Monday, November 24, 2008

Figure 11's

In 1984, I wanted to be a downhill ski racer. I had just watched Bill Johnson win the Olympic downhill in Sarajevo, and I wanted to do the same thing. Apparently my enthusiasm was enough to convince my parents I was serious, so for my birthday that year, they bought me my first set of skis.

To celebrate my birthday, the entire family went to Alta. I was on my new stuff; everyone else was on rental gear. I think we were all wearing jeans. We rode the rope tow, which at the time I thought was fabulous.

My mom had done a little bit of skiing growing up in upstate New York, so she took my sisters and brothers and taught them how to snowplow and tried to teach them to make some turns.

But I was going to be a downhill racer, which I thought meant I didn't really need to know how to turn. So I would take the rope tow to the top of the hill and then get into my tuck and straightline it all the way down. Nothing but figure 11's run after run. Who cares that I didn't know how to stop when I got to the bottom. I'd just go 'til I ran out of momentum and then make my way back to the lift line.

On one run, I didn't get my line quite right and was heading straight for the lift line. I couldn't stop, and I didn't know how to turn. So I went right over the tops of everyone's skis before running out of steam. Somehow I didn't hit anyone or crash.

At the end of the day, I couldn't wait to go back. My brother, on the other hand, said "next time we go skiing, I don't want to be part of this family." My dad was with me, though. He'd been tucking it and skiing fast, which is perhaps a bit less forgiveable for an adult than a kid, but we both still had a great time. Unfortunately, I have a spring birthday, and we were up there closing weekend.

The next season, we picked up where we left off. At first I went up to the ropetow with my friend Jack, and in addition to our straightlining skills, we added jumping--another important skill for a downhill racer. Still no turns or stopping, though. Then my dad and I started going together. Every weekend. We eventually learned to turn and stop and graduated from green to blue to even some easy black runs. It was a great winter.

The other members of my family, on the other hand, were content to stay home. My brothers eventually took up snowboarding, but I'm pretty sure my oldest sister has only skied that one day in her entire life. I have to wonder if spending the whole day trying to snowplow rather than skiing fast was the difference. It was, after all, when my son finally went fast that he really caught the bug. Even though he crashed in a heap, he was just happy to open it up and go.

This year marks the 25th ski season since Bill Johnson won that Olympic downhill. And with hundreds of ski days under my belt since then, I'm still just as excited about this ski season as I was that one. So if you see some old guy with his four year old bombing it down the beginner run, just wave. Even if we run into you or go over the tops of your skis.

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