I spent a day skiing this past week at Red Lodge in Montana. It was pretty much my first time skiing, since I don’t really count the time back in 2000 when a close friend convinced me to spend a few hours at Snowbowl just outside my hometown in Elko, NV. Snowbowl is not so much a mountain, as much as a medium-sized hill. What I remember most vividly about my first experience skiing at Snowbowl ten years ago is that I walked away (barely) with a couple of twisted knees – injuries that continued to mildly plague me for the next couple years.
But Red Lodge isn’t kidding around, and I was pretty freaked out by the size of this mountain. I was convinced I was going to ride home in an ambulance after snapping both legs backwards or something. But do not fear, dear readers, this is a story of victory and triumph, which I will relate to you in exquisite detail:
Our adventure started off with an hour-long wait at the ski rental shop. Waiting was frustrating, but I was secretly happy to have an extra few minutes with my knees while they still worked. Skis in hand, we finally made our way halfway up the mountain for the first time on the ski lift.
We chose an easy way down for our first run – a green circle run, which the locals tell me “are for chumps”. I did pretty well, although I fell a few times. And fell. And fell. And fell.
But then I started falling less and less, and most of my falls were semi-controlled and not too big a deal. And after a few times on the chump runs, I was feeling ready to take on a harder challenge – the blue square runs (which the locals tell me are “also for chumps”, but that’s just because they’re ass-holes).
I proclaimed, “I will do ALL of the runs!” and directed Mel to lead me higher up the mountain to areas that were visibly steeper and narrower. When we got off the lift at the top of the mountain, we chose an out of the way run called “Barriers”, which proved to be an appropriate name for Satan’s gift to skiers.
The first 100 feet of this run were fine. Smooth skiing, not to steep. But then it got steeper, and we figured out why it was named “Barriers.” Moguls – massive snow warts that mar the face of an otherwise perfectly good ski run.
Then the terror began to set in. What was I doing on this hill? What am I doing with these giant popsicle sticks strapped to my feet? Who the hells idea was this? I was in over my head.
The next few hundred feet were accomplished about 20 feet at a time, with me falling flat on my face “to rest” between each segment. After about 20 minutes of this, I was finished with “Barriers”. Emotionally, I mean – I was physically still towards the top of this bastard mountain with no other way down. I’d used up all my four-letter words, and cursed all the deities I could remember. I’d twisted my knees about a dozen times already.
I looked around for sharp sticks. “If I could jam one of these into my leg far enough, they’d have to send someone up to slide me down the mountain in a little sled,” I thought. No such luck. Mel had noticed that I was “taking a break” and was watching me. I’d have a hard time explaining it to her if she watched me maim myself.
Cranky, tired, and frustrated after my 200th fall of the day, I swallowed my pride, took off my skis, and crawled on all-fours to the next run over – an easier run. Something more appropriate for a chump like myself. Confidence shattered, I slowly made my way down the mountain, falling several more times, and filling my pants with snow.
We quit for lunch, and as my muscles cooled, they became stiff and sore. I was in sorry shape – emotionally drained, and physically weak. But the day was only halfway done.
After lunch, we continued to ski, and I continued to fall. In fact, my worst performance yet came after lunch. Falling all over the place, and on mild hills that I shouldn’t have had any problems with, things were looking bleak.
But like I said, dear reader, this is a story of victory and triumph. Not over the mountain, however, but over myself. In no sense did I “conquer the mountain” or “improve my technical skills through practice and patience”. But I did continue to ski until dusk, picking myself up when I fell, and silently rejoicing at the sight of the “slow ski zone” banners at the bottom of each run. I am not good at skiing, but I finished the day without intentionally injuring myself so that I could spend the rest of the day in the warming hut sipping cocoa. I got back up every time I fell, and walked away at the end of the day, albeit with very sore and swollen knees. And that, dear reader, is a victory.