By Sandy Compton
Long ago, my girlfriend and her sister took me skiing at Schweitzer Basin. Sort of. They got me in a pair of leather boots that connected — temporarily — to a pair of Head 210s. They took me to the top of the “learning” slope and said, “See ya later. Have fun.”
They did see me later. I did not have fun.
This is what I learned. Having no clue how to turn, I learned that the fall line is where one falls. Often. After two disastrous trips on the chair, I resorted to the rope tow, and learned that, when you fall, let go of the rope. I did not learn how to ski.
Then, it rained. My jeans, soggy from falling down the fall line, became drenched, turning my long handles a lovely denim blue. My fashionable and unsuitable suede jacket gained a couple of pounds. Ice water ran down my neck and coursed into my socks. I walked back to the lodge — long, black torture devices over my shoulder — and clumped around in my aqueous boots, trying to look cool and failing. I had perma-frown.
I vowed that I would never, ever, ever ski again.
I kept that vow for 20 years.
Two decades later, minus the girlfriend, I was a waiter at Green Gables Hotel, where my fellow workers insisted that I learn to ski. “You have a pass!” they commanded. “Use it!” I was reluctant, to say the least, but they shamed me into it.
Thank the snow gods.
Employees could join group lessons for free. I did and lucked out; I was the only person in the group. The learning slope — a.k.a. the bunny hill — had moved next to the sanctuary of the day lodge, plastic boots had been developed and ski teaching theory had evolved. My skis were 50 centimeters shorter than the 210s.
A kind and patient man showed me how to lock myself into a snowplow and make my way down the bunny hill — push left, go right; push right, go left. He also taught me how to put my skis back on, which was good. They came off quite often.
After a few days of successfully traveling — sometimes tumbling — down the bunny hill, I took a ride on Chair 1. Midway unload was a black diamond run in itself. It was all learning curve. I was really, really glad I knew how to put my skis back on.
Much to my surprise, and in spite of serial yard sales, I got hooked. I skied every day for the rest of the season. Every day. If there was night skiing, and I didn’t have to work, I skied until the lights went out.
After more practice, I made a Schweitzer beginner’s common pilgrimage. I rode the Great Escape, skied down the Great Divide, suffered a spectacular yard sale on Down the Hatch, found my way to Vagabond, and followed it to the Outback and Chair 5 without further catching an edge or crossing tips.
I found increasingly steep places to fall down the fall line: the S-curve pitch on Snow Ghost just off Kaniksu; the last steep fall on Zip Down; Lower G-3. Charlie’s Run. More and more often, I made it down these little chunks of black diamond without having to put my skis back on. I even achieved perma-grin, a condition caused by pure joy — opposite of perma-frown.
On the last day of that season, I was wandering intermediate groomers and wondering how best to end the year. I stopped at the top of No Joke, a “real” black diamond I had never dared. As I stood there, a friend pulled up next to me. He was four inches shorter than me, and standing on a pair of 210s. He grinned and said, “What are you waiting for?” and launched into No Joke. I followed. It was groomed. I survived, and I didn’t have to put my skis back on.
Next, we rode Chair 6 to the top and skied steep and scary Upper Kaniksu. Last run of the day, he led me down a sun-warmed, slushy Stiles. I had to put my skis back on. Twice.
I still had perma-grin.
There have been many days of perma-grin since. I bless the friends who kept at me until I agreed to take that lesson. It’s one of the best things anyone has done for me — much better than leaving me at the top of the bunny slope to fend for myself.
I still have to put my skis back on once in a while. And, I still visit learning slopes, where I sometimes get to coach a beginner.
“Push left, go right,” I say. “Push right, go left.”
It’s one of the best things I can do for anyone. Perma-grin is my reward. Theirs and mine.
Sandy Compton has been skiing longer than he didn’t after that first ugly day. He’s also been writing for all that time. His books and essays can be found at bluecreekpress.com.
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