I'm in love. I was forty when I learned how to ski. Well, okay, thirty-nine, but my friend Peter—who knew I was depressed about turning forty come spring—suggested I think of myself as being forty when I was still thirty-nine. That way, I wouldn’t be in for such a shock when May rolled around. So I was forty for about two years—and in that space of time Peter taught me how to ski.
You don’t become Olympic material when you’re such a late bloomer, but you do get just enough know-how to waltz your way down the easy slopes with nothing but silence and snow. This is elixir for at least my soul. What is it about mountain peaks, powder, blue skies, and sunlight glimmering off turquoise glaciers that stops the frenetic absurdities of the brain? For me, a woman who lives inside her head, the relief is nothing short of a miracle. I escape myself.
This year I treated myself to new skis, long overdue; and in January my youngest son and I went up for an afternoon trial run. Me to test my skis and knees, he to “limber up.” He'd converted to boarding a long time ago—anyone under the age of 35 up here does. Mt. Baker is the world’s snowboard capital and skiers don’t go up on weekends if they can help it because we’re liable to become someone’s baloney sandwiched between two boards--hopefully without the ketchup. So Blake and I went up on a Friday.
I do have a bit of a problem. Ever since my last car accident , I have little strength in my hands, so it’s difficult, if not impossible sometimes, for me to buckle on and tighten up my ski boots. This proved to be an “impossible” day and so Blake had to help me out. With people milling around us or clumping on by, he got down on one knee to manhandle my boot buckles and knobs, and I flash-backed to Laurentian Lodge--a delightful memory of my father tying on my skates. The winter I was ten we lived at a ski lodge in the Laurentian mountains of French Canada (no, I did not learn to ski then, but I also lived at a horse ranch the summer I was ten and did not learn to ride horses). Back to the lodge. I loved the sensation of Dad tugging on my feet, my foot bouncing up and down a little as he pulled up hard on each lace, working his way up my ankles until at last he did the bow and gave me a smile. I loved the sense of being taken care of, of being loved, of my feet being tucked in snug and tight. Life is good in such moments—time a blur, your dead father and your twenty-seven-year-old son simultaneously wanting to give me a good time.
Blake babysat me for a few runs until I got my “ski legs.” He then toodled up Chair 8 to the summit and over to the Canyon. I stuck with Chair 7 and fell in love with my skis. We went home aching head to toe but satiated with happy exhaustion.
This month Blake’s girlfriend Beth treated all three of us to a day on the mountain, the finest in history. I’ve never seen Baker so beautiful. I managed to get my boots on all by myself, and only had to get Blake to tighten the knobs a few ratchets. Ach, but my first run down I spun around and toppled over backward on the slope coming down into the ski lift basin.
Try as I might, I could not get those lovely skis back on. There I was, balancing on one leg, slapping the snow off the boot of the other, placing my foot just so when…. slip, the ski slip-slid away from me. Over and over. And over. It’s a little humiliating to be in such a fix in plain sight of all. I was doing my best, though, to get my ski back on and block out the humiliation when what should silently appear but a snowboard boot, toe edging up against my ski to keep it from angling off. I looked up. Blake. He’d tromped up the hill to rescue me. He did not say, “You’re embarrassing me down there.” He just gave me a smile that went to his eyes and said, “Try angling your heel more.” Life doesn’t get better.
I’m in love with my skis, my son, my dad, and the snow and silence that envelopes me when I slide off the brand new chair lifts at Baker and waltz down the slope, detouring over to the “armpit” and heading up chair 4 to the “dead tree” run that ain’t dead anymore but alive with new green growth and wearing scarves of lamb's wool snow to keep itself warm.
I slide on by, thrilled with my skis cutting the snow, turning on a wish--delightfully warm in a space of time, mind and soul free.
Thanksgiving to New Year's, 1999
There is a sad ending to my story. Blake broke his foot last week playing soccer and won't be on the slopes any time soon. I'm on my own, which isn't a bad thing. But I'm sad Blake can't toodle up Chair 8 and then meet me in the lounge for a chocolate chip cookie dunked in hot chocolate. C'est la vie. Oui?