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Skiing adventures of an old publisher

By KEN LARSON
Sun Advocate Publisher

I once heard that a skier is a person who pays an arm and a leg for the opportunity to break them and skis are a pair of long, thin, flexible runners that permit skiers to slide across the snow and into debt.

I really can't consider myself an avid skier anymore because I only ski three or four times a year, but in my younger years I used to love to go skiing every weekend.

My sons and I decided we needed to create our own Christmas tradition back in 1987. So since that time we have met on Christmas day at various ski resorts in the west and have spent Christmas day and the rest of that week on the slopes. This year was our 16th and now that the boys are grown up and can drive or fly themselves. We have made the gamut. California, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and this year, Utah. The only difference in Utah was that we had to decide which slope to ski each day. In other areas we have never had seven or eight different ski mountains we could chose from. Utah is very blessed in this way. We picked Alta for two days and Solitude for the final day.

We haven't rented our skies for years but I remember actually reading the lengthy document when I needed to rent a pair one year. If I remember correctly it said something like this.

"The undersigned agrees that skiing is an insanely dangerous activity and that the rental personnel were just sitting around minding their own business when the undersigned, who agrees that he or she is a raving loon, came barging in uninvited waving a loaded revolver and demanded that he or she be given some rental skis for the express purpose of suffering serious injury or death, leaving the rental personnel with no choice...."

Of course many people want to buy the proper gear for skiing and the key to a successful ski trip is planning, by which I mean money. For openers, a person must buy a special outfit that meets strict requirements of the Ski Fashion Institute. Namely, it must cost as much as a medium sized wedding reception. The outfit includes a jacket, sweater, hat, gloves, pants, goggles, as well as skies, bindings, poles and, of course, boots. All must be color coordinated and must make you look like a giant radioactive Easter bunny from space. Thank God the in-colors have changed from the early 90's when they were pink, mint green and peach.

As you buy ski goggles be prepared to pay upwards to $50 an eye ball. These goggles are designed not to fog up under any circumstances, except when you put them on. Many veteran skiers recommend that you do not pull your goggles over your eyes until just before you make contact with a tree.

And you'll need boots, which have really changed over the years. I swear that my first boots were made from melted down bowling balls, which protected my feet, but also prevented blood from traveling below my shins.

Although I have never taken a ski lesson it is recommended and the ski instructors haven't changed much in 25 years. I remember my wife's first lesson was from a young 19 year old named Chip. He took her group to the top of the mountain and explained the basic ski safety procedures. He made sure he and the students stood there long enough until he felt that the cold had killed enough of their brain cells that they would cheerfully follow whatever lunatic command he yelled out. Then he skied a short distance down the mountain, just to the point where it got very steep, and swished to a graceful stop, making it look easy. After Chip stopped and turned to the group he ordered the students to copy what he did. This was the fun part. Woodland creatures often woke up from hibernation just to watch this part of the new skiers education because even they understood that the law of physics doesn't permit a person to simply stop on the side of a snow-covered mountain if his feet are encased in bowling balls.

Nevertheless, one by one the students obeyed Chip's command and cautiously pushed themselves forward, and then, making unusual throat sounds, they passed Chip at high rates of speed and proceeded into the woods.

"That was good," shouted Chip, as the students staggered out from under the trees with branches sticking out, antler-like from their foreheads.

Eventually people get better at this sport. If they stick to the lessons they become intermediate skiers, which means that they fall before they get to the woods.

The correct stance is an essential part of skiing. Your knees should be flexed, but weak and shaking slightly. Your ankles should be bent and wobbly, Your feet should be slightly apart and quivering noticeably in your boots. Your arms should be straight and covered with a good layer of goose flesh. Your hands should be forward, palms clammy, knuckles white and fingers icy. Your upper body should be upright and swaying nervously from side to side. Your head should be up, eyes crossed slightly and darting in all directions watching for out of control snow boarders. Your mouth should be open, lips quivering and you should be mumbling audibly, "No, No, nooooooooooo."

By now you're half way down the first hill, going 60 miles an hour, completely out of control and you're racking your brain on to how to stop. Your options are few. There's always the choice of falling but you'd be dead. There's the trees, but you've been there and that's no fun wearing those branches, and then you think of Chip and that maneuver he called traversing. That is the method of slowing down or controlling your speed by angling back and forth across the slope.

I only broke my leg once while skiing. It was back in the late 1980's. I know rumor had it that I fell off the bar stool but I have witnesses that I was actually skiing. Conditions had been perfect that morning. It was 12 degrees below zero, all feeling had left my toes and my body was basically numb as I was riding alone up the mountain on a chair lift. About this time a woman came screaming out of the forest backwards with no poles and her white ski pants down around her ankles. Not believing what I had just seen I must have leaned over to get a better look and I flew out of the lift, landed on my left leg and shattered it.

Somehow my friends still don't believe this story and I have to admit it's a hard one to believe.

I still remember 20 years ago when my youngest son was five and we were skiing together. I was way younger back then (well at least 20 years) and a much better skier. I had an awful wipe out. My poles were 20 feet up the mountain and my skis had slid 10 feet below me. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get everything together again. Then, out of no where, looking like a masked bandit, a five-year old, flashing effortlessly down the slope, no poles, smiling from ear to ear, as he lunged toward me, swished by, yelling, "Are you okay dad?" Part of me was proud of him for how well he was doing, but I have to admit that there was a part of me that wanted to trip him.

I have learned a few things over the years and was pleased that I never forgot them this year. I do not follow my kids, no matter how easy they tell me the trail will be. I have learned that I don't need to wear fashionable pink and green jackets and I have learned to enjoy the hot chocolate between runs.

Skiing has changed over the years and so have I. I have a lot to be thankful for. Mostly that after coming back from one of these trips I can return to work without anything broken.





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