Strap the skis on the snake

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My daughter cried when the grill ran over her snake. It wasn't a real snake; it was a dummy made of PVC pipe, dressed in a snowsuit and a snake costume. But the grill was real, with hot dogs cooking and music blaring. Both things were tenuously attached to skis, speeding down the platter pole at Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Though I appreciate watching something like Eaglecrest's Downhill Dummy contest, I am not about to jump in and make a dummy. When I look at the ever growing mountain of laundry and the unbalanced checkbook, trying to make a dummy that can balance down a snow-covered mountain loses out. But my daughter and husband were committed; to them, there was no reason not to make the effort.

So, on the Saturday night before the race, my daughter stood around in the snowsuit and snake costume, while my husband measured PVC pipe. Before long, there was a dummy in our family room who bore a striking resemblance to our daughter while propped precariously in old ski boots.

In some ways, my skiing experience is about the same as this dummy contest. I have always cross-country skied, but I grew up in Michigan and never learned to downhill ski. I tried once in high school, but in typical teenage fashion, didn't bother to take a lesson. Couple that with the idea of basically skiing into a hole (it's flat in the Midwest), and the experience was not one to repeat.

Soon after we moved to Juneau, we stumbled on Eaglecrest while looking for a place to cross country ski. My husband needed to see only one munchkin rocket down the platter before he knew he could teach our 3-year-old to ski. He grew up in Colorado mostly, and had skied plenty before ski areas became ski resorts. Soon they had their own skis, and my daughter was cruising downhill in a full-body harness, strapped to my husband's ski poles. Often she was singing away as she hurtled down, her ski tips strapped together with two clamps and a thick rubber band. They were both sold.

I was not. I resisted, having never been drawn to speed or gear intensive sports. One day, my husband was trying to convince me to take a lesson when my daughter looked up from her sandwich. "Mom, when you are scared to do something, you should just find someone to teach you how," she said.

I signed up for a lesson the next week.

A few years into the venture, I am a passable skier (under good conditions and on the right runs). It has not been easy for me; I am not a quick study once I snap into the bindings. But I am there. And this year, it actually crossed some invisible border between duty and fun.

I could have not skied, and my daughter and husband could have not made that snake dummy. There are lots of things we could have skipped and stayed home to do clean the spare bedroom. But we would have missed so much, like the cleansing belly laugh of watching the snake dummy defy five laws of physics before getting wasted by the grill-on-skis.

We would have missed our daughter meeting her "best friend," one of the Brazilian women who spent the winter working at Eaglecrest.

My family reminds me it is better to crash on the way downhill than to wait forever at the bottom.

• Marie Ryan McMillan is a teacher and parent in Juneau.

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