Monday, December 14, 2015

One Cold Mess: Confessions of an Intermediate Skier

"If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?" Yes, Mom. The answer is yes.

Or at least that's what I've discovered over the past decade, in which I've gone from queen of the "Superwoman Move" to master of the "Solid Intermediate Skier Move." 

The "Superwoman Move," perfected circa 2005, is where I accidentally wedge my skis in a snow berm and eject from them--airborne--with both hands extended until I come to land headfirst in a second, distant snow berm. 

The "Solid Intermediate Skier Move," honed sometime between 2005 and the present day, is where I point my skis over the edge of the aforementioned cliff while Shackleton Expedition-level winds lash my face and two gross strands of raw egg-yolk snot dangle from my nostrils as I decide against my better judgment to "drop in" to The Great Beyond in pursuit of my more experienced skier-friends.

I'm playing catch-up here, because at my high school, skiing was for uber-rich white kids. The kids who returned from every Christmas break with a tan from the Bahamas, and every spring break with yet another tan from Aspen. For the rest of us poors and normals, skiing from New York City was simply impractical. 

The closest ski areas were hours away, very expensive, and usually featured mediocre conditions when you finally got there. Plus, skiing wasn't a common hobby of the Jews, nor for that matter was hunting, fishing, boating, or any of the other outdoor skills that could have prepared me for adult life in Alaska. (It's too bad reading, worrying, and visiting a psychiatrist aren't prized on The Last Frontier, because then you could call me Annie Oakley and I'd probably have my own feature story in Alaska Airlines Magazine).

Anyway, it only took a few months of living in the 907 for me to realize that I'd better learn how to cross-country and downhill ski, or risk going insane six months out of every year. And I probably don't need to tell you that the learning curve was steep (so to speak).

I learned to ski at Eaglecrest, Juneau's local municipal ski area on Douglas Island, when I was 29. I've never done what I'd call actual "skiing" at any other downhill ski area, (although I've fallen at a few). But from what I've been told, the terrain at Eaglecrest is unforgiving by comparison. 

Skiers accustomed to miles of broad, sweeping groomers are in for a nasty surprise when, after sitting on a cold, creaky, slow chair for ten minutes, they are deposited on a knife's edge buttressed on all sides by stands of enormous, towering spruce trees coated in rime ice, which looks like this:


The trunks of these trees and their fellow "unmarked hazards" invite concussion, and even on good days, snow conditions can be "variable" (read: shitty), changing unpredictably from soft powder to set-up chunks of ice at various elevations.

I couldn't ski at all last year, which turned out to be a good thing since Boston stole Alaska's winter and Eaglecrest never really opened. I picked a good September to get ACL surgery, a procedure necessitated by my own hubris. The previous March, I tore my ACL when I refused to accept that my then three year-old son was a better skier than me, and followed him over some "terrain features."  My erroneous belief that I could "catch air" off a piece of PVC pipe bought my insurance company a $30,000 knee surgery complete with zombie "cadaver graft," and me six months of physical therapy and many opioid pain killers.

Speaking of opioids (by far the best part of ACL surgery), frequent readers know that I'm not much for the so-called "natural high." I'm more in favor of the artificial high. Which is why it's all the more surprising to me that I get a legitimate rush from skiing. In my opinion, downhill skiing is the best high you can get without a prescription and/or jail time. That is, of course, until one of my friends inevitably utters the words "hike," "skin-up," "the ridge," or "back-country." Then I get sad and scared, and I end up doing the "Solid Intermediate Skier Move" again. 

It's not pretty.

In addition to the tableau described above, the SISM usually involves panting, slowly making one terrified turn after another, worrying about avalanches, and tumbling several hundred feet down a 70 degree-angle mountain face as an unpleasant rush of adrenaline surges through my veins and visions of the emergency room, paralysis, and my children growing up motherless for no good reason flash across my mental landscape. 

When at last I come to a stop in the oncoming traffic of other skiers and riders, I quickly roll off into a tree well and attempt to locate the one ski and both poles that have popped off forty feet above my head. I then pop off the second ski, trudge up the mountain to collect the items of my yard sale, and spend the next fifteen minutes trying to get both skis back on my feet and myself into a standing position as roving bands of maniac teenagers on snowboards whiz by me.

In a nutshell, it's One Cold Mess. But I've got a season pass, and I'm not afraid to use it.


First mom-turns of the year, 12/13/15


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