Blue Knob. Shiver when you say it, shiver when you ski there, quake when you swing there above the scariest, slipperiest, seldom-groomed misbegotten excuse for a ski trail that God ever placed on the Pennsylvania hillsides.
Stuck in space. Lost to technology, dressed like an astronaut in wrap-around goggles, big blue boots -- 10 pounds in low grav -- but heavy as your feet dangle uselessly some 50 feet as the imagination views it above the aforementioned trail, named by the ski-slope namers High Hopes, as in you know you'll never get down this, flower brain, but think what it'll do for the old machismo count.
So here you are stuck in space -- momentarily, you think. Some ski bunnette must have fallen in the cow-chute, plywood-type exit so courteously unmaintained by the $1.25-an-hour crew up top. So that's what you think for about five . . . 10 . . . 20 minutes. Then you and the gynecologist-to-be from Johns Hopkins that's sharing the lift chair arrive at reality. Technology -- in this case, all of it low -- has failed you. You are stuck in space.
Old-fashioned, in use since the good old days, ropes to the rescue. Up ahead you see the orange jackets that mean ski patrolmen, the cowpokes of the slopes. They are coming to save the day. Images of St. Bernards bearing kegs of brandy swill the head. "Howdy, ma'am, how about tying this rope around your waist and shinnying on down heah." m
"They ar-r-r c-c-coming," I said coldy. "Just a chair ahead."
Another five . . . 10 . . . 15 minutes go by, and the cold wind blows. You learn that your lift partner is from Arizona and that he is permanently laid back -- hopelessly cheerful.
But has he ever skied down this particular escarpment?
Yes, and he came back alive. And, yes, somebody who hasn't skied in four years certainly can get down it.
Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the mind-killer, I intone. If the Dune Messiah's mother can drink from the water of a giant sand worm, I can get down this ski slope. Fear is the mind-killer.
Friends yell jolly greetings from the lift that is operating.
Flashbacks shared with the jolly gyno-cumlaude: Four people have ridden this chair with me today. Each recalled how he or she sat in this very same lift for one hour and 40 minutes until at long last rescued by the ski patrol with ropes.
A woman is hopping down the slope just under us. "Julie, is that you?" queries the ever-pleasant Arizonan. She tumbles. Gets up hops again. "Didn't we meet on the tour bus?"
She hops on.
Will I hop on?
I call back to my friend Princess Leia and her companion Darth Vader, "How will you get down?" My teeth chatter. My knee caps are about to give under the strain of holding up my feet, boots and skis. "Slide down on my butt," replies the Princess, who is clad in a $200 ski parka and is wearing mascara, but no eye shadow. Darth remains calm.
The snow beckoned me. It must be hypothermia, the skier's narcolepsy, ecstasy of the deep. And I was ready now to be taken to its frozen bosom.
"We'll go down together," said my dear companion. "You first."
The rescue team was below us now. A woman and two men. "Throw down your poles," she commanded. "When you get off, just ski down."
Be still, my pounding heart.
I threw down my special breakaway poles with the ice tips.I was living on the edge. So this is how it feels to have a baby, sing like Janis Joplin, testify for Jesus, play golf on the moon. This is living. This is Suzie Chapstick.
"You first," he prodded. "Put the rope around your waist. Then slide out of the chair."
Some of the skiers from farther up were walking down, balancing their skis. Staying near the trees in the deeper powder.
"Should I hand 'em back their poles?" asked the woman underneath us.
"The lift's fixed. You can ride on up now."
Talk about you blah endings. Talk about your unrescues. All chapped lips, all zen -- and -- slope of consciousness and the lack of lift maintenance.