Last winter my husband and I decided to take our four children skiing to Host Farm, in Pennsylvania, where we had learned to ski, more or less.
A friend of ours, who regularly skis in Colorado and Switzerland, was interested. "I didn't realize that Lancaster had hills big enough for good skiing," he said. I explained that it depends on one's perspective: from the bottom, the hill's like a little mound on the ground, but from the top it's a mountain.
The truth is that while I'd like to be a good skier, and I should be a good skier -- I'm fairly competent on skates and sleds -- I'm scared to death. I wince when I put on those cast-iron boots that make it impossible to bend your ankle, and my teeth start chattering the minute I get anywhere near a ski lift.
But the children were wildly enthusiastic and couldn't wait to try, so early Saturday morning we went over to the ski chalet to sign up. We found that we could take a group lesson ($10.50 for the whole package) or just rent equipment, use the ski lift and ski for $7.50. We also found that children over eight could go it alone, and some parents were indeed dropping their kids off and heading back to nice, safe pools or gamerooms; but much as I was tempted, my kids wouldn't let me. "We need you," they insisted.
We got fitted for boots and skis, a merely torturous two hours of standing around and trying to bend over gracefully to buckle and tighten and snap various pieces of equipment; again, the children managed much better than I did. "Wait till you see them ski," one of the workers in the ski shop said as he fastened Jeffreys boots, "all the kids here do great, they're not a bit scared."
We decided to forego the lessons -- my husband and I had taken them before, and there was a huge crowd waiting -- so we went directly out to the slopes. I hung around the bottom as long as I could, on the alibi that I had to teach the kids; but since my teaching consisted of how to climb up the hill (sideways, with the poles on the downward side) and how to stop (bring your skis together, and if all else fails, fall down), they learned quickly and, one by one, scooted away. Marci and Carrie, the teenagers, took to skiing as though they'd been doing it all their lives; Linda fell almost immediately and went to drink hot chocolate for a while, then came back and did quite well; and Jeffrey managed to tumble down, lose his skis and put them back on by himself."Well, I waited but no one came to help me," he said later, "so I did it alone. I was pretty scared, though."
Since they were all managing so well, I slowly inched my way over to the lift and somehow managed to land in a chair at just the right moment. "All right," I told myself, "you're fine, don't look down, point your skis up, don't look down, don't lean forward, keep your poles ready..."
"Put your skis down, ma'am, and stand up. Oh, oh, watch your head." An arm pulled me out of the chair and I fell flat on my face in the snow expecting to be banged in the head any minute by a chair on the way down. Chair lifts, in case you are one of the lucky people who have never been on one, don't stop, not for anything, and I've never quite mastered the art of getting off without falling.
Now the real fun began. I huddled at the top of the mountain numbly waving people ahead of me. My husband appeared, looking so nonchalant he all but had his hands in his pockets. "I've really got the hang of this now," he said reassuringly, "and I don't think Linda's thumb is broken. She's managing to ski pretty well, I saw her a minute ago. Well, see you at the bottom." And off he went.
Marci and Carrie hopped off the ski lift. They didn't fall. "Boy, this is great, Mom, we've got to make this one of our regular stops." And then they, too, disappeared down the mountain. I watched them bitterly. Didn't they realize that they might never see their mother again until the spring thaw, when it would be safe to walk down?
"Listen." A little boy who had noticed that I was turning blue from cold (or fright) came over to offer some advice. "I just learned to ski today and I think that if you just turn around and point your skis down the hill" -- he called it a hill -- "you'll go down like the wind." Big help! I knew that, which was why I'd been standing sideways for what seems like hours. I had no desire to go like a crab, much less like the wind.
But I was getting hungry, so I slowly turned around. "Bend your knees!" my mind shouted at me as I began to move. "Lean forward, don't let your skis cross. You're doing it! You're skiing! Hooray! You're skiing". "Go, Mom, go," a voice shouted. I looked up, waved and toppled over in a sprawling heap, poles flying out in all directions -- a very bad thing to happen. All alone in the world, or so it felt, I crawled around the mountain searching for the poles, no easy thing for a near-sighted lady with eyes full of tears turning into icicles.
"Yodaledee-oo," my husband called cheerily as he went by overhead on the ski lift. "There they are Barb, come on, you can do it." I gritted my teeth, found my poles and, after only nine more tries, counted grimly, I managed to stand up again and ski on down to the bottom.
We stayed on the slopes the entire day and were exhusted that night. The next day we went out to another hill where there were sleds and toboggans and ski bicycles, more my speed. The equipment is free, the only catch being that what you ride down you drag back up, and that hill also turns into a mountain after a few climbs.
We plan to go back this year -- I feel braver -- but waited for cold weather; the snow is man-made, and if the temperature is much above freezing the machines don't run.
I think I'm going to ski this year. On the other hand, maybe I'll just skate and swim.