Monday, January 7, 2008

Back on Two Planks

In August, I was positive that I was going to buy a season ski pass for this year, and I began saving my pennies. Then in September, as winter got closer and the memory of last year’s knee injury began to refresh, I decided that maybe I would just get a discounted four-pack of lift tickets. So I used some of those saved pennies to buy a pair of black Mary Jane pumps instead. Then, Mike looked sad when he heard that I wouldn’t be joining in all of the fun, so I said I would get two four packs so I could ski with him eight times. It was a compromise. Then, in October when the first snowstorm hit, I changed my mind and thought, maybe I would pass on skiing altogether this year and just work out at the gym every time Mike went skiing. I would spend this year getting back into great shape and then test out my knee next season; plus, I could surely get some of those trendy riding boots with the money I would be “saving”. Then November hit, and the purchase deadline for four-packs and season passes loomed. I felt an urge. I drove down to Colorado Ski and Golf to wait in line dutifully to purchase one four pack; I had made my final decision that I would ski four times for the season to make sure I still could and then get back into it seriously next year when I wasn’t so scared.

As I got closer to the front of the ski pass line I started berating myself for being such a baby. I had one bad fall out of many fun ski days, and here I was about to waste most of the weekends of ski season inside at 24Hour Fitness instead of outside in the fresh air with my friends. I thought of the gorgeous, twinkly days. I thought of the hilarious, two-hour car rides up and down I-70, the ones when someone inevitably has too pee on the side of the highway and someone else inevitably gets a snapshot of it. I thought of how, this year, I might improve my skiing to a point where I would impress the pants off of Mike instead of always having to ask him for pointers. I thought of the apr├Ęs ski beers and the laughs at the lodge and the President’s Day weekend trips where we all rent a house and ski and party until we are so worn out that we all end up just sitting around staring silently at the fireplace with stupid smiles on our faces. I even thought of my cute helmet, ivory with pink and blue flowers on it, and the perfect way it contrasts with my chocolate brown ski jacket. I was thinking about all of these things instead of the task at hand, and in my sudden onset of ski-season fever, I slapped down my credit card and purchased a full 5-mountain season pass for $449.00, just like the one Mike and all of my friends already had in their hot little hands. I know, it is ridiculous, but this expensive investment is just part of living in Colorado. At least it is now.

I grew up in Colorado after my dad’s company relocated us here from Illinois in the late 70’s. I was two when we moved here and honestly, minus a couple of wanderlust years in college, I have never wanted to live anywhere else. The weather, with its dazzling sun and sparkly blue sky is amazing, the activities are too many to count, and the people here are some of the nicest I have ever encountered. I am a Colorado girl through and through, and I have the muttly dog, the beat up SUV, and every brand of hiking boot, camping gear, and 80 SPF sunscreen to prove it. However, I somehow managed not to become a skier until I hit my late twenties.

My dad is from the Midwest where it is flat, and my mom was from Ireland where it is an island. Neither of them had skied growing up, and so it was never that important that my sisters and I learn. Then, when I was about 10, I discovered swimming, and it was my sport. I swam on summer leagues and my school team during the winter, and I never really felt that compelled to give up a day at the pool in order to be out in the cold doing something that looked insanely dangerous.

I tried skiing once in junior high. A cute 8th grade boy organizing a trip to the slopes was my rationale behind trying a sport like skiing in the middle of my unwieldy years. This was a time in my life when my feet had already grown to accommodate what would be a 6-foot-1-inch frame long before said frame actually got there. I spent half of that day sprawled in the snow freezing my awkward little ass off and vowed that I would never waste my time, not to mention three weeks allowance, on skiing again. I stuck with swimming where I was graceful and quick like a fish. You can’t fall when you’re swimming; even if you’re a major klutz like me.

Four years ago, I met a group of girls who had just moved out here from Chicago. We all got to be pretty decent friends, and they were all getting a Learn-to-Ski Pass so that they could, in fact, learn to ski. They tried to talk me into it, and I declined, relaying the story of the ski trip from my youth and the damage it had inflicted on my fragile 13-year-old psyche. They weren’t buying it. Of all the people they had the opportunity to make friends with in Colorado, they had chosen the one who knew nothing about skiing, and they weren’t about to let their bad luck affect their good time. Within a couple of days they had me talked into it; I was going to ski if it killed me, which it totally could. So I pretended to be new to the state just like my girlfriends, and we all purchased our Learn-to-Ski packages. I took two lessons, and I was hooked. I became a skier; I became a slope-bunny; I became very angry with myself for wasting so many years not doing something that is so much fun.

The next year I met Mike. Mike has been on skis every winter since he was three years old. He looks as comfortable on skis as he does just walking around the house, and he moves with more speed and grace than I feel like I could ever muster, even when I’m in the pool. Skiing is like breathing to him, and deciding whether or not to get a season pass has never even crossed his mind. He moved here to go to college and to ski, and he never left.

