“Let’s go skiing”, she said over dinner on evening. “Sure”, I replied as I fiddled with whatever happened to be on my plate at the time, hoping this was a passing idea that wouldn’t come to fruition. “You do know how to ski, don’t you?”, she asked. “Of course I do”, I said. I had actually spent quite a bit of time in the mountains and had been on a few ski trips. The fact that I’d never actually had skis attached to my feet seemed academic. I had always been more of a sleep till noon, have some drinks at the lodge and go to the tube hill kind of ski vacationer. I had seen people skiing. It didn’t look hard. Besides, YouTube is my friend and I was sure there would be plenty of useful information available on the subject if this turned into a reality.
A few days went by without any mention of our previous conversation. Just when I thought I was in the clear, a box arrived. This is common at our house. Between Cecily’s home business and my never-ending projects, boxes arrive daily. This one was big but didn’t weigh much. I assumed it was some sort of packing materials and sat it on the coffee table. Minutes later, she swarmed over the package like a plague of locusts. Devouring the tape and cardboard and holding up her prize like Mufasa in The Lion King. This was not packing materials. This was a ski suit. “Damn.”
After a small amount of consideration, I resigned myself to the fact that there was no way I was getting out of this trip. “Maybe I’ll like skiing”, I thought. That night in bed we booked flights, rented rooms, bought lift tickets and took care of all the other pre-trip necessities. Copper Mountain had the best rates on lodging and lift tickets at the time and became our destination.
This is probably as good a time as any to point out that Cecily has literally been skiing since she was able to walk. There’s a picture floating around the house somewhere of her thrashing fresh powder like Mikaela Shiffrin at about 5 years old while wearing a skunk skin cap. As much as I would like to use that photo in this post, it’s probably in my best interest to refrain from doing so.
I spent quite a bit of time over the next few weeks reading and watching videos about skiing. I was becoming much more confident that I wouldn’t have any trouble. I’d watched a short series of beginner videos before I moved to the more technical things like ski jumping and back country skiing. The latter holding my attention more firmly than the prior.
Arriving in Denver, we rented a car and drove the 80-ish miles West into the mountains toward Copper. For those that have never been, Copper Mountain is divided into three “villages” but has a great network of busses that constantly go back and forth between them. West Village (Where we were staying) is where the more difficult slopes are. Center Village is where most of the intermediate trails are found and East Village is the bunny slopes. We rented our skis and made our way to the condo to get rested up for our adventure the next day.
A short bus ride the next morning brought us to Center Village where we made our way up slippery steps to the lift area in what I can only describe as the most uncomfortable footwear ever designed. Whoever invented ski boots was a masochist at heart. Comments like “your toes are supposed to touch the front” and “they’re not supposed to flex at all” have no place being uttered in an establishment that sells or rents footwear. Stepping into my skis, I muttered to myself “you’ve got this”. I did not have this. I fell twice on flat ground in the 20 yards between the stairs and the lift.
For those intelligent people that have chosen to never get on a ski lift because they’re death traps, I’ll explain a bit about how they work. They don’t stop. There constantly going round and round, scooping people up. When you get to the top of the mountain, you’re supposed to hop off just before the thing makes its turn and ski down the mountain. This whole situation looked very dangerous to me at the time but no one else seemed concerned and we were next in line.
The couple in front of us had gotten on their lift and we had a few seconds to get from where we were to a red line where you’re supposed to stand in order to get lifted. I pushed off with my poles and started shuffling my feet toward the spot. Cecily was already in position. It became apparent that I was not going to make the few feet needed to reach the chair as it swung around the corner toward our mark. At the last second, I dropped my poles and lunged toward the contraption. Clinging for dear life, I dragged myself onto the chair. I could tell I had done well by the clapping that had erupted behind us. “Someone buy that guy a beer!” I heard the lift operator say as we were being swept up the slope.
Now I’m a big, tough outdoorsman. Spiders, snakes, the dark, being alone in the woods, redheads and other dangerous game do not scare me. Heights are a different story. I’m not really scared of heights as much as I am scared of falling. I know how clumsy I can be and I know what happens when people fall from tall things. I found myself sitting on a rocking park bench that swivels, attached to a wire rope 40 feet in the air. To say I had a white knuckled death grip on this thing would be an understatement. All the while, trying to remember what the video I had watched said. Something about pizza slices and falling backward if you get in trouble.
“What happened back there?” she asked as we slowly made our way up the mountain. “It’s been a while. Might take me a little time to get the hang of this”, I said.
