Once—and only once—Gene and I went skiing. We were in our twenties, inspired by the Winter Olympics of 1972, most intrigued by cross-country skiing. We had also been caught up in the craze for A-frame ski chalets in the mountains with a bright yellow or orange Scandinavian stove as the focal point of warmth and coziness. I remember studying the cross-country ski boots and clips and equipment, visualized the two of us burning thousands of calories mushing through a quiet wood on soft new powder. Plus Gene’s parents had bought a mountain property with a small A-frame on it. Fifty acres of ridges and valleys surrounded by country roads that would have been excellent trails for cross-country.
One small problem: There never seemed to be enough snow, not that you could ever count on. We weren’t sure our investment in all the cross-country gear would be worth it.
How about downhill we wondered? Why not go to a mountain resort, several not too far away in Pennsylvania, and give downhill skiing a try? We were young, in shape, reasonably coordinated, why not?
The appointed Saturday arrived and we set off headed for “Ski Roundtop” in York county, Pennsylvania, about a two hour drive. It was sleeting the whole way. No matter, we thought. Just adds to the slopes, right?
Parkas zipped, we struggled into the boots and snapped into the bindings that secured us to the unbelievably long and narrow skis. Long, narrow, not like water skis at all—the only other type of skiing I had ever done.
The poles felt alien in my gloved hands as I clomped toward the slope. It was the bunny slope for me, and why, I was desperate to know, was this beginner’s hill so damned tall? No, it didn’t need a lift, but I needed some tenacity, sheer force of will, to get myself up to where the instructor stood, comfortable, relaxed, willing to give me a lesson.
“First, the snowplow,” he said. “So you will always be able to stop yourself, to be in control, stay safe.” He demonstrated, and I practiced pointing my ski tips together to form a V or wedge shape. I think he showed me some tricks for using the poles. He also told me to relax, loosen up, smile.
The sleet was still coming down giving the slope a bright, shiny glaze. The big moment came, and it was my turn to put the training into action. Push off, ski down the hill. I took off and instantly realized my skis needed to be in snowplow position if I was ever going to have any control in these slick conditions. If I was ever going to be able to stop.
Maybe the snowplow position works for some people. Maybe it works in the right conditions. I snowplowed down that hill, picking up speed all the way, only able to stop when I skied right into the clubhouse wall. Wrong person, wrong conditions. But all was right with the world when Gene and I sat around the fire inside the clubhouse drinking hot chocolate. I may have also had a hot toddy.
The slopes, as far as I’m concerned, belong to the summer when you can ride up in the chair lift or even the giant glass-enclosed gondolas in the Swiss-Italian Alps. Stunning green vistas all the way up, lunch on a terrace overlooking the valley below, and in some cases, you can ride a sled down a special track full of switchbacks and hair-pin turns, smiling all the way. Laughing. That’s more my downhill speed. Tahoe anyone?