Friday, January 01, 2010
Two Boards (Upon Cold Powder Snow)
It’s true, the year is ending, but lovers of winter sports know we’re just on the cusp of fun, as well as a chance to burn off some of those one trillion calories from holiday fudge. I’m a bit of a poser, really, in this camp of winter sports fans, since only in the past year have I ventured back onto the downhill slopes after nearly 25 years away. I grew up in Colorado, and downhill skiing is in my blood; it’s the beating heart of my family history. In fact, without skiing, I would not exist.
Let me explain.
My parents met cute in precisely the “Mad Men” moment of the early Sixties. My adventurous mom had devised a way out of small town life in California by joining Continental Airlines as a high-heeled air hostess. Beyond her many sky-high adventures in those dashing days of flying, she cultivated a taste for fine skiing. She remembers a calendar-perfect day of skiing in the Swiss Alps, when, after a twisting train ride up the craggy peak of the Eiger, she and her friends schussed down the mountain for one day-long run, only taking breaks to warm up in troll-sized lodges tucked into the hillside. When my mom was finally based out of Continental’s Denver hub, she sought out one of the popular Schussbaumber ski clubs, where she spied my handsomely Brylcreemed father cracking up his pals, all of them brash hot-doggers in slim stirruped britches, with skis as long and skinny as their mod ties. My dad was a ski patrolman at Arapaho Basin, the perfect glamour match for my mom’s trim air-hostess chic. In those days, family-owned ski areas played Tyrolean music from their towers, and skiers wore bells and carried hot spiced wine in leather bota bags, causing, according to my mom, a lot of spontaneous yodeling. So, listeners, they skied together, chemistry turned into biology, and along came my sister and me.
Much of my family lore unfolds on the slopes. My dad taught me to ski when I was a toddling two-year-old by wedging me between his knickered knees and pointing our four skis straight down the mountain. In photos from the late Sixties I am a tiny pink-bundled penguin on boards, huge goggles dominating my face, with fear and ecstasy in my heart. Not long afterward there was my infamous independent pomalift disaster when I was too light to hold down the little disk seat and so shortly after takeoff, I boi-yoinged silently into a soft snowbank.
I never became a hot-dogger like my parents, who in their seventies still dazzle onlookers on the Colorado slopes, but carving tracks through the powder is part of my DNA. I missed skiing as much as I missed the yawning Western sky during my next two dozen years in Iowa, New Jersey, and now Northern Indiana. Last winter I coaxed my younger daughter onto the slopes of a local area, sticking fingers in my ears when friends told me it was built on a landfill, and curious to see if I could still slide on my old Yahoo 2s. I was a curiosity on the slopes, sure enough, in my silver-buckled leather boots and long, pointy skis, like some Hans Christian Anderson throwback next to the sleek Storm Troopers in the chair-lift line. My daughter loved bombing down the slopes with her friend, and I slowly got a bit of my mojo back, feeling for the first time in a long time how good plunging into the unknown can be for the spirits.
In fact, my whole childhood theology of skiing came back to me, even on those squashy hills of lower Michigan. As a kid, I was sometimes embarrassed that my family would head to the mountains on Sundays, when most of my friends were filing into Mormon temples or Catholic churches. But, borne aloft on the ski lift, pine trees at our toes and snow sifting over us, my dad would coze his arm around me and say, “How could you be closer to God than in Nature?” and I knew he was right. My parents taught me not to side-slip lazily down the slopes, but to point ‘em downhill, to see moguls not as obstacles but creative challenges, and to take the occasional jump, just for fun, as long as you weren’t being stupid. I can’t imagine better advice for the New Year. May you face it headlong, sweetening fear with joy, and relishing the wind on your face.
For Michiana Chronicles, yodeling from the highest hill in the greater Michiana region, this is April Lidinsky.