'membering · Skiing · Writing

New Skier Blues

I do not downhill ski. My whole acquaintance with skiing was a brief familiarity through watching it on TV and going “downhill” on cross-country skis as a child. However all that was about to change as my new sweetie and I buckled into our seats on an airplane bound for Calgary. Greg was an avid skier and wanted me to try it. At Banff.

We arrived on the slopes of Lake Louise after a day of skiing at Sunshine. I had had lessons, Greg and his sister Susan had gone to ski the double black diamond runs they loved so much. I had mastered the art of sliding precariously down the bunny run snowplowing like mad all the way. But my time had come. After lunch, we were to do the green run down Lake Louise. The long green run all the way down the mountain.

Greg, Susan and I got in the gondola and up we went up and up and up. My ears popped but I was quite relaxed. I had no idea what I was about to try and was enjoying my oblivion. No one told me that I could go down in the gondola as well as up. The top of the green run (what did green mean?!) was nasty. Steep and narrow. I didn’t really know how to stop except by falling over. So once they coaxed me over the “edge” fall is what I did, in almost every possible configuration. Did anyone mention how hard it is to get up without ankles?

Greg and Susan helped me slowly fall my way down the mountain. Gradually I learned how to turn, although it was still a terrifying exercise. What do you mean, point my skis downhill? What if I can’t get them pointed sideways again? One memorable moment came as I was skiing across the mountain (something I did much of) and noticed a nice friendly knoll that I could ski up onto. Skiing up anything was heaven as far as I was concerned since I didn’t have to go down and so I went for it. Suddenly there was a shriek from behind me and, in a flurry of snow, Greg arrived. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” he yelled. I gestured at the friendly little hill and opened my mouth to explain when, in the same breath he said ‘DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT WAY WILL TAKE YOU TO THE WOMEN’S DOWNHILL RUN? YOU DON’T WANT TO GO THERE”. Oh. I said. Not really knowing what the “women’s downhill run” was, but assuming that whatever it was, was worse than what I was on. Sigh. I was going to have to point my skis downhill again after all.

I got to the bottom with snow everywhere, after having left the top some 3 hours previous. Greg and Susan and I were all together and I said “That was GREAT let’s do it AGAIN!” Suddenly we all got caught up in the moment. Greg said the gondola would close at 4 so if we were going to do it we’d better be quick about it and suddenly we were running that ungainly ski-booted run across to the gondola. Made it! We were sitting in the car going up and up and up and I was wondering (silently) what I’d just done?

We started off down the green run again (I still didn’t know one could go down the gondola) only  it was 3 hours later, I was 3 hours tireder, and despite having learned a lot, I still didn’t know enough. Gradually I realized that while I was still having fun, I was having less fun than I had had the first time down. Somewhat later I noticed ski patrol skiing behind us, back and forth. After a while they skied up to Greg and I listened to their conversation. “Do you need any help?” they asked. “No I think we are okay” answered Greg “after all we are more than half way down by now aren’t we?”. As it turned out, we weren’t. We were only just about a quarter of the way down and the ski patrol wanted us OFF the mountain. Normally for Greg and Susan that wouldn’t have been a problem, they could just point their skis down and go. For me, however, the picture was somewhat different.

A few more ungainly turns, my quads and calves complained, and the ski patrol person came up to me. “How are you doing?” he asked. “I’m FINE” I answered, somewhat belligerently. I didn’t need any help. Except … I did, and I was starting to realize it. I was skied out, my brain knew (more or less) what to do but my legs had long ago stopped taking orders from my brain and were in the process of inventing entirely new ways to ski most of which involved falling. “Just so you know, in case you want some help, there is a ski patrol hut a couple of turns further down, and lots of people there who are willing to help you” said the friendly ski patrol person. Part of me wanted to drape my body over theirs right then and there, but the other part of me wanted to prove to all these people that I was JUST FINE and could do it without ANY HELP.

Two turns later and the part of me that realized I needed help was in ascendance. It was starting to get dark and my legs were dangerously close to revolting altogether. There were a cluster of people with red ski patrol jackets standing around a hut and as I appeared several of them started towards me. The first one to reach me, put his arm around me and helped me ski the last few yards. A sled appeared and it became clear that it was for me. I lay down, and was competently and professionally bundled up with much friendly banter.

One of the ski patrol proceeded to pull me  headfirst down the mountain. I could see the tops of trees go by and Greg, skiing back and forth behind us. The speed was terrifying but there was nothing I could do except relax and enjoy the ride. When we got to the bottom I disentangled myself and when I could stand I gave the woman who had just pulled me down a big hug. She deserved it!

On our third and last day of skiing Greg and I went up to the top of Lake Louise and skied the long green run all the way to the bottom. I significantly improved upon my time, and I did it without any help. Yes. I’m just FINE. 🙂