” he replied. He asked us to allow him to ski down the bunny hill with us so he could assess our abilities. We all made it down without falling which appeared to be good enough for him.
“I just want to make sure you understand,” he said. “Once you decide to go down the mountain, that’s it. There’s no turning back. There’s no way to get on a lift to go back until you’ve reached the bottom.”
“Oh gee,” I said. “What about those rescue snowmobiles?”
“That’s only for injured folk.”
“Oh, okay.” Shoot, I could fake an injury if need be.
So we headed down the trail. As we just passed the point of no return I saw what we were up against. Actually I couldn’t see anything and that’s what scared me. I saw the twenty feet of flat terrain in front of us and then… nothing. I may have whimpered.
I slowly maneuvered my way over to the edge to take a peek down. It was pretty steep.
“So this is a green, huh?”
The instructor nodded.
“Okay,” I said, trying to nod like I was totally alright with what was happening. “I take it this is the worst of the runs, though, right here at the beginning. You know, get the worst done and over with.”
He didn’t say anything.
“I guessthis as steep as this run’s gonna get,” I continued.
“No, it gets worse,” he replied.
“Good,” I said. “Excellent.”
That green took us forty-five minutes, mostly because of me. When I wasn’t skiing as parallel to the horizon as I possibly could, I was falling down, or trying to stand back up after falling down.
I looked back up at the hill for possible skiers who might zip into me.
“Don’t worry about them,” the instructor said, sensing my fears. “They’ll move out of your way.” He held out his hand to help me up.
WHAM! A snowboarder plowed into me and the instructor at highway speeds. I glared over at the instructor.
“That seriously never happens,” he said.
“I’ve got snow down my butt again,” I snapped.
“That does happen,” he agreed.
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