Ski school

Often in these pages, I like to spout off about the good, old days of skiing. You know, walking uphill, both ways, to the T-bar wearing hand-me-down leather boots, gators sewn from animal pelts and poles whittled from pine boughs. But the truth of the matter is, I was a relatively Jenny-Come-Lately to the sport of skiing, only donning skis for the first time at the ripe, old age of 11. I know this hardly seems over the hill, but when you live in a state where most kids have their first pair of skis before their first tooth, anything over 6 seems ancient. Take my husband, who although not from Colorado grew up at the base of the Sierra Nevada. He was making “pizza pies” and “French fries” – two terms familiar to anyone who has ever endured a novice ski lesson – before he could even spell them. By the time he was 11, he was terrorizing the slopes – and his parents – with his dare-devilry and unrestrained youthful exuberance.

At the same age, I also was terrorizing the slopes – but in a much different way. I cut my teeth at the microscopic Wisconsin “resort” of Telemark – known more for its cross country terrain than its jaw-dropping vertical. Sporting the prerequisite jeanswear, I reported to the tiny rental shop for my equipment fitting. Full of excitement and trepidation, I was relieved to learn of the newest invention: ski brakes. Although I didn’t quite fully understand how they worked, it was reassuring to know that somehow those little levers under my feet would help me control my speed.

Clutching skis and poles akimbo, I clumsily clomped off to the lift, where I boarded that first fateful chair into the unknown. Dismissing the warnings at the mid-way station, figuring it only applied to those without new-fangled ski brakes, I took it to the top. I soon found myself atop “Valhalla,” a blue run that, contrary to its name, had a mean upper section guaranteed to put the fear of God in you. And without further adieu, I was off, experiencing the thrill and freedom of flying downhill. However, the thrill soon turned to panic as I realized my ski brakes weren’t working. Not only were they not working, but I was gaining speed. By the midway station, which seemed to mock me as it went screaming by, I had reached a comfortable cruising speed of mach 10. By now, not even a deep-dish pizza pie with the works – had I known how to do one in the first place – would have saved me. I focused all of my energy on remaining upright so as not to brutally rip my legs out of their sockets. I figured the only way to slow myself now was via the laws of gravity. Miraculously, I was safely delivered to the bottom of the slope, over a giant snow berm and into the parking lot, which presented the next challenge: stopping. I had no choice but to wait until I had slowed enough to execute a controlled crash landing.

Then, with overdue apologies to those in the ski rental industry, I trudged back across the gravel lot, over the berm and into the lift line for more punishment. By the sheer grace of Ullr, at the end of the day, I somehow had managed not only to perfect the high-speed wipeout but to do so without breaking a single bone – mine or anyone else’s. Of course, without the benefit of proper instruction, the learning curve was more concave. It would take years to undo the damage and learn how to stop while standing, let alone get over the fact that there’s really no such thing as “ski brakes.”

Because of this, I may have been a little overzealous in ensuring that my own offspring received a proper introduction to the sport. OK, so I had him riding the chairlift and skiing down between my legs before he was 2 – but that was just dress rehearsal with those wobbly strap-on skis. By the time he was 2½, I figured he was ready for the big time – real skis (more binding than ski) and plastic boots. Over the course of the winter, we have slowly been ramping up the learning curve, starting on the living room rug and gradually moving to flat and then barely flat, snow-covered surfaces. Finally, after a season of French fries and pizza pies, always followed by ice cream (the real thing), it was time to see how far my prodigy had come. But suddenly, as we stood at the top of Columbine, on a perfect spring day, the horror of Valhalla came flashing back. Despite his protests, I kept him firmly sandwiched between my legs for the entire run. But as we began the second run, the protest grew into an all-out mutiny.

“Mommy, let go of me,” he demanded as we again slid down the hill in a highly controlled – and absolutely humdrum – tandem snowplow. And then, against all my motherly urges, which some may argue aren’t many, I let go.

“Pizza pie! Pizza pie!” I frantically called out after him. “Hands on your knees! Hands on your knees!”

But my commands landed on deaf ears, as they often do. He was having too much fun. And in haphazard French fry formation, he pointed them down. By the time I caught up and turned backwards in preparation to intercept the flying Frenchman, it was too late. The fries folded like pixie sticks, and I witnessed what, had it not been my own flesh and blood, would have been one of the most spectacular faceplants in a long time.

Fortunately, the crocodile tears and snow-packed sunglasses dried quickly on that balmy day, and thoughts soon turned to bubblegum ice cream. There appeared to be no scarring – physically or otherwise – and I offered up a silent prayer to Ullr, knowing full well that if you want to get to Valhalla, you have to raise a little hell.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows