I have lived in Oregon for five years, as of yesterday. In that amount of time, I had not gone skiing. In the beginning, it was because I didn’t have the greatest health insurance, and if I broke something, it would be stupid. Later, I realized I was just getting older, and my need for sensory thrills had diminished. And if I broke something, it would be stupid.
Now that I have decent health insurance, and my parents live nearby, and my dad likes to ski, I realized I had fewer rationalizations not to strap boards to my feet and go plunging down a mountain. We took a drive up to Mt Hood last Friday.
It was bright sun. Clear, cloudless day. The sky was that deep blue, the kind of blue that reminds you that outer space is just beyond a thin veneer of atmosphere. The temperature was 50 degrees.
I did, of course, have my doubts about this. I haven’t been skiing since 2005, I think. Before that, I skied once in 2004, and before that, it had been years. Years and years. I skied a lot when I was a kid. But I haven’t been a kid for a long time.
My first inkling of doubt came when I couldn’t get one of my ski boots on. I had help from the rental guy with the first boot. I wrestled with the second boot. I tried to squeeze and contort my left foot down into the hard foam of the ski boot and I realized, this hurts. I’m hurting myself right now. Like really hurting myself. I’m just putting the goddamned boot on.
I sort of panicked. I wondered, what happens if I just can’t get the boot on? I’d have to bid my dad adieu, and go to the lodge, drink coffee, and curse the departure of my youth. While my dad, who is twenty something years older than me, swished down the slopes.
You’re actually reading this post, so you may have guessed that I did eventually squeeze the boot on, with all the grace and athleticism of a hippopotamus doing ballet. I was thankful that the resort was nearly empty and there were only a few people there to witness this epic battle.
So I got the boots on, and it felt familiar and painful. Like my ankles were being pinched in a vice. A cushioned and ergonomically correct vice, but a vice nonetheless. I immediately remembered how to walk in ski boots. That frankenstein walk. It’s ridiculous. But everyone else is doing it, so you don’t have to feel silly.
We clomped outside and got ourselves situated with skis and poles and coats and jackets and scarves and gloves. I awkwardly stepped into the skis, one by one, and the bindings clamped down on the boots. It was a familiar sound. I had boards strapped to my feet. My solid connection to the earth was replaced by a smooth glide over snow.
I had another eruption of panic. I did a quick mental calculation of how long it had been since I last skied. I couldn’t remember. I recalled all the other various physical activity I had participated in recent years, and came up short. Anything? Anything death defying, or even vaguely reckless? How about even strenuous? Okay, yes, I hiked Saddle Mountain in 2011. And it fricken sucked! But I can’t imagine I ever travelled faster than 3 miles an hour on that hike.
I don’t know about you, but I’m older than I used to be. And my taste for doing activities that could cause bodily harm has faded as I tick off the decades. Furtherly, I have two babies at home. Two little babies! Little guys! And a wonderful husband who loves me! What in the fuck was I doing with skis on the end of my legs?
At least I was wearing a helmet. That’s a new thing I guess. It seems like a perfectly sensible thing to do. The kind of thing, where you think, well, duh, yeah you should wear a helmet while skiing. Somehow I had survived childhood and teenagerhood skiing without a helmet. As I looked over the gentle ski runs of Timberline, I was glad to have an extra protective layer surrounding my cranium.
The panic was primal and hot. The adrenalin collected in my elbows. I know that may sound odd. But that’s where my adrenalin goes. Seriously. I have super wimpy elbows. Like wilty lettuce.
However. Like other times I have skied in my adult life, it all came rushing back. The fear of speed and untimely death fell away as we found a green dot run to warm up our legs. I remembered how to turn left. I remembered how to turn right. I remembered how to stop. My feet and ankles protested, but I ignored them. We leisurely crossed the mountain on a narrow, softly inclined trail. The giant fir trees formed a canopy tunnel above our heads, and we had the run to ourselves.
It was glorious.
The place was nearly deserted. We barely saw other people. The weather was near goddamned tropical. It was fifty degrees! I have camped in colder weather! I left my coat unzipped and I didn’t have to wear gloves for the entire day.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Years, folk. Years since I had been skiing. Way back when I was in high school, my dad would pull me out of class once or twice a year to go skiing with him. I would go back to school the next day with ski-goggle sunburn.
Timberline was mostly easy, gentle slopes, which was perfect for our purposes. It was a total boost to our egos to acclimate so quickly. I felt no hint of soreness or fatigue, which might sound strange. But I have to point out, when you ski, you are pointed down the mountain. It would be so much more strenuous if you had to ski up the mountain. So for me, it was certainly exercise, but it was mostly an exercise of slowing, steering and stopping, Not climbing, huffing and puffing, or exerting myself.
Looking south, toward Mt Jefferson. Poor Mt Jefferson. Nobody gives a shit about you.
My dad calculated that we had not skied together since 1997. Not since we both lived in New England, before our whole family departed for points south and west. I have a photo from that day. It was in either Vermont or New Hampshire, I’m not sure which. I don’t know what ski area it was.
I don’t know how, since it’s so many years later, but somehow, my hair is almost exactly the same. I’m even wearing the same jacket.
Some things. Some things, they don’t change. It’s nice.