My wife and I just recently enjoyed Christmas with my family in Salida Colorado. This is something we do our best and pulling off each year, with the Carpenter clan getting back to enjoy each others company once again.
We are spread across the US, from my nephew in Oklahoma, my sister in Texas, the other in New Mexico, and my brother in Alaska, where I used to live. I learned to ski in Alaska, and while that may sound dramatic? to some degree, it is. But let me jump back some time before I moved to Alaska, and therein describe my love for the hobby of skiing. I say that lightly, I have never been an “expert” and my form leaves much to be desired, but? I can get down most mountains without breaking parts and pieces.
My brother, for my birthday, gave me the present of a trip to Santa Fe and to learn to ski. I was fresh out of the Marines, and was home at the time, so I said, sure? why not? Danny and his girlfriend, Rikki, showed up in Roswell, New Mexico in an early 70s or 80’s VW wagon that was held together by bailing wire, bondo, and gum. I was impressed. We hopped into the van and slid the door shut… twice. nope, three times before she would latch. Bang, and off we go. I note that both of them already have blankets out in front two seats. there are no seats in the back, just bags, clothes, and other odds and ends. But there was a piece of plywood, stretched across the back for their bed.
I sat in between the seats and blanket on and coffee in hand, we were off to Santa Fe. First gear, grind, second gear, grind, third gear, smoothly in.. finally got it in final gear on flat ground and we were moving on down the road. The only thing that was missing was a fatty and a lighter, and we would have given “Up in smoke” a run for their money. Here I was, the pretty brainwashed uptight Marine, and here is my brother and his girlfriend who lean as hard left as one can without falling off the planet. and I loved them both for it.
We pulled into Santa Fe and were at the hill at first rise of sun. I was so excited I was humming in high gear. Danny helped me pick out the first set of skis and bindings. the minute the guy saw “beginner”? He set them to release on a fart alone. and damn glad he did. I had no idea of what I was doing. I had never been on skis before, closes thing to it was inline roller skates on which I sucked, or the 10 minutes I owned a skateboard until I flew 15 feet into the air because of a pebble stopping my fat wide wheel like hitting a brick wall, wheel high, now I know why they have “skinny tires” today. and minus a few bruises and road rash.
Regardless, I am now coming up to my first chairlift experience. I manage to figure it out, albeit a bit intimated somehow. I kept seeing myself getting clobbered by the ski chair or falling out right as the lift goes out and gets up about 8 or 9 feet. (I have seen this happen) for some reason, right about that height, some people get the overwhelming urge to lean forward.. waaaaay forward and out they go. straight down for 8 or 9 feet, face first. skis explode, knees and legs get twisted in some really bad ways, and that skier is done for the season, if not forever.
However, it was a bluebird day, had snow a couple of days ago, and they had groomed green runs. those were for me, figure out how to point skis downhill and control them while have a great time in the mountains of Santa Fe. I get to the top and launch off of the lift to the snow and down the little hill.. about half way down the easy part, i catch and edge and down we go. I note other people that had gone down and I noticed how much trouble they were having getting back up.
I figured out, very rapidly, that pointing your skis down the hill and trying to stand on them is not possible in any physics related theories that you can successfully stand up on a set of skis that appear to be magnetically repelled to you or any part of your body. The skis will flee your company with gusto, leaving you poorly connected to the ski(s), or just one of them. sometimes neither. Just depends on how hard the snow gods want to laugh. In my case, they were getting started with a good chuckle
I managed to get my skis beneath me, horizontal to the mountain, with the right food on the downard edge and the left above that, now? All i had to do was push on the poles and “walla!” I would have upright stance, while all these people coming off the lift ski around me. in the middle of the ramp. I finally get up and start moving again. towards the tree line as i should be heading. put pressure on inside tow of right foot and I should start turning right…. about now.. now… now… crap.
Down again, this time? In a tree well. Ever see a tree try to eat a human? Climb into a tree well, where the snow is all but impossible to get out of. pop skis, use poles in thirty ways, toss skis up on trail, and climb.. kick, push, but climb. at the end of it? you are a frozen popsicle that just made it out of the freezer. Then the only thing you really want to do is cut the ******ing tree down and burn it to use its body to warm yours.
In 2001 I had my most spectacular day of skiing and my most spectacular yard sale. I was skiing in June of 2001, a beautiful bluebird day in Alyeska, on top of a black diamond run that met with a nice green run, that went down, over a slight rise, then cut to the left at a slow angle. Perfect for a day of skiing in shorts, T-shirt and backpack. It simply did not get any better. I had my tunes jamming in my ears, ZZ-Top, “Pincushion” and I was flying. That is the only way I can describe skiing, it is as if you are 6 inches off the ground and just flying… I went down the black diamond, steep, but not crazy, did my side to side motions, cutting speed to warp factor 3, and I was free. I came down, then was going over the slight rise, a gentle thing, just a slow rise to the turn coming up the song just got to “I’m a pincushion” and….
I am upside down, my skis and boots in the air over my head, I am still moving at about 50 mph and seeing blue sky instead of snow, and I have absolutely no idea how I got there. The next thought I had? This is going to hurt. and WHAM! I land on the rough corned up snow, skis fly into the void, poles dig into the ground and instantly get yanked out of my hands and I am going ass over teakettle down the hill, then sliding on my left side trying to get some traction to stop, all to no avail. When I stop? I look back up this gentle rise and I am seeing stars….
Eventually I get up, note that one side has a great run of bloody road rash running down my arm, side and leg, with ice crystals and rock embedded in my skin, and my skis and poles? nowhere to be found. I climb up the hill in my boots, still dazed a bit, and still trying to figure out what happened.. but I am at a complete loss. I chalk it up to who knows what, find my skis and poles, and finish the run to the bottom where I load up my gear and call it a season. Next day? after screaming like a banshee as I scrubbed the ice and dirt out of my skin, I was black and blue from top to bottom on my left side, and guess what?
Still wasn’t a bad run.
But I digress, as I sit on the chairlift, I often reflect on life. I note that each time I do that, I can reflect on an earlier time in a different chairlift and create a link of sorts across time. Usually those links are poignant, reflective in just how good my life has been, both good and bad, with the good usually outweighing the bad. I think back on experiences on the ski hills I have encountered, white outs, falls, GREAT runs, really magnificent “yard sales” where you wipe out so badly that you are tempted to sell all your gear at a yard sale (provided you can even find your gear after such a legendary explosion)
I think back on the painful items, losing my Connie, and how skiing 6 days a week gave me an outlet for a kind of pain that just doesn’t go away. It may lessen, or get packed away really well, but skiing did much to help me adjust to it in 2001. It also goes back to the highlight of 2004 where on a mountain in Squaw Valley, I dropped to one knee and proposed to Lynda, my high school sweetheart. Truly a great point in my life.
Or when we reconnected and tried to ski every hill we could find as we traveled from Alaska to San Diego by way of Key West. and we found a LOT of mountains to ski down as we went through Canada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado.. Each one having a unique mountain to ski on, and ski we did. and on each of those mountains, I took each chair ride as an opportunity to enjoy the company, and to reflect on the past, and hope for the future. But what I found more than anything else on those lifts?
Peace, happiness, and hope for the future.
Join me there, when you can, look back, reflect, enjoy the company you are with, and look to the future with a skiers heart, a skier’s point of view. and that view?
That there are no bad runs.