I’ve been thinking about downhill skiing, but I haven’t hit the slopes yet this year. It’s been abnormally warm in the Northeast, and most ski areas opened much later than usual. Today my daily e-mail from Jiminy Peak reports packed powder conditions, but I know the snow is machine-made, and the wind chill is below zero. I’m putting it off till we’ve got a few inches of the real stuff, a calm, sunny day, and minimal lift lines. Chances are that means January.
I wrote the following poem several years ago, when I took up downhill skiing after a hiatus of many years. When I wrote of the skeptics who told me I was too old, I really meant my husband, but I was too diplomatic to say so. He was relieved today when I told him I might not ski as much this year – he still thinks I’m too old, and he’s still wrong.
Too old for downhill skiing? The skeptics told me so.
On the downhill side of sixty, my brittle bones might shatter
If I fell. My reflexes, never all that great, were no doubt shot by now.
My Rossignols, state of the art in ‘69, were obsolete today,
The leather run-away straps flat-out illegal. Now metal brakes are in.
New equipment? Rent if you must, they said – you’ll soon get over this insanity.
The skeptics spurred me onward to the slopes.
On the first day of downhill, I thought they might be right.
Muscles screaming in pain by mid-day, trembling, weak.
My brush-up lesson an exercise in panic, my instructor a sadistic drill sergeant.
Don’t work so hard, he barked. Face down the fall line!
No more cowardly traverses – carve big, arcing turns!
You’ll pick up speed, but it’s all right – let the mountain take you down!
The falling was easy, the getting up, well nigh impossible.
On the second day of downhill, I gave it one more chance.
A four-hour twilight ticket, alone under the arc lights.
A full moon flanked by Saturn, the mountain glistening white
With dusky shadows, snow boarders hurtling by.
Fleeting glimmers of hope, elation when turns felt right.
My falls were fewer than the first time. Once, two men skied to my rescue,
Made sure I was unharmed and helped me to my feet. I have trouble too, one said.
The rigid boots don’t let you flex your ankles. It’s hard for everyone.
On the third day of downhill, I wasn’t quite so scared.
Another night excursion, a few more runs this time, and just one fall.
Carving huge curves through fresh powder, conquering moguls,
Remembering the sergeant’s words, facing down the mountain,
Relishing the growing sense of power in my thighs,
The sense of cellulite melting away, vanquished by muscle.
The tingling sense of well being and the hot chocolate in the lodge.
On the fourth day of downhill, I knew that I was hooked.
Glorious sunlight, fresh fallen snow and steeper slopes than ever.
Still the young men on snowboards, surfing far too fast,
But I’d learned to trust to fate, to share the chairlifts with them.
I promise not to kick you getting off, said one. But if I do, feel free to kick me back.
They fell often, flailing in spectacular windmill wipeouts, then popping up unharmed.
Me, I didn’t fall at all the fourth time. But if I had, it would have been all right.
Too old for downhill skiing? I proved them wrong.
I’ll always be a cautious intermediate, shun the black diamond expert runs.
But I’ll buy those jazzy skis and boots, be stronger, swifter than I was at twenty,
A Viking crone carving graceful arcs on my long slow downhill glide.
©2003 Julie Lomoe
I’ve gotten the jazzy equipment I wrote about, plus a helmet – I don’t want to end up like Natasha Richardson. I rarely fall anymore. My prediction was dead right – I’m still a cautious intermediate, and I still haven’t skied any black diamond trails. But I’ve got my coupons for free lift tickets from the Warren Miller movie, and a Value Pass for discounts at Jiminy, which is only 35 minutes from my house. And I’m still a member of the Out of Control Ski Club, which runs bus trips to Stratton and Gore with ample time for après-ski partying.
Writing this post, I’m getting more in the mood for skiing. What about you? Any downhill skiers out there? I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’re in the Capital Region. Maybe we could carpool to Stratton some Wednesday – that’s when they honor the free lift ticket coupons.