Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in again.
That’s what the Godfather said when he tried to leave the Mafia behind. That’s the way I feel about leaving behind the winter sport of downhill skiing. The boards have been packed away in the barn for three winters, maybe four. I noted this week that both the Camden Snow Bowl and even Saddleback offer free skiing to those lucky enough to have lived 70 years. Free.
I loved skiing, both as a method to face the fact that we live in a northern clime and as fantastic exercise. I was never as gloriously exhausted as when I finished a long — three hour — day at Sugarloaf. That eminent ski historian Helen Barnes noted that the industry should charge you for taking off your ski boots instead of charging for a lift ticket to go up and down the mountain. That, my friends, is the very best part of the ski day.
I was a city kid and never even knew anyone that skied. I think one guy showed up at our favorite hill one day with huge skis but we pelted him with snowballs and abuse. We chose sledding through Boston traffic as our winter sport. The most exotic device on the hill was linoleum scraped off some kitchen floor. A decade or two of wax made these the preferable mode of coasting. The jagged edges could open a vein if you were not careful, but it was a small price to pay for those 90 seconds of pure speed.
I was in my mid 20s when I ran screaming from a career in Boston insurance. Clearly, this was not for me. I was considering career options when Doug, a friend of a friend, announced that he was spending the winter as a ski bum in Mt. Snow, Vt. He even had a job as a busboy and was sure he could get me a similar position. Anything beat accident and health underwriting.
Now Doug and I thought we were pretty cool and all. But the rest of the staff was all New York City dudes who worked together at the Cheetah nightclub in the city. These guys were really cool and I got my first introduction to those funny cigarettes. I ended up as a waiter, a serious promotion from busboy, and served all the ski instructors. Talk about cool. These were older guys, experienced skiers from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Several offered free ski lessons.
I would have, could have and should have taken these lessons. But they were in the morning, after I served them breakfast. That was time I had scheduled for recovering from the night before. The valley had happy hour in a different bar every night and we celebrated “ski bums” got drinks at a reduced rate. I hate to brag, but I was the best dancer in the valley and had a great winter. The truth is, I was never good enough to even start a lesson with a ski instructor. I fell and fell and fell. I don’t know why I kept at it. Probably because the ski lift was right outside the door and it snowed every day. My very worst day was when I was skiing with a beautiful young girl and she fell in front of me on an icy trail. I was helpless and skied right into her back. I bet she still has marks from that day. I fell on top of her, right under the lift where the Austrians and Swiss were taking their pupils up the mountain. I can still hear the abuse. The harder we tried to get up, the more we fell on the ice. The more we fell on the ice, the more abuse came from the lift.
That was it for me and skiing for many, many years. I took my waiting talents to South Beach.
For reasons still unclear to me, I ended up in Maine, a state with a furious winter. Camden had a perfectly charming ski area a few miles from my front door. I would ski two or three times a winter, falling all over the hill in my inimitable style. I would guess that I fell more than any skier in history. It is a miracle that I never (fingers crossed) broke anything. My personal breakthrough came when my sensational daughter, Aran, decided to take ski lessons at the Snow Bowl on school vacation. I drove her to the hill and decided to ski while I was waiting for her. It was the first time I had skied five days in a row and something clicked.
I stopped falling… all the time.
The next breakthrough came when Virginia Larsen, the late Rockland restaurateur offered me her condo at the base of Sugarloaf. Blues Eyes and I checked into the condo and headed for the glorious mountain. It was White World Week, something we had never heard of. That was the week when there was a party every night, activities all day… and ski tickets were a mere $10. We were in ski heaven. We started early every day and skied until lunch. Some days we actually went back on the hill in the afternoon. It was glorious.
Blue Eyes stopped skiing several years ago when tickets went over $50. I stopped three or four years ago when I got much too concerned over getting hurt. You break an arm, leg or hip at this age and you are gimpy for the rest of your days. The essence of skiing is letting go and relaxing as your body hurtles down an icy hill at breakneck — literally — speed. The faster you go, the easier it gets, to a point.
I don’t think I could “let go” any more. I don’t think I could relax, at all. I can see those x-rays before me.
But there are those free tickets at Camden and Saddleback.
They are trying to pull me back in again.