As we neared the top, I watched other people exit the lift. We passed a sign reminding us to keep our ski tips up. This didn’t look too bad. There was a mild slope that culminated in what seemed to be some sort of staging area where people waited for their companions or got their things together. I exited the lift fairly uneventfully and made the short distance to the staging area without falling. The group behind us had brought the poles that I had lost at the base. Maybe I was starting to get the hang of this.
I pushed off from the staging area and made it about 15 feet before I fell. Got up and tried again. I made it another 15 or 20 feet and fell. Got up and tried again. This went on for what seemed like a mile until it happened. I was skiing. I had figured it out. I made it 50 or 60 feet and had built up quite a bit of speed before I realized I didn’t know how to turn or stop. I tried the pizza thing and my skis crossed, causing me to fall forward, hard in an abrupt stop. The tip of one of my skis (neither of which were attached to my feet anymore), caught me right in the chest and knocked the wind out of me. “Are you ok!?” Cecily yelled up from a position below me. “I’m fine!” I replied. “You go ahead. I’ll meet you at the bottom”. I was not fine. I’ve had broken ribs a few times before. I know what they feel like and that they feel like that for weeks. This was going to be a long trip.
I sat on a log at the edge of the tree line for a few minutes to collect myself and make sure I wasn’t coughing up blood. As I sat there, a ski patrol guy came whizzing down the trail and pulled up short where I was sitting, followed by a few others and a stretcher of some sort. “Are you ok”, he asked. “I’m great. How are you?”, I replied. He told me that someone had called from a ski lift and said that I guy in a blue jacket was in big trouble up here. “That must be the buddy I’m waiting on” I lied. “He doesn’t really know how to ski.” They fanned out down the trail and might still be looking for “my buddy”, for all I know. I hated to fib but there was no way I was riding down the mountain in one of those little stretcher/sleds they were pulling behind them.
Once the coast was clear, I hoisted my skis over my shoulder and walked the rest of the way down the mountain where I found Cecily waiting for me at a coffee shop. I told her about my ribs, that I was done for the day and would hang out in town while she was skiing. As soon as she started back toward the lift, I called the ski school that we had passed during our bus ride. They asked a lot of questions about my experience level and recommended a group class for 8-12 year olds that was starting in a few hours. Negative.
I inquired about private lessons. They had an opening the next morning which I gladly accepted. I was starting to get pretty sore and wanted no more to do with skiing that day. I found a liquor store and went back to the condo to lick my wounds and medicate myself.
By the next morning, it hurt to move, it hurt to breathe, it hurt to think about moving or breathing. We still had several days of this though, so I sucked it up and met the instructor at the designated spot. He arrived and I explained most of yesterday’s story. I left out a few non-vital details. “You sure you wanna try again today with broken ribs?” he asked. I did. We entered an area with a sign proclaiming it the Rug Rats course. It was full of little kids that were skiing much better than I had thus far. The course had a very gentle slope to it and is marked every 10 yards or so with a strip of carpet to stop you so you didn’t build up enough speed to hurt yourself. I liked that idea. I’ll save you the uninteresting details of the next few hours. Basically, he made me practice stopping and turning until I had the basic idea. Once he was confident that I wasn’t going to rocket off the side of the mountain like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, he said “let’s go skiing!”.
We got on the lift and he lowered the safety bar. What? Safety bar? No one told me these things had safety bars. I relayed that information and he said… You should have a talk with your girlfriend. It was very unsafe for her to take someone that had never been skiing before down one of those blue runs. She should have known better. “Yeah, she should have” I proclaimed.
I made it a point to go very slow for the rest of the day. Mostly because I knew how bad falling again was going to hurt. I ate it a few more times but wasn’t going fast enough to do any damage and remembered to fall backward. On the second or third trip down, Cecily came flying down the mountain and pulled up next to us. “How’s it going, guys?”, she asked. “Great, but I need to have a talk with you ma’am”, the instructor said firmly. I grinned sheepishly as he chastised her for toting someone who’d never been on skis up an intermediate trail without even showing him how to get on the ski lift or stop. She held up her hand and in her loudest teacher voice said “WAIT! This idiot told me he knew how to ski. He watched a couple of YouTube video on it and thought he was a professional. He didn’t tell me it was his first time until last night!” By this time they were both looking at me like I should be wearing a football helmet and finger painting. The rest of the way down the mountain and into lunch I was relentlessly (maybe even deservedly) picked on by both parties.
The next few days were uneventful but fun. A little painful at times. We found some good eats. I made a few more runs. Cecily skied quite a bit. We had a great time at the tube hill and did some shopping. Getting on the plane in Denver she asked, “Can we go again next year?”. “Sure”, I said. “You do know how to ski, don’t you?”, she asked.
Of course I do.