Slip-slidin' away - Falling for new winter pastime

February 08, 2001

Slip-slidin' away - Falling for new winter pastime

Last month, tormented by the frigid weather, I figured that after decades of resistance the time had come to give in and learn a winter sport.

This dovetailed with the feelings of guilt I've had for not taking advantage of the Whitetail ski resort that opened nearly 10 years ago. People drive for hours to go skiing, and here we have a resort in our back yard. It seemed a waste not to take advantage.

So I pointed Old Copper (the truck likes winter about as much as I do; its preferred temperature for operation is between 52 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit) toward Clear Spring.

Unbeknownst to me, I must have crossed the line into becoming an old dog during the past year or two, because for about five minutes I sat in the Whitetail parking lot not entirely convinced that I had any interest in learning a new trick.


Frankly I was afraid. Afraid everyone else would be 21 years old. Afraid I wouldn't be accepted into the skiing fraternity. Afraid all the snow-pants-clad skiers would laugh at my blue jeans and flannel shirt. Afraid the staff would have no patience with some old goofball greenhorn.

And of course the topper, afraid that I wouldn't be able to learn the sport.

Weakly I walked up to the ticket window and paid $60 for a lesson, lift ticket and ski rental. I started to walk away then whirled around to see if I could catch the girl laughing at me. She wasn't, but still cautious I pressed on.

You know me. Pretty soon I became suspicious because everyone was so helpful. Right down to showing me how to affix the lift ticket to my jacket, the Whitetail staff was pleasant and helpful to a fault.

Suddenly I realized what they were up to. They were just being nice to me because they knew I was going to fail. They wanted to make it as easy as possible for me to get on the slopes so they could all have a good laugh when I crashed and burned. "Fattening me up for the kill," as it were.

But then I met my instructors - I've had two to date, Janine and Jack - and they have done a miraculous job teaching me how to go (easy) and how to stop (not so easy).

I've only had two merry mixups, the first which occurred when somehow I got my poles stuck in the chairlift seat and had to watch helplessly from the top of the hill as they returned slowly to the bottom.

The next time out was on a teachers' professional day in Virginia, when every last kid from Leesburg to Warrenton had made the trip to Whitetail and I found myself sharing the slopes with at least 2,500 10-year-old girls named Amber.

I was off on my own after a lesson, when I misread the signs that are intended to depict the slope's difficulty. For some reason, unclear to me now, I got the idea that blue was an easier color than green. Blue seemed more placid to me, maybe.

I knew something was horribly wrong when the lift kept rising and the temperature kept dropping and for all the world it felt like the Grinch taking his load to the top of Mount Krumpit to dump it. Then from the Amber who was sitting to the left of me I heard those four little words no adult likes to hear from a kid: "Mister - are you sweating?" For the record, it was water dripping on me from ice melting off the lift. At least that's my story.

I only made it back down the death hill because stupid gravity didn't give me any other choice. I would have walked down if I could have, but in the process of analyzing how to remove the ski from the boot I suddenly noticed that the trees were all moving much faster than they do normally.

Many crashes were involved, each more spectacular and snow-displacing than the last - but even the wipeouts had their benefits.

Once as I lay tangled in the snow I chanced to hear a dad who was teaching his daughter to ski say "Stay in my path, Amber, stay in my path." She replied "But what if I want to make my own path?" Ah, a child after my own heart.

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