Walking past the line for the Candy Cane J-Bar, I was nervous. I felt my training was incomplete, but could do nothing to stop it. Sure, I could’ve protested, but then the mockery would’ve started. I can handle death easier.
The chair lift entrance for Holly resides less than 30 yards from the bottom of Candy Cane, but it’s on a slight incline. We pulled ourselves up the incline by digging our poles into the snow and shuffling our skis forward. “I didn’t know there’d be cross-country skiing,” I said to Danielle. She reassured me that I would do well, but I feared the misadventure ahead.
Standing in line, I focused on the chair lifts swinging around for the journey up the mountain. We had a few moments, but the time was coming. I’d been scared on Candy Cane. I began to fathom the panic that would course through my mind at the summit of Snow Ball.
I observed the chair swinging around to pick up each pair or skiers. Once it cleared the entrance, the next pair started forward to the loading spot. Our turn to trek our way to the chair arrived. Believing myself on the verge of getting clipped, I followed Danielle into the path of the oncoming chair. With Danielle standing to my left, the chair reached us and gently buckled us onto the cold cushions. I had no way out.
Looking around at the mountain below, a heavy metal bar attacked me. Scared, I looked over at Danielle, only to find that she was lowering the safety bar to prevent us from falling out. “Oooooooooh. That’s a good idea,” I thought. As we continued our ascent upward, I noticed all the happy people skiing down the slope. Seeing the young kids gliding over the snow, I believed it might be possible to survive this. I might even figure out how to ski.
The chair lift was longer than I had expected. I enjoyed the respite from the inevitable until I remembered that the length of mountain up and down were the same. I knew that when I turned my skis down the slope, the journey down would be as fast as the journey up was slow.
Trying to focus me, Danielle explained the process of stepping off the chair lift at the end. “Stick your legs, parallel to the ground. You want your skis pointing down. If you don’t, you won’t be able to get off, but your skis will come off. You will ride down to the bottom without your skis, the only person riding down. You don’t want to be that guy.” No, I didn’t.
We neared the end, so Danielle raised the safety bar over our heads. I did as instructed and stuck my skis out, perpendicular to the ground. At that moment, I understood something I hadn’t before. Skis and ski boots are heavy. If I moved wrong before the platform, I was going down fast. I paid attention to the task and didn’t move until we reached the platform.
I expected someone to greet us and help us out. They assume that we’re all experts at this, so we don’t need help. What kind of moron would ride to the top of a mountain that he didn’t know how to ski down? I noticed the people in front of us put their skis on the platform, stand up, and ski away as the chair lift let them off and turned away. Now that I knew how to do it, it was time to do it.
I put my skis onto the snowy wood as the chair leaned us forward. I stood up and looked ahead to where I had to go. I positioned my poles beside me for balance. The chair turned away as I came to the edge of the ramp. My mind froze.
“There’s not supposed to be a ramp here.”
“I fell down while walking; I can’t ski a ramp.”
“This is wrong.”
“They shouldn’t have done this to me.”
All of these thoughts were valid at the time, but little help. Gravity refused to wait for my mind to catch up. Thus, instead of skiing gracefully from the chair lift to a stop by the map, I did an awkward dismount and fell on my ass. I’m confident that I scored a 2.8 from the Lithuanian judge.
I laughed at myself and put my head on the snow. Danielle looked back at the tangle of legs and skis and poles. She laughed as she skied over to help me up. Even though I was motionless at the bottom of the ramp, it was still an active runway. I’m confident that the snowboarder who fell behind me fell only because I was in the way. She dragged me to my feet. While I gathered myself, brushing snow off and shaking my clothes into place, Danielle moved over to look at the map. We were at the convergence of Holly, Mistletoe, and the South Shuttle.
Here’s the map I showed in part one:
I hadn’t looked at this before we reached the summit. Any fool can see that the only way to Snow Ball from the Central slope is to ski down Twinkle and ride the South chair lift to the top. Ignoring that, it was so far away. This was a giant mistake. Didn’t Danielle know that she’d have a long, hard journey dragging my mangled corpse back to the First Aid station after I tumbled down Snow Ball like a snowball?
Her plan was simple, so I followed her to the South Shuttle. Sadly, I learned that this wasn’t a shuttle, but a path I had to ski. I hate misnomers. A few yards past the map, we approached a hill. It wasn’t large, but I could tell that I would pick up speed. I was concerned.
I still hadn’t dealt with anything in a “straight-ahead, actually ski the slope” manner. I determined that I’d survive it, but I wasn’t ready to pick up too much speed. I skied it the same way I’d skied the bunny hill; knees in, feet out, brain furiously engaged. Following along the right edge, I made it down.
There should’ve been a sign that indicated the speed generated by the little slope was useful. I didn’t have enough to continue up the slight incline that followed. A lesson learned the hard way, but duly noted.
Since I’d stopped from lack of inertia, I figured I’d give the goggles a try. Since I’d never been skiing, I borrowed my brother’s ski gloves and goggles. The gloves were perfect. Even after nearly three hours on the slopes (and several spills), my hands were still dry and warm. Then I put the goggles on.
They immediately fogged up. I couldn’t believe it. I prayed that I could wipe them clean so they’d stay clear. This didn’t work. Inspecting them, I found two holes on each side for venting. Eureka! Like my motorcycle helmet, they would unfog once I started moving and air flowed through them.
In theory that should’ve worked. Alas, it didn’t. As I moved forward, they stayed covered, so I was blind while wearing them. I stopped again, which wasn’t hard given the incline-induced lack of momentum. At this point, I began cursing my brother’s name. At the time, I joked at how rude that was since he’d loaned me the excellent gloves.
