By Elaine Marze
When I was young and heard “older” people say they were not going to snow ski or roller-skate because they might “break a leg” I swore I would never be one of “them.” I hear readers laughing at my arrogance and empathizing because they once said the same thing.
When our group gathered before a ski instructor for beginner ski lessons in Red River, New Mexico I was already tired from the struggle to get ski clothes on over thermal underwear I’d been advised to wear. A tall friend loaned me her thermals, and the crotch hung somewhere north of my knees so when I walked there was a big wad causing me to waddle like a penguin. I finally got stuffed into coated ski pants that made a swishing sound with every step, like in the “olden days” when I wore a girdle that made “swish-swish” sounds as my thighs rubbed together. Between the big wad and trying to mute the “swish-swish” I was walking like I had a saddle between my legs. After trudging up stairs and across an acre of thick snow in heavy boots, my energy and enthusiasm had diminished significantly.
Trying to get the skis attached to my boots while my non-athletic body squatted in what felt like a big padded diaper was frustrating. Layers of long johns topped by stiff, water-proof ski pants were restricting my blood circulation. I’d worked up a sweat clomping up the stairs, and felt the need to stop at the ladies room, but I wasn’t about to do anything to cause me to undo clothing and equipment.
My short legs kept sliding in opposite directions trying to escape my hind-quarters. I had already fallen once and expended a lot of my body’s capacity for physical vigor trying to roll from my back to my belly to my knees. The potential damage I could do with the ski poles had people of perception slip-sliding out of my reach! All this and I was just trying to get in line for the lesson.
Finally, I was in line to be taught how to gracefully and expertly ski down the slopes. It was windy on the mountain side. This might not be a problem for some people, but I am totally deaf in my left ear, and that was the side the instructor was standing on as he instructed. In plain-speak, I didn’t hear a word he said. I just imitated what my fellow classmates did.
When it came time to get on the first chair lift, I tried high-jumping to get my posterior on the fast-moving lift but I didn’t stand a chance of getting on with any kind of grace. I landed with one ski hooked over the back of the lift which did help keep my prostrate body in the chair while trying to untangle the cluster of poles and skis. It was amazing. I didn’t know my body had the physical dexterity to do contortions of that variety, and the way I rolled out of the chair at the getting-off-place should have impressed on-lookers with the amazing poise with which I crawled out on all fours.
When the instructor turned us loose to ski the big slopes I got on the lift (somewhat gracefully in my opinion) right-side up and skis horizontal to the ground. I was a little nervous about the getting off part, but when I jumped out and landed standing up I was just about to exclaim with pride but because the snow was packed and icy I just took off through no effort of my own. I was gratefully amazed to be upright in spite of the speed I was going. It was the closest to flying I’d ever do this side of heaven!
I was caught up in the thrill of skiing like an expert. Turns out, I missed instructions on how to slow down by (I learned later) widening my stance to form a V. I sped down the slope like a speeding bullet when reality reared its ugly head in the form of the resort restaurant which seemed to be my destination. As the glass-walled restaurant at the bottom of the slope got closer I noticed people grabbing food and scattering while sending stunned looks my way. I first thought they were impressed by my ability and speed, but it began to occur to me that if I didn’t stop soon, I was going to crash through the glass. But I didn’t know how to stop or slow down. The scenario was like a sci-fi movie where the monster is coming and people run for their lives.
It didn’t occur to me to just fall down. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a large man skiing right into my path. He didn’t see me above him because he was watching the restaurant patrons running like scared rats. The last thing I knew was a great big SPLAT, and I was the “splatee”. I regained consciousness with people observing what they thought was my cold, dead body. The impact left my clothes, contact lenses and equipment scattered across the mountain. Luckily, the man I T-boned was big and young enough that I didn't break his bones.
Thank God and all my padding I wasn’t dead when the EMT’s hauled me down on a sled-stretcher! On the last day of our stay I was able to limp (with help) into the same restaurant where I nearly became embedded. The moral of this story: don’t let waning ability overrule good sense. Jus’ saying.