Once You've Mastered The Chair Lift, It's All Downhill From There

Aspen ski gondolasHumor Ski Piece

Once winter season approaches, out come the enticing advertisements designed to induce those of any age to the mountains for snow skiing.

Picture the brochures. It isn't necessary to have one in hand. You know the kind I'm describing. Skiers dressed in the latest brightly-colored designer bibs and parkas appear on the cover - laughing, talking, having a generally great time. The bold letters read, "Rock in the Rockies", "Schuss Snow Summit", or "Zoom Down Zermatt".

From what skiing friends have said and from what the ads indicate, an airline ticket and a reserved condo seem to be all it takes to have this exhilarating form of exercise in a picture book setting straight out of "Heidi", and enjoy every traverse in the process. Right? Wrong.

Imagine this. Dressing in so many layers of clothing that after the task is completed, you've forgotten what the first layer was. This bundling is somewhat reminiscent of swaddling clothes meant to restrict an infant's movement but can only be described as a pain when the bathroom calls after all those hot-buttered rums.

Once dressed, zippers have finally been coaxed up and you've made a silent promise to hold your breath for the next six hours, the fun begins.

It's time to rent ski boots. During the entire rental experience, the funniest question asked is, "Do they feel like they fit?" How do I know if they feel like they fit? I've never worn them before. "The boots feel terrible," I complain. "My toes touch the end of the boot if I stand straight. It's only if I bend my knees that I get any relief. And after they're buckled, I can't even walk, much less turn my ankle to the right or to the left." "Then they fit," I'm told.

I walk out of the rental shop juggling my skis, poles, boots, a wool cap in the event it's too cold, sunglasses in the event it's too bright and sunscreen in the event it's too sunny. Already, this event is becoming just too fun.

After purchasing a lift ticket, my friends say, "Don't bother with lessons, we'll help you. Just get on your skis and meet us at the first lift." Sounds easy. So does winning a Pulitzer at this point.

Thirty minutes later, after bending over in form-fitting ski pants that weren't meant to zip in an attempt to buckle already too-tight boots that weren't meant to snap shut without the help of someone nicknamed Rocky, all I have to do is walk up that little slope to the lift.

"Why wasn't I told how to walk up a slope covered in snow with skis on?" is the question I ask myself as I'm slipping and sliding from this side to that side, in any direction but forward. "Because you learn that in ski school and you don't need lessons since your friends are helping you," I hear and know I've answered myself as everyone else is ignoring me.

Once I reach the entrance to the lift and see my friends dressed in their brightly-colored designer outfits, I feel as if I've just crossed the finish line. "It's all downhill from here," I think with a sigh of relief, not realizing how literally that expression can be translated.

It's not until much later in my skiing career that I realize getting on and off the ski lift presents the biggest challenge to many skiers. As I stand in the lift line for the first time, my eyes are glued to those ahead of me getting onto the ski chairs; hoping as myna birds do, to perfectly mimic when my time comes.

My initial attempt is disastrous. I hurry to the white line where partners stand together, looking back over an outside shoulder to grasp the chair and then easily slide into it. But I'm too slow. The chair swings around the corner, giving my hind side a clip from which most football players would retreat. Thus, I fall into a snow bank.

Recognizing me from my first lift encounter, the operators slow the entire lift my second time around. I successfully board the chair, leaving only my pole behind, stuck deep in the snow from my rush toward that white line. So proud am I as our chair works its way to the top of the mountain, I would pat myself on the back if I were able to move my multi-layered body.

As we approach the landing, my heart begins to beat faster. The cautionary sign, "tips up", is just ahead; warning disembarkation is imminent. I remember the story of the skier on the chair lift so engrossed in talking and the scenery, while continually moving his skis back and forth, that he ignores the directive and the edge of the slope catches his swinging skis, flipping him completely out of the chair. He is last seen clawing his way up the slope from below.

I put my ski tips up, way up. I move to the edge of the chair, ready to go once my skis touch ground. I push off, knees slightly bent, about to make my turn when all of a sudden there he is; my experienced friend, sprawled on the snow with my ski tip heading in his direction.

Everything is suddenly in slow motion, giving me nothing but time to make my decision. Do I stay erect, hoping to miss him and saving my pride or do I make a sharp turn in the opposite direction straight into the safety net. It is a tough decision but my friend's health and my humiliation are victorious.

I turn into the net, entangling every limb of my body, plus my two skis, in the bright yellow mesh. The lift operator runs down the slope to help me. He can't pull me out and has to retrieve clippers to cut me out. By now my friend is up on his skis at my side asking, "Are you alright?" loudly enough so that those exiting the lift must realize he can't possibly be at fault.

"Am I alright? Of course I am. Can't you tell by the way I'm laughing, talking and having a generally great time?" I reply while tossing the last remnant of cut yellow netting from my snug-fitting boot.