For This Social Skier, It's All Downhill From Here

By

My friends are already talking ominously about skiing. One of my roommates joyfully remarked today that he'd heard there's already snow on Killington.

A shiver went down my spine. Oh, I'm fine in cold temperatures. But I'm going to let you in on something: I'm really only a social skier.

The thing is, if my friends weren't going, I'd no more buckle a couple of slippery things on my feet and barrel down a mountain than I'd spend a month on the Mir space station.

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My skiing career started inauspiciously enough. In college, my best buddy, Jeff, decided it was time to get me on the slopes. So we set off with his family to New Hampshire.

I started out with a ski lesson, thank goodness. It was only moderately humiliating to discover that I was 85 to 90 percent taller than the rest of the people in ski school.

That's right: They were little guys and gals. Kids. The kind of folks you see ricocheting down the slopes like a pinball on a skating rink.

I'd comfort myself with the words: lower center of gravity.

After my lesson, Jeff took me on some runs down the mountain, during which I managed not to provide work for the ski patrol. So he decided it was time to take me down something harder - a task make easier by the fact that I didn't fully understand the implications of all those little black diamonds on that sign.

Fortunately, I immediately learned what has become for me the first lesson of skiing: If the slope doesn't look survivable, take it on your behind.

My next ski weekend was some years later. Nothing happened that ended up getting me into the papers, but I do remember my last run: It was late in the afternoon, and the young woman I was skiing with and I found ourselves on a slope that was entirely a mixture of ice, large protruding rocks, and muddy moguls.

I watched as she literally skied her way into the sunset. But I was stopped. There was absolutely no way I could go any farther. Recognizing that it could be days before enough snow accumulated for me to have an adequate base on which to ski down, I took off my boots and walked.

For years, with this memory remarkably fresh, I rarely skied. But then something happened. I decided I was missing out. My friends were having a great time in the enchanted north, and I was back home shoveling my parents' driveway.

So I started skiing again. I bought skis, boots, poles. I subscribed to a super-cool ski magazine - one where it looks as if everyone's ski outfit is painted on. I went on ski vacations. (Ask me about skiing through the field of trees at Lake Tahoe. I'm finally able to talk about it.)

The night before leaving on such trips, I'd spend several peaceful hours wrestling my ski rack onto the car. Then, after work on Friday, I'd join the others and we'd get in the long, grim lines of traffic heading north. (Is it me, or do all the other ski drivers actually look like Mr. Freeze from the Batman movie?) Finally, after a sleepless night on the floor of a ski condo near the hot-tub brine, I'd join my friends and we'd "hit" the slopes.

At the lift lines, I felt like one of those bottles in the films you see about soda factories - part of a big jumble knocking together before finally being funneled into neat lines.

On the lift itself, my "favorite" part was when it would mysteriously stop and I'd be left dangling in the chilly wind, speculating whether or not it was possible to jump to safety. During a particularly long pause, I remember being comforted by the idle chatter of a completely unconcerned nine-year-old. I could just see the headline: "Boy talks man out of jumping off ski lift."

After skiing (or sometimes falling) off at the top, I'd gamely do what all my senses were screaming at me was a totally bad idea: Plummet down the mountain.

I was living a lie. I was passing myself off as a skier.

LAST winter, after enduring, rather then enjoying, another ski weekend, I became contemplative. Then it struck me like a low branch on a triple-diamond slope: I don't have to go skiing if I don't enjoy it. That's right, I actually wouldn't ski. Former President Bush doesn't eat broccoli, does he?

I've been savoring the idea ever since. It gives me a real cozy feeling, thinking about all those skiers breaking land-speed records to get down some icy mountain only to hop right back on a ski lift to do it again. And I'll be ... anyplace else.

So I've decided that in a few weeks, when some friend asks: "Hey, you wanna go up to the slopes this weekend?" I'll say, "Count me in."

But while they're out brushing bark off pine trees, I'll be back in the condo doing something I really enjoy: Reading a book.

Hey guys - can I heat up the cider for you?

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