Thursday, January 12, 2006
As soon as I could walk, I was strapped to Snoopy skis. I’d glide down the mountain in between my dad’s legs, my arms wrapped around his muscular thighs for additional stability. I also spent mountain time in ski school. There'd be a long ribbon knotted to my pom-pom hat with an inflated helium balloon tethered at the other end. I’d learn important things like stopping without resorting to the snowplow and how to hop off the chairlift so I didn’t end up going back around.
With age came confidence. I stopped taking lessons and started going at it without the constant guidance of an instructor. I’d ride up to the top of the mountain with my dad. We’d perch at the edge of a black diamond run and he’d peer out at the path ahead of us.
“Paige, this is going to be tough and it isn't a race. Take your time and stop if you need to. Okay? Paige? Paige???”
I was already out the gate and halfway down the slope. With my knees bent and my tiny mitten clad hands resting upon them, I swooshed toward the lift line. In between giggles, I'd stick my tongue out to catch a stray snowflake with the tip of my tongue.
Every winter was the same until my dad got sick. When maintaining your balance on solid pavement is a challenge, strapping two sticks to your feet and traversing snow and ice isn’t the smartest idea. My parents made a last ditch attempt at maintaining the family skiing tradition. We headed to Greek Peak in New York because, though the slopes were nice, they were the only mountain within a reasonable drive with a handicap ski program. I’m not sure if my dad was too weak or too humiliated. We never skied again.
I decided last month that I wanted to give downhill another go. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it but there was something in my bones drawing me back to the mountain. I got up on Saturday morning and dressed in my recent snowy purchases. Layered with long underwear and wool, I drove the stretch of highway that passes through the Poconos. I changed into the rest of my gear in the parking lot, made my way to the ticket window and handed over my credit card in exchange for a lift ticket and rentals.
“Rate your abilities. 1, 2 or 3.”
“I have no idea. Skied every weekend for ten years but haven’t been on a mountain in fifteen.”
“Beginner it is.”
I walked out of the rental shop, bruised ego and all, and entered onto dirty snow cluttered with people. I carried everything over to a remote area and took a deep breath, lowering the skis to the ground and setting them out for observation. I stared at them for a few seconds. I couldn't remember if there was a specific ski for the left or right. It took a little bit more time for me to confirm the bindings were in the right position. Unwilling to give up before even trying, I finally clipped the boots into the bindings and made my way over to the bunny slope, terrain I hadn’t bothered to ski since my Snoopy days.
The tips of my skis hovered at the brink for a few seconds. With a gentle push off the mismatched rental poles, I started to make my way down. My legs were tense, my arms were stiff and I could tell I was leaning too far back in my boots. Halfway down, I pulled off to the side and smiled. I did it. And I did it all without falling. I grabbed an intermediate trail for the rest of the descent and pulled into the lift line like it was old hat.
I skied about twenty runs that day, each one interrupted with a mid-slope stop. I'd pull over to mentally prepare for an icy patch or to make sure a snowboarder wouldn’t come buzzing past unexpectedly. It was during one of those pauses that I saw a dad skiing down the mountain with his young child tucked between his legs. I smiled a big smile and tried to swallow down the lump in my throat. The father smiled back when he caught my glance and went about his fatherly duties.
After settling into my car and pulling onto the highway, I rang my dad on his cell phone. My mom quickly stole the phone out from him to ask about my adventures. Had the bindings changed? Was the mountain crowded? What brand were the rental skis? What was the going rate for a lift ticket? She tossed the phone back to my dad because she had to run into a store they were double parked in front of.
"The most important question I have for you is this. Was the hot chocolate as amazing as I remember?
"Didn't have any."
"That is not how I raised my daughter. The whole point of skiing is the whipped hot chocolate reward. Even still, I’m really glad you went. It means a lot.”
“I know dad. It was like old times. I can't wait to get back out on the slopes again. Just wish you could have been there with me.”
"Me too, PJ. Me too."