The first lesson when learning how to ski is … don’t forget your last lesson.
Eaglecrest Ski Instructor Tom Hall gave me my last pep talk.
“You can ski any course on any mountain if you learn to slip and slide,” he said.
“Will I be a Sports Center highlight?” I laughed.
He had already spun me around and around in circles teaching me how to, well, spin around and around in circles.
He had also shown me how to ski backward … on a steep slope … standing straight and tall … as trees and critters popped into my peripheral vision and all that was sane told me to lean forward and brace for impact.
Both these lessons were not my strong points, but they would come in handy if I wanted to see where I had been or if I wanted to impress someone who was less of a beginner than I.
But it was Hall’s you-can-ski-any-course lesson that eased my fears.
My skis quivered and my poles shook. I confessed I had never skied a Black Diamond run, that Black Diamonds haunted my dreams and that Black Diamonds taunted me as I timidly found the green and blue trail markers.
“Well let me show you how to slip and slide,” Hall said.
Up Ptarmigan Lift we went, and the lessons came.
“I like to match my ski boots up alongside the person I am riding with before we get on the lift,” Hall said. “They don’t have to know. Just make sure your boots are in the same plane as theirs. It makes for a safer and easier loading.”
The lift rocked us gently upward.
Hall stuffed his poles between the seat and the backs of his legs.
“Just keeps them out of the way when I am riding double,” Hall said as he adjusted his helmet. “I don’t even wear a cap under my helmet, there are lots of brands that are really warm.”
Hall discussed other snow apparel on the market: three –layer recycled polyester breathable waterproof and windproof pants that shift nicely from the mountain to happy hour, a hard-shell jacket that reflects 80 percent of the sun’s rays, a two-layer women’s jacket with attractive silhouette and all the high-tech trappings needed on the slopes, merino wool, polypropylene, nylon and spandex all wrapped up into one all-mountain sock and various boots, skis, poles, goggles and whatnots.
“A nice breathable waterproof shell and a vest underneath ... moisture-wicking, all-natural merino wool long underwear so undergarments smell as good on day five as they did on day one,” Hall said.
As we floated up the mountain, he talked of the different slopes we hovered above. Each run was described so simply, I thought I was heading up a roller coaster at Disney Land.
“Lets just do some exploring first,” Hall said as we unloaded. “Follow me.”
So this was heaven. We covered various runs. Each began with my slip and slide (the technique of which I will not repeat as it is very important to learn from one of the masters, such as Hall, instead of a disciple, such as myself).
“Okay,” Hall said. “Now do what I do.”
Breathtaking vistas were all around us. Nature was wrapping its warmth inside us. Eaglecrest was flowing in our blood.
“Look up,” Hall said. “Look what we just slipped. That was Waterfall.”
My neck hurt as I craned my head back to see the steep slope (come on you pros, this was my first black!) I had just descended.
“If you take your time,” Hall said. “You can slip and slide any run.”
Hall and I made one final lift run. I “puppied” after my lead dog, I learned how to reach my poles down the mountain on turns, I learned to ski like riding a bike, and I learned to lean down the mountain.
As we approached the bottom Hall said he had duties to attend to and I gave him my best spin of the day.
Hall laughed, “You got it!”
As temperatures plummeted the following days, I couldn’t resist trying out all I had learned.
I was the only rental that Monday. Winds had closed Black Bear and Ptarmigan.
“You must be crazy Mr. Stolpe,” Eaglecrest staff said. “It is cold and windy up there.”
I used the Porcupine and Hooter lifts as refreshers.
When Ptarmigan opened, (or maybe an electrical glitch caused it to battle upwards) I pretended to load with an imaginary ski partner. I lined up my boots, I stuck my poles under my rear, and I discussed the politics of mountain skiing.
I looked for skiers on the course. Oddly, the only ones I saw all wore the red of Eaglecrest professionals.
Clouds of snow blew up the mountain. The empty chairs in front of me frosted quickly with ice and disappeared into curtains of white flaky godliness.
As I approached the peak I noticed two squirrels harnessed together at the base of a pine, a huddle of ravens positioned themselves on the leeward edge of the lift building and the operator was just smiling and shaking his head.
I unloaded and headed left.
Like a kite, the wind lifted me and readjusted my flight plan to the right.
I snow plowed, I pizza’d, I dug in hard but nature had determined I would be Black Diamond-ed.
Looking back up a run called “Most” I saw my left ski proudly defiant in a berm. Farther down my under armor top had lost its sleeves and had become a vest. After another five yards, my right pole made a wonderful avalanche marker. Somehow my right ski, wax peelings dangling off like snow-covered locks, had found its way to my left ski boot and reattached.
I had forgotten my last lesson.
Halls words echoed inside my warm ski helmet, “You can slip and slide any run.”
I didn’t make the Sports Center highlights that day, but if you are old enough you may remember a little snippet called “the agony of defeat” on Wide World of Sports.
I laughed loudly. I reappropriated all my gear. I remembered my last lesson and I slipped down Waterfall.
• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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