Looking back over my misspent youth there are many things I regret. One of my greatest regrets is that I never learned how to snow ski even though I lived in Colorado for four years. But that is not to say I didn’t try…
I had just moved to Greeley, Colorado that July. It was time to try out my new home state’s famous slopes.There is a place called Keystone, or as I like to call it “the cold snowy hell of skiing.” They have an evil sense of humor out there. They do not like “flat-landers” very much. As a way of punishing those who are not from the Rockies, this particular ski slope had the choice of putting the ski school at the bottom of the mountain or the top. The bottom of the mountain was at 9000 feet above sea level. The top of the mountain was 20 feet below the Russian MIR space station. I’m sure you can guess which one the sadists chose. I’ll give you a hint: Russian for “stupid American skier” is глупый американский лыжник.
As I rode the gondola to the top of the mountain (yes I said gondola – not ski lift) the air became thinner and thinner until we reached the edge of space. Looking down from the lodge at the top of the mountain at the jumbo jets flying at altitude, I began to ponder the wisdom of this endeavor. I was committed – or should have been for even thinking about this. We began the class and I was into it. We were learning about snow plowing and how to hold onto a rope to get back up the little hill we were pretending to ski on and something else that I can’t remember now. Eight minutes into the class the mountain turned sideways and it felt like one of those aliens was trying to bust out of my head instead of my chest like all good aliens are supposed to do. I had what is known as the bane of flat-landers everywhere: altitude sickness.
For those of you who have not had the wondrous wobbliness of altitude sickness, let me try to describe it to you. Imagine getting the flu right after falling on your head from a tree house with the aches of running a marathon without training. Then imagine all of that on top of a vodka and tequila hangover. That is kind of what it is like if it is just a minor case. I went into the lodge, sat down by the fire, and passed out for three hours.
It is amazing what three hours can do for you. It can take away the pain of altitude sickness. It can give you an amazing moment of clarity. It can also give you the wisdom to walk up to the sign, look at the slopes, and head straight to the gondola to get back down to the bottom of the mountain where it was marginally safer.
At the bottom of the mountain they had a little slope they called the Energizer Bunny Slope. It is 250 yards of sheer terror! They actually had a cute little ski lift to give us the illusion of really skiing! I got on that little ski lift to give it a try. Halfway up the lift I realized there was one little detail I had missed due to puking my guts out. How do you get off a ski lift? That was not the best moment to consider that little detail!
As it turns out, it’s not rocket science. When you get to the top you stand up and the ground drops out from under you at a 90 degree angle so that you do not hit your head on the ski lift. Now as an additional joke on the flat-landers, this BEGINNER slope was made so that you have to make a sharp right turn immediately after the free-fall off the lift or you eat the snow bank it front of you. It was delicious.
Going down that slope was another experience that I will never forget. Falling is fun the first 56 times you do it, but that 57th time… Anyway, as I was watching where I was going, careful to avoid hurting myself or others, I saw that there was a little kid going straight down the slope. Some quick geometry told me that we are going to get to the same point at the same time! My first thought was, “I am bigger and can plow him into the ground.” My second thought was, “I should really turn to keep from killing him.”
As I was turning, he flew past me. I tried to turn so that I could keep zigging and zagging my way down the slope. I didn’t turn quite far enough. Have you ever gone straight down a ski slope? It’s not as easy as they make it look at the Olympics. Even though I could have, I did not run over the kid who got me into that mess. I did pass him at the speed of sound. The sonic boom knocked him out of his skis. I want to go on record to say that the one thing I remembered from my lessons was the making of a V with your skis is called a snow plow that is supposed to slow you down. It made me more aerodynamic because I went faster when I did that!
Somehow I made it down the hill without killing anyone or myself. They have a little rise at the bottom of the hill to slow you down – or make you catch some air if you are skiing at warp speed by that point. It was then that I saw the parking lot coming toward me far too quickly for comfort. My sense of self preservation kicked in as I asked myself, “Why didn’t you just fall down when you started your kamikaze trip down the hill?” Falling seemed preferable to playing chicken with an SUV, running into a pole, or skiing all the way back to Greeley. While turning sideways to fall, I somehow managed to do one of those really cool stops you see the pros do when they throw snow up in the air. I was standing. I was alive. I was not going to tempt the angel of death again because he had just been cheated and I suspected he was was not happy about that. I took off my skis and went into the lodge and watched a rerun of a cricket match between two teams I had never heard of. That cricket match was the best part of the day!