I’m a big baby sometimes. I don’t like falling. I especially don’t like falling when I’ve got 2 heavy plastic planks strapped to my feet, what feels like Frankenstein boots strapped on top of those and so many layers of polar fleece and Gortex® I can barely turn my head. Add to that the feeling of skidding, mostly out of control, down a slippery hill, while people less than half my age are flying past me in bursts. In cases like that I REALLY don’t like falling.
Skiing is my new endeavor this winter. I realize I’m asking a lot of myself, given my age. I should have been learning something like this when my body was still young and rubbery enough to absorb tumbles with minimal damage. At this point, I anticipate hip and knee breakage every time the strange contraptions they call skis start to carry me too quickly down a hill. My ski instructor said that it’s me, not the skis, in control. I’m not so sure that’s true.
This Saturday I was skiing in Bristol, NY, with my sister, her fiancé and my boyfriend. The latter two were resolute in their conviction that Bristol Mountain was a fine, friendly Saturday evening adventure. That the mountain would treat us with the respect it was treated with. That powdery, fresh snowfall would add to the wonder and whimsy. That none of us would need to be carted down the hill by Ski Patrol. And finally, that no bones would be broken.
Only one of those things ended up being true.
I began my Saturday at 4 p.m. with a few trips down the bunny hill with my sister. I’d only been skiing once before, at a resort with runs that were slightly taller than snowdrifts at the edges of parking lots. I had done well and was ready to tackle bigger and better things! The bunny hill at Bristol was soon my dupe. Nothing could stop me.
At 5 p.m. we took a lesson. We were easily the best students in the class. Some could barely stand. We whistled down the bunny hill, whizzing past toddlers and pre-teens. The instructor gave us an extra half an hour and assured us we were ready to take the easiest hill level, a “green.” He told us the one to start with: the lift right next to the bunny hill. “Ok!” we said. “Thanks for the tip!”
The boys met up with us after the lesson. “These runs take easily 30 minutes,” they said, with wind- burned cheeks. “They’ll probably take you girls an hour.” Say what? I kicked that bunny hill’s butt and took its name (bunny hill) and no one was going to tell me how long it would take me to learn what I already knew: I was a skiing star, a natural. Still, the elevations at Bristol Mountain were significantly higher than the previous resort I’d skied.
We skipped the lift the instructor had suggested (pah!) and went towards the central lift that whisked us to the mountaintop in a mere eight minutes! As if on a magic carpet, we soon arrived at our destination. Dismount from the chair lift proved simple. We were ready!
And then suddenly it all went horribly wrong in four very annoying ways.
First, there was no new snow falling, despite promises from the weather channel. That meant no new, soft powder for falling purposes, but instead, a hard, packed-down, bruise-delivering surface.
Second, the “green” run we had chosen, one of the easiest in the park, wasn’t all that easy. It started out fairly flat but quickly got steeper.
Third, big chunks of snow were missing in patches carved by the day’s traffic. The hill was bumpy, with mogul-y mounds jumping up in front of me.
Fourth, other skiers and snowboarders were moving quickly past me, almost as if irritated by a large, moving obstacle.
It was hard to control my speed. I tried the techniques the instructor had showed me to slow down, but on an actual hill, they required much more muscle. “Funny,” I thought. “The bunny hill was nothing like this. Why didn’t he warn me?”
My sister shrieked somewhere behind me, out of fear but most likely out of frustration, and fell.
I lost track of where our boys were. There were so many people on that hill, almost as if every person in the park had decided to exit the lift and begin their descent at the exact time, in the exact same place. We were like a thousand ants swarming on top of a cookie crumb. Except this ant had very little control over her limbs and the cookie crumb was cold, icy and tasted nothing like cookie.
I fell. Then I got a face full of powder as three guys on snowboards slashed the snow next to me, one after the next. It tasted exactly like snow, testosterone and my own bruised pride.
After both of their women were reduced to piles of debris on the side of the trail, our boys magically re- appeared. Had they been hiding in the trees watching the disaster develop? “How much longer to the bottom?” I asked. They looked at each other, then back at me. “Um. Get up. Let’s just keep moving.”
The bottom, it turned out, took about 45 more minutes to reach. Damn those boys and their impeccable estimation of my skills!
The rest of my journey was a lot like the beginning of my journey: ski, try to slow down, fail, fall, face full of snow. Rinse and repeat. My sister gave up when we arrived at a mid-hill lift. Ski Patrol was contacted and she was taken down in a sled. I continued.
By the time we got to the bottom, it was time for a break. I was bruised, frustrated and uncomfortably aware of my rank as a beginner. I had an overwhelming feeling that having survived my first real run should have been met more with a feeling of accomplishment than a huge sigh of relief. My visions of Olympic gold and weekend trips to quaint Vermont villages seemed like half-pipe dreams.
We snacked on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in an attempt to refuel. My sister announced that she was done. The boys announced that they wanted beer. I silently wished that I could just be an expert skier with minimal effort spent learning how.
Bristol Mountain was beautiful, but unkind. It didn’t care how slippery the slopes were for me. If I fell, it had no effect the mountain at all. Given that, I didn’t feel bad that I chose, after a total of ten runs (three “real” and seven “bunny hill”) to spend the rest of the evening in the lodge drinking wine with my sister. I wasn’t hurting the mountain’s feelings. Rome, as they say, was not built in a day. I wanted to end the evening on a good note, without broken bones and without the feeling that skiing was totally and completely out of my reach. I may never conquer a “black diamond” (the hardest of all the slope levels) but if I can show a “green” who’s boss, that’s fine with me. Next time, Bristol. Next time.