As one who speaks from the experience of breaking his leg while skiing on Canada's Mont Tremblant a few years back, I have a few timely words for those with the bad luck to suffer injury on the ski slopes in the season ahead.
First of all, if you think you're going to be greeted with the respect due a fallen hero, forget it.
If it's sympathy you want, fall off a ladder while cleaning leaves out of the gutter (never mind that you'd had one beer too many before climbing that ladder in the first place) or tumble down the cellar stairs. Friends, loved ones and nodding acquaintances will be decently solicitous.
But break a leg pursuing a sport that predates the birth of Jean-Claude Killy by some 4,400 years, and the merriment of these same friends, loved ones and nodding acquaintances knows no bounds. The virtually universal reaction I got was not unlike the reply of the late Everett McKinley Dirksen when he was once asked about the chances of significantly changing the way Congress operates:
"Ha, Ha, Ha, and I might add, Ho, Ho, Ho."
A dowager's reaction to my injury, however, was somewhat different. When I told her "skiing," in reply to her question about the cause of my incapacitation, she responded somewhat approvingly: "How chic."
Which brings me to the point that if you must have a skiing accident, pick a chic resort. St. Moritz or Gstaad would be ideal. So would Vail or Aspen in this country. Mont Tremblant isn't a bad place, socially speaking, to have an accident. More than one of my skiing friends commiserated that "it was a good mountain to fall on."
In addition to picking a socially acceptable slope on which to break your bones, don't hesitate to exaggerate a bit about how you were done in -- or at least learn when to keep your mouth shut.
If, for example, you were bowled over by a 9-year-old schussboomer while waiting patiently in the liftline, overlook this detail of your misfortune. Remember, the one word "skiing" seems to satisfy 99 percent of the questioners (most of whom couldn't tell a sitzmark from a T-bar).
And whatever you do, don't let it be known that you broke your ankle or leg, say, stepping off the curb in front of a Vail motel, as one of Washington's better known wire service correspondents did one Christmas not too long ago. Just say that your accident occurred in Vail and people will assume that you were injured on the slopes. And if former president Ford happens to be skiing there at the same time, your story is automatically embellished.
During the many weeks I hobbled about, first on crutches, then on a walking cast, preceded by some 10 days abed cursing the fate that retired me from the ski slopes for the season, I became somewhat of a philosopher.
I told myself quietly and convincingly that it could have been worse. I could have broken my back -- or even my neck. After all, I argued, a broken leg isn't the worst thing that can happen to you. Someone (a wise old Chinese?) has said that halitosis is better than no breath at all.
I learned that by not running to catch a bus or crossing the street against a red light to save 30 precious seconds -- things you don't do too well on crutches -- you have a little more time to examine hitherto unnoticed qualities of a fine old building; a little more time to admire the soft rays of an early spring sunset; a little more time to reflect on your fellow human beings -- most of them running to catch a bus or crossing the street against a red light to save 30 precious seconds.
I learned the joy of the unrestricted freedom that comes from sleeping in a night shirt -- I couldn't get my pajama leg over my cast.
I learned to appreciate more the artsy-craftsy skills of a loving wife who designed and knitted me a blue bootie to wear over my walking cast to save my tender toes from frostbite and to keep the cast itself from looking as if I had dragged it through the gutter. I will confess, however, to a little peevishness when some of my associates demanded to know if the bootie was knitted before I flew off on my ill-fated trip.
And, finally, I learned to respond with equanimity to those nosy friends who wondered aloud how sex was in a cast. I simply recited the old maxim that when it is good, sex is very, very good, and when it is bad, it still isn't TOO bad.
One of the rituals accompanying recovery from a broken limb is providing white space on your cast for the random musings of relatives and friends.
There will always be a wag who will write, "Some people get all the breaks." The simple signature "Janie" evokes an aura of mystery: Maybe a secret love? Although you know full well that the fraulein who wrote Ich Liebe Dich didn't really have her heart in it, the declaration is an invitation to a bit of pleasant fantasizing.
But the literary creation I liked best was penned by my ski-loving daughter -- the one with whom I limped down the church aisle on a February wedding day set long before her father became hors de combat. In perfect script, if imperfect meter, she wrote painstakingly:
May the moguls gently meet you,
May the wind be at your back;
May your falls be soft as powder,
May your traverse show no lack.
And as you schuss again next year,
May the ski patrol be near!
I have no message on how to ski and stay healthy at the same time except this:
For certain intermediate skiers who think they're ready for the advanced trails, remember Andrew Jackson's instructive advice at the Battle of New Orleans, "better elevate them guns a little lower."
Lafe Allen is a Washington free-lance writer.