Throughout my childhood, I spent a lot of time outdoors. It didn’t matter what season it was, I always found something to keep myself busy and out of trouble. Winter wasn’t particularly fun, because usually it just rained and rained and rained some more. But on a rare occasion, the winter doldrums would be replaced with sheer joy and exuberance. All it took was what many experience on a regular basis around the country during the wintertime, s-n-o-w. And usually it’s not something you look forward to after you’ve spent enough days or weeks or months brushing it off your car, or shoveling it off your sidewalk and/or driveway. But where I lived, it was something to truly celebrate! It gave us kids the opportunity to make snow angels and snowmen and build snow forts and have snowball fights, and my all-time favorite thing, tubing. There is nothing as exhilarating as carrying an innertube to the crest of a hill, climbing on top, and letting it carry you at breathtaking speed all the way down to the bottom.
After I joined the military, my first assignment was in northern Germany. And one of the favorite winter outdoor activities of the region was skiing. Although I had done my fair share of outdoor activities throughout my life, I had never gone skiing before, I think in large part due to the expense. Can you imagine taking 9 children skiing? There’s all the specialized clothing you have to purchase to ensure you’re not going to freeze to death when you’re out having fun, and then you have to either rent or purchase the actual equipment (skis and boots and poles, goggles, a helmet). And I haven’t even mentioned the cost of a day pass, let alone a season pass, or lessons or transportation. Let’s just say, by the time it’s all said and done, you’re going to easily spend approximately the same amount of money (or greater than) you would on your monthly car payment. And that’s just for one day for one person.
My boyfriend at the time (a guy who had the adjoining room in our co-ed dorm) loved to ski. He grew up near the Rocky Mountains and had a lot of experience on the slopes. On one particularly beautiful winter’s day, right after we’d had a snowstorm drop a lot of the ‘white stuff’ right outside our door, he suggested we go skiing. Why not? It’d be a fun date and even though I’d never been before, I was open to the idea. It was the end of the month and we had just gotten paid, so we had plenty of money to cover the expenses. We decided to go two days later, on a Saturday, as we both had the weekend off and the slopes would have been near-pristine. In preparation, I made a trip to the PX (Post Exchange) to purchase a few essentials (so I wouldn’t freeze to death) and anxiously awaited the big day!
If you’ve been to a ski resort before, you’ll probably have a better understanding of what I’m getting ready to explain. If you haven’t, let me give you a quick introductory lesson. Ski resorts are located in mountainous regions and they consist of trails or courses with (color-coded) ‘difficulty’ ratings. Green is easy, blue is intermediate and black is advanced. Double black means you better know what you’re doing or you’re probably going to die or get seriously injured. The means to access the course or trail you’d like to ski is by use of a ‘lift’. A lift is basically a system used to transport skiers up the slope and it typically consists of moving seats attached to an overhead cable. When you need a ride, you get in line and once it’s your turn, you hop on one of the moving seats until you reach your desired location. And then, of course, you hop off. I know this is a pretty crude explanation, but it’s the best way I know how to describe the experience. And on my first ski outing, I was clueless. I had never done any research on the complexities of a ski resort. I had seen people ski on TV and they made it look so easy and fun. Even though I had never skied before, I thought, “How hard could it be?” Famous last words.
My boyfriend knew I had never been before and was excited to be able to share that experience with me. The day started out with promise. We packed up the car and headed to the nearest ski resort. Once we reached it, we parked the car, put on our gear and then headed over to the ticket booth. After purchasing passes and attaching them to our jackets, we walked over to the lift. Once it was our turn, we hopped on together and headed ‘up’. “How far do you want to go?” my boyfriend asked as we passed the first place you could exit the lift. I shrugged my shoulders. “Do you want to get off here?” he asked again, as we approached another. “How about we take this one?” he asked again as we approached yet another. I looked at him with uncertainty. “I don’t know,” I finally said. By then, it was too late, we’d missed the window of opportunity. And this is where it gets interesting. Apparently, that was the last stop before the ‘last stop’. We were now headed to the very top of the mountain. We had passed all the ‘greens’ and the ‘blues’, now all there was left was ‘black’.
That day for me is one I’ll never forget. I ran the gamut of emotions, the greatest of which was sheer terror. When we reached the top of the mountain and ‘hopped off’ the lift, I became consumed with a fear like I’ve never experienced before. I tried so hard to ‘plough’ as my boyfriend so patiently demonstrated for me. He assured me it would let me go at a slow pace that I could control and that I needn’t worry. But it seemed no matter how much I pointed my toes together and pushed my heels apart, I could not get those skis to cooperate. And as I gazed down the entire face of the mountain and saw all of the areas off to each side that dropped off several stories, I started bawling. And I refused to move. I just knew I was going to die that day. My poor boyfriend. He was fit to be tied. He tried to console me, he tried to convince me that I would be fine, he really tried. But I wasn’t about to budge. There was no way I was going to go down that sleep slope on two slippery sticks. He finally made a suggestion, “Why don’t you just slide down?”
Bingo! My rear was already firmly planted in the snow. It would take some doing, but it made more sense than anything else. And aside from skiing down, there were no other options, other than getting rescued by the ski patrol. Ever so slowly, I carefully slid down the mountain on my butt, inch by inch, foot by foot, yard by painstaking yard. Still terrified, I continued to cry and carry on but my boyfriend remained at my side, comforting me along the way. It took several hours, but we finally reached the bottom. I didn’t have any feeling left in my butt or my hands but at least I survived. And I was grateful that I had gone with someone that was compassionate and patient enough, that despite the disastrous outcome of the date, still wanted to see me afterward. Most guys would have ridiculed me and probably written me off!
Skiing just isn’t for everyone, at least it’s not for me. I learned that very valuable lesson on that fateful day. However, something even greater resulted from that experience. Not only did I realize that skiing was NOT for me but I also realized that the guy I was dating, the one who had the adjoining room in our coed dorm, was a keeper! You better believe I hung onto him! We got married a few months after our ski-nightmare and he’s been stuck with me ever since. And there have been plenty of times since then that I’ve had to ‘slide down the slope on my butt’ (not literally but figuratively). Through it all, he remains patient and loyal, steady and true. My friends, life just continually amazes me. You just never know what’s in store. I never imagined skiing would result in me finding my lifelong partner, but it did. By the way, he still skis, I still don’t. But it works. Go figure.