I am a skier. Not a particularly good one, but a skier none-the-less. Skiers engage this sport for many reasons. The adrenalin rush of flying down the hill at breakneck speed; The communion with nature in her harshest moments; the accomplishment of athletic skills: strength, stamina, flexibility; the comraderie of skiing partners. Me? I ski mostly because I get to say, “I’m a skier”.
It’s a great conversation starter in a bar or house party. “Oh, where do you ski?”: “I always wanted to try that.”: “I used to ski when I was younger.”: “Have you been to Aspen?” (feel free to substitute any mountain on the planet for Aspen) are all good talking points at weddings and funerals.
There’s a subliminal badge of courage in being a skier. Not only are you a person of extraordinary bravado, but you do it in ski boots. If you’ve never experienced them, try walking around in shoes two sizes too small without taking them out of the box. Another alternative is leg irons. Ski boots are designed for people who hate their feet. Invented by a sadistic podiatrist in the late sixties, they’re composed of a rigid plastic shell intended to inflict pain when being put on; greater pain when taken off. No material has ever been more suited to absorbing and transferring cold. Another reason for skiing is the pleasure of having the boots off.
Scant attention has been paid to riding the “ski lift”. This is the chair that ferries you up the slope at terrifying heights. If you look down, you’ll fall out and die. That’s why most mountains have bars on the chairs. The less deaths, the better, I suppose.
Getting on the chair can be challenging. Because children and little people also have to get on, the seats are positioned about five inches above the ground. As it comes around behind you, you don’t actually sit in it; you fall in. Often with the skis getting tangled up with the person shoe-horned in next to you. A good drill for preparing a chair lift mount is to place an olive on the floor. And then pick it up with your ass.
Lift attendants are stationed at the top and bottom of each lift. They’re always from Venezuela and get paid to freeze to death eight hours each day. One of their jobs is to sweep the snow and ice off the chairs. To my knowledge, this has never actually been done since last night’s combination of Jose’ Cuervo and Colombian Gold imbued them with the unique capacity to fall asleep while leaning on their broom.
The single greatest feat in skiing is disembarking the lift. Lifts come in varying sizes and are very creatively named: a three-person chair is a “triple”; four people, a “quad”; six people, a “six-person chair”. When it reaches its peak, the skiers have a nano-second to jump off and ski out of the way before the next group unloads and plows into them. If you’re too slow, you’ll get wiped out and die.
You’re safely off the lift! Now the fun part – skiing down. The main object is to get down the mountain without falling or getting run down by a snowboarder who spent last night partying with the lift operator. The second main objective is to do it while scared to death. If you’re a beginner, the bunny slope is terrifying. As you improve, you’ll move up to steeper, more difficult runs always one notch above your ability. Broken legs are as common as icy days which may explain the explosive number of orthopedic surgeons today.
The more accomplished skiers take to the “tree runs”. These are not runs at all but just a forest with snow and a sign that has a name on it like “Cut-Throat” or “Killer”. The people that ski in the trees always wear a helmet. Realize that this is a brain telling them it’s a good idea. The helmet encapsulates these thoughts so they don’t get out and infect the general population. The other reason for the helmet is so they don’t die.
Anyone can ride a bike, swing a golf club, or navigate a treadmill. But to brave the elements, conquer your fears, and push yourself to new limits demands a certain kind of pluck. I happen to be a big fan of pluck and that’s why I’m pleased to say – “I am a skier”.