A reluctant skier takes the slow path

To reluctant skiers, the bunny slopes of Colorado look more like bears. I am one of them. Some years ago, when I was 16, I accompanied a childhood friend on a family trip to Vail. It didn't take me long to realize that the hills I'd clumsily skied in southern Appalachia were molehills compared to those mountains. I drank a great deal of hot cocoa in the comfort of the lodge that week. So much, in fact, that Vail began to look suspiciously like Candy Land. Too bad my first-day crashes hadn't been on marshmallow ground.

Given my earlier history in the sport of skiing, it wasn't surprising that I was hesitant about joining a friend's recent family ski outing, even though it was in the Appalachians rather than the steep slopes of the Rockies.

It's true that the snaking mountain roads covered in powdery snow were clear of cars for miles. And there were gentle slopes waiting to be explored.

Still, there was fresh-out-of-the-oven pumpkin bread waiting to be eaten in my kitchen when the phone rang with an invitation to ski. My fiancé, Matt, was taken with the idea. "I know you don't like downhill skiing," he said, "but this is cross-country. It'll be fun."

In mock disappointment, I threw my hands in the air. "We don't have any equipment. Oh well, I guess we're going to have to spend the day reading books."

Matt relayed this news to our friend Dusty over the phone, and I was shocked to see his face blossom into a hopeful expression at Dusty's response.

After he hung up, Matt announced that we were heading out anyway: "We're supposed to meet Dusty at his mom's house. He said she has everything we'll need to ski."

"What if the skis aren't my size?" I mildly protested, but Matt didn't hear me. He was already halfway out the door.

Fresh snow had fallen by the time we reached Dusty's family home, a log cabin nestled in the woods. Still confused about how I was going to ski without equipment, I trudged up to the front door, where I was welcomed with hugs.

As Matt and I chatted with Dusty and his extended family, I glanced around to size up the ski equipment, but there was none in sight.

Just as I began to get comfortable enough to suggest throwing another log on the crackling fire, Dusty's sister announced that she was going to get everything out of the attic.

Everything? How much equipment did they have up there?

I soon found out they had enough equipment for me, Matt, and at least 30 other reluctant skiers. They had cardboard boxes full of vintage-looking cross-country ski shoes and a stack of skis that rivaled the substantial woodpile outside. There were also waterproof pants, jackets, and even a few extra toboggans for the taking.

Dusty's mom noticed my amazement at the sporting goods store that had been produced from her attic. "I've made it a point to collect these things over the years," she said. "I get them at yard sales."

She explained that she always wanted to be prepared to help a winter-weary soul enjoy the season. "There's something to suit everyone," she assured me. Sure enough, I found a pair of shoes, skis, and pullover pants to fit.

After we were all outfitted, we slowly drove our cars to a nearby trail that circled a small, slightly frozen-over lake before clicking into our skis.

At first, moving in my skis made me feel as if I was using an as-seen-on-TV Nordic track. But slowly I got the hang of pushing myself through unbroken snow to make fresh tracks.

At times, I found myself enjoying the activity so much that I ceased to notice Jack Frost nipping at my nose. And, even when I did, I was surprised to find that he was not nipping my nerves.

Cross-country skiing might be described as graceful hiking, gliding at a pace that allows you to appreciate the newly bejeweled world around you.

Our journey was quiet. The only sounds were our hushed conversations, the noise of our skis slicing through snow, and the tinkling of ice as it fell from the tall trees lining our path.

We were not barreling down a mountain without any brakes. We were moving in slow, snow motion. At this speed, there was time to smile at the other, equally muted skiers who occasionally crossed our path.

I struggled on uphill sections of the path, but by the end of the day, I felt fortunate to have been pushed out of my armchair and into this winter wonderland.

As we collectively decided it was time to clip out of our skis to head back to where we'd parked our cars, Dusty's mom said, "I've got a thermos of hot chocolate in my car. I brought it to share."

Blood began to flow back into my half-frozen face as I smiled at her foresight. She really did have everything one would ever need to ski. And when the cocoa was poured, I found out that there's nothing quite as sweet as a cup of hot chocolate at the end of a cross-country trail.

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