“I don’t think that you enjoy anything until you’re good at it,” says one of my oldest friends, trying to entice me to move out of the children’s ski area.
It is the spring of 2000, that sweet spot in the aughts. The fears about the turn of the new century have fizzled and September 11th hasn’t rocked our world yet. My junior high school buddy and I are in beautiful Lake Tahoe for a long weekend. Each of us is negotiating one of life’s many curveballs; me a divorce, he a law firm move. Neither of us has ever been to Tahoe so we meet there to retreat and rejuvenate – and try something new.
Lake Tahoe is the perfect resort for an almost-single 35-year-old to learn a new sport. In theory. In practice, despite all of the slates I’d wiped clean that year, and the new experiences I’d pursued – like my first ski trip – my idea of adventure never, ever included phrases like “death defying”, or “speeding like a bullet.” Even in my rebellious youth, my go-to move was mostly talking back to my mother and breaking curfews. Often. Even when staying out late, I’d never done anything that required more than a pro forma waiver. Ever.
“What about my persona,” I remind him, “says I would in any way, shape or form enjoy barreling down a snow-covered mountain at warp speed?”
“You’re in an emotional growth spurt,” he replies. “Try it.”
“Have we really been friends since eighth grade?”
“Yup, 22 long years.”
Through crushes – on each other briefly and never simultaneously – dating, college acceptances and rejections of all sorts – our friendship has been a rock. I was there at his law school graduation when the birth mother he’d found only a couple of years earlier reached across me to grab his father’s hand. “Thank you,” she said, shaking his hand gratefully, “you did good,” as we watched their son receive his diploma. The beauty of that moment always brings tears to my eyes.
We arrive in Tahoe on Friday morning and take a ski lesson that afternoon. “French Fries are for speed,” says our instructor. “Pizza, slows you down. “
Junk food is how novice skiers are introduced to the basics. Forming a triangle with one’s skis, like a slice of pizza, slows your descent down the mountain, while holding them in straight parallel lines, like two French Fries, allows gravity to whisk you down the slope. Fast. My pal, always the better student, learns enough in these couple of hours to consider actually skiing down an actual slope. I manage to stand on the skis while holding my poles aloft. I consider said balancing act a victory.
“Okay, fine. You stick with the munchkins,” he says. “I’m going to ski.” And off my supportive pal, the one my NYC doorman called my brother when he’d camp out at my place between semesters of law school, heads for the slopes.
The 10 and under crowd (I have always been young at heart) are my tribe. I line up with the new, little skiers for the Magic Carpet.
“How long have you skied?” I ask the three-foot tall girl dressed in pink polka dots ahead of me in line.
“This is my first time,” she replies shortly before flying down the Bunny Hill.
“Excuse me,” says a four-foot tall boy in blue polka dots, “I need to go with my sister.” “Whoosh,” the dots turn into a blue and white blur. Toddlers are lower to the ground; their superhuman speed is surely an aerodynamic thing.
I like my adventure civilized and tame. It’s just who I am–a snow tortoise among a sea of ski hares.
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you to ski with your kids…” remarks a lithe woman with olive skin – my antitheses – as she glides by gracefully.
“Oh, I don’t have kids… I’m just cautious by nature.” The woman stops in her tracks and shepherds many of the children out of my general vicinity. Fast. Now that I’m a parent, I understand why she considered me a threat.
Within minutes I have the Bunny Hill to myself. All is quiet. I am awed by the majesty that dwarfs me. How did pioneers survive such environs without the borrowed, high tech ski wear that keeps me toasty? I do not have to worry about hypothermia, sustenance or mere survival. I am blessed with the luxury of pondering how I will thrive in my life’s next chapter. I am lucky. I will French Fry.
“Whoosh,” I feel the wind whip my face as I reach panic velocity. “Pizza. Pizza! PIZZA!!” And I am down my mountain. I come to a gentle stop onto flat ground. Flat and stable – the plane of existence where I belong.
Again, I ascend. French Fry/Pizza, French Fry/Pizza. I AM SKIING— I am one with the mountain.
“We’re closing soon,” announces Sven, the adorable ski instructor who is picking up random kid detritus from the mountain.
“Just one more run,” I holler. “Please?”
Sven the Snow Stud – surely there is some Norse god with that name – laughs. “Sure. Speed Demon, you have the “mountain” all to yourself now that it’s your fellow students’ bedtime.”
I have friends to mock me, I don’t need random strangers to chime in, thank you very much. Pity it is impossible to flip someone off while wearing mittens.
The weekend ends – and so does my pal’s ski career. “I made it through 48 hours injury free, not going to push it.” He returns to the Urban Jungle of our childhood where he lands a job at a great law firm and marries an even greater, non-skiing wife.
Twenty years later I still go on ski vacations. Now I travel with Husband Number Two and our kids. The three of them love to ski downhill. At warp speed. They are just fearless enough to assure me that neurosis is not a genetic given; my children are speed-demons. My husband, a good skier, used to lead them on Blue Runs. Now he skis behind them on Black Diamonds, his heart warmed as they speed past him. Both of us do so want our progeny to outperform us on the slopes and off; everywhere and in everything.
I am proud to report that my ski wear continues to be moist – not because of spilled, ski lodge Chardonnay but because of actual snow. While the Bunny Slope remains my downhill limit, I love to French Fry and Pizza while skiing cross country.
Both endeavors involve me scooting on my backside. I’m usually faster when moving on my keister than when I’m on skis – again, being lower to the ground is an advantage. My friends still laugh at how I pursue my snow adventures, but I enjoy them – and remain injury free. It’s one of the best things about aging; I have fun my way, cautiously — and with great joie de vivre.