Going downhill, the hard way

I rocked my first ever ski trip waay back in my early twenties. At least I rocked hard against the ground over and over and over again! I probably rolled too; sometimes barrel style, or flop-flipping or even end-over-endo!

In fact, my first attempt ever to board the ski lift, was also my first crash! I wasn’t the only one upset when I fell down and they had to emergency stop everything.

My ol’ roommate Ruskin was next to me in line and we were talking. All of a sudden he yelled ‘C’mon!’ and I waddled forward waay too late. I charged to get ahead of the swinging metal bench seat but I was too slow. Instead of being in front of it ready to sit down, I was behind it. That big cold chunk of aluminum swung right in front of me, and I grabbed onto it. It kept moving, and yanked me off balance. That’s when I then landed in a heap almost off the edge of the icy pad while my buddies were laughing at the mess.

I saw my friends turning back to smirk and laugh through their goggles and facemasks while the staff had to help me back to my feet. I am sure the hundred or so people behind me, were not happy that the lift had to be shut down for a few minutes and delay their first tracks of the morning, just a little longer.

Most of the other people in line would have been rolling their eyes and frustrated that such a novice skier was in their way. You see, this lift wasn’t for beginners. It was a high speed six person chair headed up to a peak full of advanced ski runs; only blues and blacks!

It was a lift that I should have never been on in the first place!

Anyway, I did make it up to the tippy top of that windswept peak, with a couple old-timers who sped away from me as soon the chair slowed down at the landing pad. I am sure that I crashed again just dismounting the lift, then I met with my friends who were going to ‘teach’ me to ski.

I had been invited out to the mountains by ‘The Twins’ who I roomed with in college, and then moved out to Denver. These two brothers, Ruskin and Ryan, had already spent several seasons honing their skills on the snow. I had brought with me a few other guys and at least one, who like me, had never skied before.

Those Twins attempted to give some advice for only a few short minutes. Then they yelled ‘Good Luck!’ as they sped away down the slope. One other novice skier friend, Kevin, hung with me and together we tried to just stand up on our skis on the steepness under the chair lift.

We fell and stood up again over and over. We may have started to slide, gained speed, immediately freaked out, and fell to the ground. An icy morning, blue run is the absolutely wrong place to learn the art of skiing for the first time. Maybe some natural athletes could pick it up from a literal crash course instruction, but I didn’t.

After only a few minutes with the ski lift mechanisms still in sight, we were approached by a tan-faced cute blond ski patrol guide. She asked us how it was going, and we probably mumbled some un-truth that things were fine. She mentioned that she had ridden the lift up behind us and could see that we were in the wrong place on the mountain for our ability level. Of course she was absolutely correct but I felt really embarrassed.

I remember clearly that she strongly suggested we remove our skis, and hike back up the mountain to the lift. She claimed we could ride the chair back down and then make our way to a more appropriate place to learn to slide with big fiberglass sticks stuck to our feet on the slippery white surface of the mountain.

My memory was really fresh regarding the difficulty of the chair lift operation. I didn’t want to have to face it again so quickly, and take the ride of shame, back down the hill. Somehow Kevin and I agreed that we would do the best we could and just slowly work our way in the direction that gravity was already taking us.

What a looong morning we spent walking down that mountain. We may have tried a couple more times to actually ski, then decided to just unclick our boots and start walking. We descended along the edge of the run, along the trees, carrying our skis over our shoulders. We were well stocked with snacks and drinks, and we didn’t think it would take too much time. We were wrong! In fact the schnapps that was supposed to last all day was probably gone by the time we had made it to a shallower part of the slope.

Basically we wasted the whole morning walking down, when we could have ridden the chair in just a few minutes. Truly, we were given sound guidance by the cute ski patrol lady. She was trying to help us out. She could clearly see that we would be in a struggle, possibly a dangerous one, to simply move ourselves down the slope ahead of us. She knew there were less risky and more manageable places for us to take our first few turns on the skis. She tried to help, and we failed to listen.

I know that I was caught in a morning full of embarrassment. I had gotten myself into a situation I couldn’t handle. I knew that I wanted to save face, more than I wanted to really learn something about skiing. I was surely thinking more about my impression upon the minds of other people, than I was about doing the smart thing for myself. I was letting my ego and my feelings override any logic in the situation.

I am not sure that I am always as lucky as I was that day. I don’t often have people come up to me, and assess my situation from a knowing and experienced viewpoint. I don’t always get advice, about what an expert can clearly see about a specific moment in my life. I am not used to being ‘helped’ in ways, like the ski patrol gal, tried to do that day.

Even if I was to hear a sound voice of reason, talk to me about ways to avoid exhaustion and over-exhortation in futile efforts, would I really listen anyway? It’s really doubtful, that I would be open and willing to allow myself to change direction and hike back up the hill, from where I just came. I don’t think I am that smart still today.

Most likely, right now, I could be walking, step after step in a terrain that would be better for skiing. I know many days, it can feel like exhausting work, rather than exhilaration and excitement. I probably never really practiced the basics of life, and learned to naturally flow and fearlessly glide side to side, in a constant but graceful dancing motion.

Thanks to the ‘compassionately helpful advice’ (a’hem!) of my experienced skier friends, I endured all the tricks that could be played on an unsuspecting noob. We went out to the mountains as friends and we had a blast together, but there were lots of moments that I wouldn’t want to relive today.

I do hope that next time I’m on a mountain, facing difficulty beyond my ability, I can discern the best course of action for the long-haul, even if it means backtracking a bit 🙂

Until next week, keep your tips up my friends 🙂


Aaron Nichols


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