Hurtling Down the Mountain

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Beep, beep, beep, boop!  The countdown at the starting gate sounded its tones and the two skiers pushed off, trying to get up to speed before swinging into the slalom gates.  I was one of them.

     * * * * *

If you’ve watched ski racing on TV you’ve likely concluded that ski racers are all expert skiers, with a healthy dose of lunatic thrown in for flavor.  While the various hobbies I’ve tried over the years might suggest I’ve been sipping from the lunatic trough, I’ve never been an expert at skiing.

I took up the sport back in the mid-80’s. Like many new enthusiasts, I tried to get up on the mountain often, and took lessons to improve my skills. One summer training method didn’t even require snow.

It was called an indoor ski ramp.  It was, in essence, a conveyer belt with a carpet covering. You’d use similar techniques as with snow, with the difference it was always flat, had much more resistance (and leg burn) than snow, and catching the wrong edge might also add rug burn and a quick trip to the top of the belt.  After taking a set of lessons on this gizmo, the instructors suggested that in the coming ski season I try a ski racing league called PACRATS. Not because I was especially skilled, just as another method to learn to ski better.  Like most amateur sports leagues, PACRATS had several skill level tiers, including one for beginners.

And so I found myself at a real ski race starting gate, feeling like a real ski racer, listening to the beep beep boop and making like some hotshot trying to set world speed records hurtling down a ski hill.

Right.

It started off well enough, navigating through the first few gates without incident. Time that turn, set that ski pole and pivot around the gate, push off to the next gate – woohoo, here we go!

The thing is, there were lots of racers running this course. Ruts built up. At the turns around the gates, especially on tighter ones, berm walls formed, demanding you hit that curved pocket just right. Do it right and your skis bend into the depression – when you exit they spring back into shape giving you even more momentum going down the hill.  Do it wrong…

When I was a wee lad, I had a toy called a jack-in-the-box. It was essentially a music box, crank on the side, that played Pop Goes the Weasel. When it hit “Pop” near the end of the ditty, a door on the top would open releasing a spring-loaded clown.

Most ski videos use rock and roll for background music.  “Pop goes the weasel” set the tone for this run. When I hit one of those turns at the wrong angle and didn’t get through the pocket – suddenly I was that spring-loaded clown. But rather than having my spring attached to a box, my skis “popped” on top of that berm and launched me into space.

I am, at best, an average athlete. A coordinated person would have made cat like corrections in mid-air, orienting those skis to land without incident, and if they were lucky making it on to the next gate. I was more like the proverbial cat with buttered toast tied to its back, both demanding by tradition they be the side that lands on the ground.  My arms and legs flailed around with a complete lack of elegance, and when gravity finally had its say I became a prime example of what skiers call a “yard sale.”

We use the term “yard sale” because all the gear items you have stashed away in their proper places are suddenly spread across the “yard” for public display. I was at least fortunate my yard sale did not occur under a ski lift – such an event often leads to catcalls and derision from the onlookers, sometimes including scoring for the scale of the wipeout and extent you’ve spread your gear over the hill.  Extra points are awarded for runaway skis.

After getting up and doing an inventory of body parts to make sure they were still attached and in one piece, I collected gear. The skis had gone separate directions, too embarrassed to stay together, poles another, hat somewhere else – disguising itself by being covered in splattered snow, all conspiring to make it difficult to get my act together.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the hill, the timekeeper considered sending out search parties. The other skier had long since completed his run, and the length of my absence suggested lost hiker, or alien abduction, or another such calamity. But I did eventually arrive, covered in snow, saving a general call out to the ski patrol.

Not all my runs that racing season were that disastrous. I even managed a 5th place finish in a field of 60 “beginners” one race, and our team finished near the top of the league. (Our expert really was an expert).  But I never became a great skier – solid intermediate at best.

In recent years I haven’t attempted hurtling down the mountain, racing or otherwise. In part because of laziness and not being in great ski shape, and in part due to a dislike of driving up the mountain in snowy/icy conditions with a mob of other skiers.  Lift tickets have also become very expensive compared to the old days. But I have to admit, on a nice winter day I sometimes look up at Mount Hood and get to thinking, “you know what would be fun…”

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29 thoughts on “Hurtling Down the Mountain

  1. This brings back great memories Dave. Dad taught me to ski when I was a tyke, and this became one of our father-son traditions. By the time I was in High School, I could get down just about anything, but never with the relative grace and ease he could. Suspecting timidity as a possible cause, he encouraged me to take a “controlled” spill on my first run, just to prove to myself that I could fall and still get back up again. You described one of my typical “controlled” spills so well, I can still feel the bruises.

    Right now, my 68-year-old Dad is tearing up the slopes at Steamboat in Colorado, flying with the grace and ease of a teenager. I’m not envious at all…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I was always envious of those folks who learned how to ski as tykes, cause they always looked like they were born too it. I was in my late 20’s when learned. I can get down most slopes, but the moguls hills make me look like a klutz.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. hehehe so true. When I see those indestructible bundled little tykes snow plowing at mach 1 down a slope my knees are begging me to stop, I have to wonder if I’m not getting too old for some things.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s another reason I haven’t been to motivated in recent years – I don’t heal as fast anymore. And even in my best days what few fast twitch muscles I have only shrugged when the next mogul showed up.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am impressed that you tried racing at all! I loved your description of the wipe out, and am quite sure that’s what would have happened to me if I had every tried something like that. You say you’re not a good athlete, but from what you described, I think you’re being a bit too modest. Thanks for such an entertaining post (even if I did feel a little guilty about laughing at your pain….)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was going for laughs (tagged it humor), so purge that guilt! Writing a post is a little like navigating a race course, it has its twists and turns and ultimately it can be successful or fall flat on its face. It looks like I finished this course for a good time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I did learn to ski as a tyke (as you mention in one of the comments) but I’m still average at best. I suppose at one point, when I had more of an appetite for speed and potential pain, I was pretty decent, but now my fear of turning into that yard sale holds me back pretty strongly! Great, fun read – I felt like I was right there on your skis!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Guess we both had some vicarious fun skiing in this one – a bit safer than the real thing. Seems like as I got to be a better skier I was able to control my crashes a little more, but that was likely due to not overskiing my abilities. So I don’t know if falling scares me that much, but on the other hand I do seem to be more fragile than back in the day. This back thing has spooked me a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m glad it turned out all your body parts were still properly attached, Dave. Just as Ann said, I think it’s impressive that you tried skiing in the first place. When I put it together with your flying and your diving, I realize you’ve done a lot of adventurous things. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sailing too! 🙂 As I mentioned, I’ve sipped a bit from the lunatic trough. A perk I suppose of spending the first 20 years of my adult life single.

      Of course what we might consider adventures is a state of mind. For me, the idea of raising teenagers sounds pretty scary…

      Liked by 1 person

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