Up until my fall last year, he was patiently teaching me tricks and tips to make me a better skier, and gradually, I was getting more and more comfortable. We were having such a great time together and he was such a great teacher. That last day I skied last year was the first time I really felt like a real skier, like I had truly earned my right to call myself a Coloradoan. Then, that afternoon, I fell. That was January, and I sat out the rest of the season. I was already in a bad funk that year, and skiing was one thing that made me feel free and happy, like I was a real person again, not some depressed sadsack who would never get over losing her mom. My funk came back quickly and I spent the next two months in serious pain, wearing a huge knee brace, and feeling really sorry for myself.

Yesterday I hit the slopes again for the first time since that day last January. The first lift ride up, I felt sick. I was nervous, and it suddenly seemed like the worst idea ever. It became apparent that, while my knee was better, I had yet to grow my balls back. Why should I risk falling and injuring myself again? Why should I risk not being able to go to the gym, or take my dog for a run, or play sports? Why would I want to rack up another $400 in insurance co-pays? The lift reached the top of the hill, and I carefully slid to the flat area at the top of the slope. I bent to buckle my boots still thinking this was the about the dumbest thing I could be doing. Then I saw three little kids whoosh by me laughing and shrieking, their little cheeks bright pink, their eyes smiling behind the orange plastic of their goggles. They were not thinking about torn-up knees or medical bills. They were having a blast.

I skied the first hill tentatively and spent the day on the easy slopes. I was being careful, but I was having the time of my life. Even as one of the slowest skiers on the hill that day, I still felt free and happy. As I made my vigilant turns down the hill in the direction of Mike waiting patiently below me, I laughed and shrieked. My cheeks felt hot and pink, and my eyes felt as if they were smiling behind my goggles. I ski again. I ski towards the sun on my cheeks and the crystals of snow hitting my nose. I ski towards the love of my life and an ice cold Coors Light at the bottom of the hill. I ski towards a smaller backside and thinner thighs. I ski, and there is nothing else like it in the world. I can’t wait to get up there again next weekend.


katieo said...

I almost cried reading this. How do you do that?

I live less than a mile away from a mountain, and about 30 minutes away from good skiing. And guess what, I've never been. If I ever come into some money, or maybe I'll just save my pennies, I will drive down to Colorado and you will teach me how to ski. (Did you like that I just said, "you WILL." because it is not a choice. ;)

katieo said...

ok that was funny. I just hit publish and your comment just came through in my mail. FYI, don't watch AG if you don't have some sort of DVR device (like Tivo. It's only worth it if you can fast-forward through the Hulk and Layla)

Maggie said...

Such a good story! I think I disturbed my co-workers laughing so loudly at this:

"It became apparent that, while my knee was better, I had yet to grow my balls back."

Cara said...

Katie...come one down! I will happily teach you how to ski, although I can't say I am even remotely qualified. How can I refuse when you boss me into it so sweetly? :) I will save Gladiators on Tivo and watch it over a lazy weekend.

Thanks, Maggie! I am here to amuse :)

Crabby McSlacker said...

What a great post.

I've been skiing a few times, but never for long enough to get the hang of it. I think the ski lifts scare me as much as the prospect of breaking my limbs.

But your post made me want to try it again!

How do we lose that little kid thrill of flying through the air? I want it back.

ThickChick said...

I live 1 hour from almost year round skiing and snowboarding at Mt. Hood. And I've never been skiing there! I too have bad memories of awkward trips down the bunny slope from elementary school and I don't consider flying down a mountain on thin sticks to be my cup of tea.... but perhaps your sweet account has stirred something inside me?

Cara said...

Thanks Crabby and ThickChick! I think something to keep in mind if you seriously want to try it again is that the equipment is completely different than it used to be. I was shocked at how much easier it is. About 7 or 8 years ago, the whole industry switched to shaped skis (btw, this is all information that comes from Mike, I won't pawn it off as my own even though I like to be a know-it-all sometimes) Shaped skis used to be considered "training wheels" by the pros. Now it is all anyone makes. I promise, it is a completely different experience, and so much fun!!!

Merry said...

I know I'm late (but I'm good at it!), but I have to say that I loved this post. I learned how to ski about the same time I learned how to walk (I have a picture of self on skis at 18 months, albeit not doing much), but I haven't skiied in years. It's a sign that you are a good writer: reading this post made me yearn to unearth my skis from my mother's garage and find some boots that didn't actually kill my feet.

No lie: I ran across a pair of skis and boots in a museum that were the exact duplicate of the ones I learned to ski with. That was a humbling experience. I knew my family was poor and skiing was expensive, but that really brought in home.