This is for those who, for one reason or another, never put on a pair of skis until the bloom was already off their sage. It is a pep talk for the easily discouraged and for those 40 or older -- two frequently overlapping categories. Stick with it. You can do it. I never was on skis until I was three winters shy of 40, and now, four winters later, I can say I have never been sorry; a little sore and embarrassed from time to time, but never sorry.
There certainly are much quicker ways to learn than I did -- one-hour lessons once a week at Spitzingsee, a small resort south of Munich where I live. For the first few weeks the thing that gave me the most trouble was getting up.
It was some time before I realized that someone with his feet locked onto two long boards cannot simply roll over on his knees and push himself up from there. My instructor got down on the ground with me -- to show how easy it was.
The next barrier was one of momentum, or should I say nonmomentum? I could go, but I couldn't stop. Tony, my instrctor, would leave me standing on the top of what now seems like a very small hill while I watched him go down it in a perfect zigzag pattern. When it was my turn, my zig was terrific. My zag did not exist. I got going incredibly fast, got incredibly scared and then went sailing right at the people waiting at the lift. Solution to dilemma? Fall.
Falling on purpose usually was accomplished about two centimeters before mutilation of self and innocent second and third parties would have begun.
The no-zag problem persisted for a month or so before time and patience and practice helped me master that one, too. In my own fashion, of course.
The next winter I went back for more, two-hour lessons every Saturday with a yound instructor named Rudi. Rudi knew a lot about skiing and absolutely nothing about life. During one of our trips down the slopes, he bawled me out.
"Why are you always stopping?"
"Because I get going too fast."
"You can never get going too fast."
"How old are you, Rudi?"
"Well, I'm twice your age and believe me you can get going too fast."
Despite such basic philosophical differences, I was a much better skier at the end of the season. The third winter my lessons were limited to random tips from friends.
It should be obvious by now that I am far from being an excellent 40-year-old skier. True, but I have picked up some pointers which might help those in their middle years just starting out.
When you are driving to a skiresort for the first few times, do not under any circumstances listen to the radio. I once heard Don McLean's "American Pie" while going to a lesson and that line about "this will be the day that I die" kept ringing through my head.
There is no need to be intimidated by young boys only bushel-basket high who zip around you wearing crash helmets. Scream at them! "Why aren't you in school?"
Chair lifts and T-bars are inventions of the devil. Ski instructors, not a particularly saintly lot always are very vague about how the average human being is supposed to get on and off the things. I recommend repentance and prayer during these critical times of your life.
Even if you look awkward on skis and awful in a ski suit, try to sound good. Make a lot of noise when you're standing at the top of a run with other skiers. Kick your boots together 20 or 30 times. Use your poles as sledghammers to pound your boots, your skis and the enemy, the snow. After you've done all of this step into your bindings. Good bindings are loud bindings. When your heel locks in place there should be an explosion equal to 3.5 on the Richter scale. (And don't forget you have two feet.) By this time everyone else should be well on his way down the mountain. In case there is still a straggler up there with you, start your whole routine over again. If he or she is still around when you've done it a second time, better drop the pretense and prove you are a beginner: Take the end of one of your poles and try to clean out your ears.
The most important pointer of all: Don't believe everything friends and ski instructors tell you. On any given day there are easy-looking runs that are over your head, and it is possible, particularly at 40, to get going too fast.
At almost any speed though, there is nothing else like it.