Gone: Episode 2 Pizza, French Fries and Champagne
Pizza, French Fries and Champagne
In which, the author, a 43 year old native Utahn, who has skied only once in his life, goes skiing for the first time in 30 years.
Lots of Advil.
Because after 43 years of carrying off-balanced backpacks and sleeping on hard ground, being kicked by cows and bucked off horses, being blind-sided by rogue waves and turkey-bowl linebackers, after tangled paraglider lines and tardy guardian angels my bio-mechanics aren’t as centered as they could be.
It starts with my crooked hips, which are tilted at an angle of a Jeep with two wheels parked on the curb. My off-centered hips then cause other body parts to shift into new angles to compensate. So, stacked on top of my crooked hips are three vertebrae which look, and feel, as though one has been cross-threaded onto the next, which has been cross threaded onto the next.
But my middle-aged body is powered by—and takes orders from—a spirit that still believes it’s 21, and immortal.
Which may not be a good thing.
I exit the ski shop—where I was informed that, No, they don’t have any skis with outriggers or training wheels—carrying my ski poles in one hand, and my skis over my shoulder. Walking in ski boots for the first time is tricky. It’s like walking with casts on your legs, so I suppose this will be good practice for later.
I clomp over to the ticket window and ask about getting a lesson. “Of course,” she says in a bright voice. She points to an area at the bottom of the bunny hill and informs me that my ski lesson will begin there in ten minutes.
I walk over to the instruction area. I find part of it is designated for adults and part of it for children. Several kids are already waiting there with their parents. I’m the only adult. My instructor suggests that he and I separate ourselves from the kids a little ways.
He has me put on one ski and practice a few maneuvers just to feel how it feels, and reacts. Wearing one ski and one boot he has me practice feathering the ski across the snow, and digging its edges into the snow. I see the kids practicing the same maneuvers. Pretty soon he has me put on both skis and I practice skating, turning and stopping. “When you want to slow down bring your ski tips together and form a wedge. To go faster just open up the wedge and hold your skis parallel to each other.”
I can’t help but overhear the kid instructor—only forty feet away from us—telling her students the same thing, but in a slightly different way. “When you want to slow down make your skis into a pizza slice.” She demonstrates by forming her skis into a pizza-shaped wedge. “Then, when you want to go faster make them into two French fries.” She demonstrates by shifting her skis into parallel lines, like two French fries. Brilliant!
“Let’s go practice on the bunny hill,” my instructor tells me.
We ride the lift the short distance to the top of the bunny hill, and on the way down my instructor has me practice slowing down by forming my skis into a wedge—“Pizza!” I think to myself—and speeding up by running them parallel—“French fries!—I think.
And I only fall down once!
My instructor and I take three runs down the bunny hill and I practice turning, feathering and stopping. At the end of each run my instructor tells me what I’m doing right, and what I need to work on. After our third run down the bunny hill he tells me, “You just need to continue practicing these same elements, but you need to do it on a hill that presents more of a challenge.”
And with that, he cuts me loose, to practice on my own. “Stick with the blue circle runs today,” he says.
Before we part company my instructor warns me, “Be careful today. It hasn’t snowed in a while and the terrain is getting icy. With conditions like these it’s going to make it hard to stop.”
I push-skate myself over to the Moonbeam chairlift and ride it to a beautifully high elevation (only a slight bit higher than my seats at Lavell Edwards Stadium) and exit at the top of the Main Street run.
I roll out to the spot where the flatness ends and the steepness begins and there I stop and adjust my glasses and gloves and look down upon the near-empty white space of the slope before me. There is nothing an explorer loves more than white space. I pause to feel/gather/savor the moment before I cross the threshold, and let my imagination exaggerate its expectant exaltations, and let my spirit dance its prevenient promenade.
Whew! Here we go!
I push off with my ski poles and cross the threshold into the steep. It’s really not that steep, but its steeper than the bunny hill, and I am rapidly gathering speed. Whoa! Whoa! That’s a little too fast!
I form my skis into a snowplow and slow down. Alright! So far so good. I’m going to try a turn now. I turn to my right, pizza wedge, and turn back to my left. I make another turn, lose my balance a little, but bring it back.
I’m doing it! Kind of.
You see, my skis behave like two dogs on a leash. For the most part they want to go in the same direction but once in a while one of them wants to wander off on its own to sniff a hydrant, or pee on a bush. If my skis were dogs I’d name them Drifter and Rebel.
I cross into a steeper section of the hill and feel my speed increase. When it approaches a speed I’m not yet comfortable with I form my skis back into a snowplow to slow myself down. But, I discover in a hot-flash of panic, some terrain is simply too steep for a mere pizza wedge to slow me down. I bear down on my downhill ski and turn hard, which also acts to apply the brakes.
With regained control I continue down the hill, turning now back to my right, and back to my left. It then becomes apparent that I have little control on whichever ski is uphill. I can usually get my downhill ski to cut into the snow and steer me, and slow me down, but so far, my uphill ski just planes along like a trowel across cement, or wobbles around like a compass needle looking for north.
It’s tough work for legs that aren’t familiar with such work. By the time I reach the base of hill my quads are burning. I take off my skis and sit down for a few minutes to let my legs rest, then skate back to Moonbeam for another run.
I make about a dozen runs down Solitude’s Main Street that day with increasing success. By my last two runs of the day I have become considerably better, and grown much more confident. I have more control, less flailing. Less pizza, more French fries. Sure, there were times when my skis failed to turn. I glided with courage. I panicked. I sashayed, rhythmic as a metronome. I crashed.
Until, by three o’clock I just couldn’t do another run. Solitude’s lifts close at 4, and I had planned on skiing until then, but by three my legs are blasted. Solitude may have high speed quads but I do not. When I finally sat down and took off my ski boots, my quads and calves were twitching like the hide of a fly-pestered zebra.
Readers, here’s the take away: Go skiing! Even if you’re in your 30s, 40s or 50s. Even if you’ve never done it before. Especially if you’ve never done it before. Because, unless you’re just a real curmudgeon who’s covered with a crusty rime of meh, you will love skiing.
Sure, you’re gonna fall. Big deal. You’re not a Ming vase. You’re not Humpty-Dumpty. You’re a human and humans fall, and sprawl and crash all the time. Yeah, you’ll get a bruise on your hip, and you may strain a ligament a little. Your knees and hips may require an Advil or two. Then, you’re gonna stand up, brush yourself off, and go again, and use the experience in an object lesson the next time the bishop asks you to give a talk about perseverance.
Nor are you an old dog. This is a skill you can learn later in life. There’s no rule that says you have to ski down the black diamond. I spent all day—having so much fun I didn’t bother stopping for lunch—skiing down a green circle run all day. It was one of the best days of my life! I guess what I’m saying is: if you have even the slightest curiosity, if you have the slightest athletic ability, give it a try.
And go with some friends who have never done it, or haven’t done it since before they had kids, and give each other encouragement. Again, you’ll love it!
At the base of Moonbeam I walk into the Argenta, looking for my friend Haynes. All the patrons gathered around the bar are talking about the forecast, talking excitedly about the expected 12 to 18 inches we’re forecasted to receive.
Someone at the bar raises his beer and says “Here’s wishing for some powder!”
“Maybe even some champagne!” says another.
And all through the Argenta skiers raise their glasses of beer and diet coke and cheer on the coming storm.
Oh, Utah, I love you so much! You may be the only place in the world where champagne is toasted with beer and diet coke.