Nick and I stood at the crest of the hill, our poles planted in the packed snow, our new ski outfits glistening in the sun. Two girls schussed by and Nick raised a ski pole to wave jauntily. This upset his delicate balance and he fell heavily, taking me with him.
“Nick,” I said, trying to disengage my left ski from his right pants leg, “if we’re going to to impress girls on the slopes, we’ll have to learn to ski.”
“You’re right,” he said. “They might go for ski bums, but not bum skiers.” So we crawled over to the ski school and enrolled. That was many years ago, but the fear, pain and humiliation of that day are still fresh in my mind.
They rang a big bell to assemble our ski class. If you’re ever at a ski resort and you hear the clang of a big bell, run for cover. An assembling ski class can be a dangerous thing. Some accident insurance policies contain waivers for wars, earthquakes and assembling ski classes.
Things settled down after ten minutes of shouting, crashing and tumbling. Two middle-aged men had to be dragged back to the lodge to be separated. Nick and I stood calmly at the edge of this chaos, hoping no one noticed we were lashed to a snow fence.
Soon, Elfrieda, our instructor, rocketed up. She was a tall, attractive blond. Perhaps her tallness was an illusion since I mostly viewed her from the ground. Nick fell for her right away and, since I was leaning on him, I also fell.
Elfrieda began by teaching us eight survivors how to remain vertical. Soon we were upright and schussing around for several minutes at a time. “Now for the snowplow!” Elfrieda announced. “Good!” Nick shouted, “Let’s get the hill scraped right down to the grass before somebody gets hurt!”
But the snowplow, Elfrieda explained, is a speed control maneuver and, before we knew it, we were traversing down the hill with the help of Elfrieda’s warning shouts and gravity.
We were congratulating fellow survivors at the bottom and exchanging accounts of violent falls, collisions and other fun ski talk when Elfrieda told us how we were going to return to the top. Back then the rope tow was quite common, especially for beginners. The wrong way to use the tow, Elfrieda expained, is to grab the moving rope too tightly and too quickly. “You’ll be yanked right out of your boots, ” she warned.
Nick was leading on the tow line followed by Elfrieda who was calling out instructions when a girl skier glided by and Nick loosened his grip to wave jauntily with his pole. This caused him to slide back down the rope and he took out Elfrieda and the rest of us like a string of beads.
Eventually, at the top, we resembled the battered survivors of an unsuccessful polar expedition. Elfrieda gave a pretty speech about how much we’d progressed, pausing frequently to help fallen students up and to prop them against the snow fence where we stood with frozen smiles, torn parkas and bent ski poles.
Nick, the optimist, wanted to stay and challenge steeper slopes. “No, Nick,” I said. “There are a lot of moguls on the expert hill.”
“Moguls, really?” Nick said. “I was hoping for girls. I don’t want to be skiing with a bunch of rich old guys.”