Then I returned home and discussed it with him, which went like this:
Me: “Thanks for lending me your gloves. The goggles sucked.”
Brother (while I type about them being fogged up): “They fogged up, didn’t they?”
Me: “Thanks, you could’ve told me that BEFORE I was stranded on top of the mountain without sufficient eyewear.”
On the mountain, I figured I’d be ok without them. The air was clear of snow and wind. The sky was cloudy, so the snow wasn’t reflecting sun. No need to worry.
I put the goggles back in my pocket. Seeing the narrow, tree-lined Black Diamond trails made me realize how much I had to learn. Even though I knew my limits, I’d secretly hoped we’d ski the K-12 before the day was over, but it wasn’t meant to be.
After more trudging along the incline of the South Shuttle, we reached the exit onto Twinkle. I stopped to readjust my gloves and scarf. And to delay the inevitable. While I had a moment to look, I noticed something bad. I couldn’t see the bottom of Twinkle. Christopher Columbus was wrong. This planet is flat and the edge is in Glenwood, New York.
I knew I couldn’t avoid skiing Twinkle, but I wanted to make it as painless as possible. Even though the slope had light traffic, I feared skiing in the middle. I knew I’d fall down, then get run over by someone with enough skill to go fast, but not enough to turn.
Now for the melodrama…
After a short time that must have seemed like an eternity to Danielle, I’d gathered my resolve. Danielle encouraged me from the bottom of the first slope, since she’d skied ahead to encourage me to follow her. Too bad I was having none of that.
I looked down the left side of the slope, saw an opening in the traffic, turned my skis toward the base, and headed down. After a few yards, I slammed my skis to the left to stop. I turned 110 degrees, throwing a lot of snow with the back of my right ski. I’d picked up too much speed and didn’t like it. I quickly realized my journey would be like this the entire way down. My inexperience was obvious, but my fear was the challenge.
I repeated this process multiple times before I’d passed the approximately 40 yards down to the first hill of the slope. Danielle continued to offer encouragement, but I didn’t realize that she was right to encourage me to push myself. I tried a little by forcing myself into a right turn. I didn’t quite make it, so I overcompensated and turn left to stop. I tipped over.
I struggled to get myself standing again. Doing this on the side of the mountain was different than trying to stand up on flat snow. It’s harder because gravity pulled me down if I turned the wrong way, but I could use the angle for better leverage when I aligned myself. I tried to remove my boot to make it easier, but I couldn’t use my pole to press a boot free from the lock. Leaning back, then pushing forward, I managed to stand up.
I aimed for a longer journey this time. I’d managed to gather speed and stop it when I almost ran over the instructor. I surmised that I could do it again. Danielle told me to do it. I did.
I turned my knees in when I needed to slow down. This was less effective than turning would be, but I kept moving forward. Once I’d gone about 40 yards, I began to think about what I was doing and became unnerved. I needed to stop, so I swooped left. I stopped but didn’t turn enough. I began to slide toward the snow bank on the left side. This wasn’t a good development. I tried to turn myself against the slope to stop my slide but couldn’t. I slid into the snow bank.
I didn’t realize it would be so hard to get out. The snow was 18 inches deep and I slid in to my boots. I couldn’t lift my skis because the snow was too heavy and I couldn’t back up because of the angle. I was stuck.
I sat down in the snow and devised a plan. My skis had to come off. While I tried to figure out how to unhook them, Danielle came over. She was laughing because I was stuck. People fall all the time while skiing, but they don’t get stuck in snow drifts. After trying to pull me out, she unhooked the lock on my skis.
I pulled myself away from the deep snow and stood up. I worked my way into my skis and scoped out the rest of the slope. There was an orange warning sign by the tree because I wouldn’t have seen the big tree otherwise. I wasn’t going that way anyway, since it was in the middle of the slope. I’d stretched my actions, but I still liked the safety of the sideline.
Since I was ready to continue, I tried to maneuver myself for the next run. I can’t explain how it happened, but here is the result:
Thankfully, I was beyond the possibility of embarrassment by now, but I still felt like a moron. I kept falling down while not skiing. Learning to ski must be what babies feel like learning to walk, but they’re fearless. I told Danielle to leave me. I was happy to die a cold, sweet death.
There was no way I was getting up by myself this time, so Danielle came back up the hill again to help me. Once standing, I drove the spiked tips of my poles into the snow and dug my left ski in for balance. This steadied me. She pointed out that I didn’t have far to go. We could see the chair lift by this point, so the end was a possibility. Seeing that we were alone on the slope, I headed into the middle to practice another right turn. As I skied forward, then pushed with my left leg, I started to turn right, then stopped. I didn’t complete the turn, but it was a start. Danielle skied ahead to judge the last hill since it looked steep. Even though there was no one at the bottom, there wasn’t much stopping room, so I wanted to know what it was like.
This was good because there was a large patch of ice in the middle of the last hill. She told me to ski to the left to avoid it. A couple of left turns, stops, and starts later, I stood at the bottom. The journey was ugly, but I’d made it down.
The most fortuitous realization was that we were on the South chair lift instead of the Central. I’d known we would end up here, but hadn’t expected the trip down to be so mentally exhausting. If we’d been on the Central slope, I doubt that I would’ve gone up again. Since we had to ride the lift to get back to the ski lodge, we swung around for the ride up. I had one more run in me. Then I’d have to explain to Danielle that I was ready to leave and I didn’t know how she’d take it.
Part four is still to come… I’m sorry for stringing this out. I’m not doing it intentionally, but I’m writing more narrative than I’m used to writing. Part three is over 2,400 words, all written today. That takes time, so my fingers are sore. I will wrap this up soon.