Can I ski?

By Bill Roesing | Apr 07, 2010
Courtesy of: Han Ji Chang Bill Roesing

So I think I can learn to ski. Or perhaps it is better stated that I should learn to ski. After all, I just moved to Maine. That is why I find myself in the equipment room of the Snow Bowl. I have come to learn to ski.

The room is small, noisy and comfortably chilly -- the comfort is from the layers of clothing that everyone wears.

The room serves as a kind of nerve center for the operation of equipping the incoming crowd with the necessary accoutrement for being airmailed to the top of the hill so that each skier can put on a helmet and slide back down. Scores of people of all ages are doing it. How hard can it be?

The room is divided by function and equipment type. There are shelves of boots and helmets, racks of skis of seemingly all sizes and shapes, and corners filled with poles. The four people in the room who are not dressed for leaving it, run it. They are quiet, proficient and pleasant -- which is a good thing because two classes of fourth-graders and accompanying parents and teachers are pouring out of two buses.

Among the desultory chatter beneath the constant questions and answers of the managers, I hear one adult tell another that fourth grade is the age when children can follow directions and also learn to execute them. I wonder if there is a statute of age limitations on that rule.

Many of the children seem to know exactly what to do, and how to do it. But I, a 63-year-old man about to take his second lesson, know the first, but not the second. The task seems simple: put your boots on. I did it the last time with some help. Everyone around me is doing it with a few exceptions. Indeed, I am able to do it with only a little help this time. But it takes half an hour.

The process reminds me of how awkward the introduction of this skill set seems to be. In order to prepare to ski, one is virtually denied the ability to walk. The boots are huge, heavy and rigid. But so be it. They keep you from breaking an ankle, don't they?

As I step back outside, the scene changes completely. It is sunny, calm, almost warm. I feel like a 2-year-old. Everyone seems to move around effortlessly. I think I might fall down at any moment -- not from skiing, just from walking with these contraptions on my feet.

I make it to the area where the beginners meet their teachers. Giana, my teacher, sees me and waves. She is finishing a lesson with a young girl. The student gets constant encouragement from both her teacher and nearby family. Giana gave me the same encouragement last week. "Now you're skiing. This is great," she repeatedly said, smiling.

And it is easy this day to pretend this is true. All the elements are in place. Look up and there is a genuine ski slope. To the right is what they call a rope tow, to pull beginners to a point about 150 yards up a gentle slope called the Mitey Mite. To the left is the chairlift taking an endless line of folks to the top of the hill.

A less than subtle dress code distinguishes the lines. The chairlift is chosen by people who look as if they are being airlifted to the top of Whistler Mountain at the Vancouver Olympics. The young Mitey Mite crowd is dressed for a snowball fight, as am I.

A few minutes later, Giana comes over and asks whether I am ready. Such a complex question. But I say, "Sure." She explains that we can start going down the very slight slope below the Mitey Mite. "You will turn left and right," she says. "You do not need to stop until the bottom, but the turning will be how you brake. Never ever use the poles to brake."

Giana, a slender 25-year-old with an almost constant smile, uses a ready chuckle to reply to every expression of apprehension.

As the lesson proceeds I am indeed going farther and faster, but barely faster. She assures me that I am progressing very well. She argues that as I gain speed, exhilaration will replace apprehension. Fun will overwhelm fear.

Well, she loses that argument. I am inherently cautious in physical activity of any sort. I suspect that tendency was ingrained by the time I was walking into my high school graduation, first in line, among 1,200 students, ordered by height.

Can I ski? I doubt it. Should I ski? I should if I can. But I probably can't. My family is ecstatic.

Bill Roesing lives in Camden.


 


 

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