As I was careening downhill on the ski slope, I heard a distant voice behind me, “Bigger pizza wedge!”
I was being told to put on the brakes, to slow down. But it was too late for that. I was already a runaway train on skis.
It was a spring-like 61 degrees out, and I was skiing. A gorgeous blue dome hovered overhead at the Coffee Mill ski resort in Wabasha. The snow sparkled. It was picture postcard perfect.
But instead of making a series of graceful Ss in the snow, I was hurtling downhill.
When something feels inevitable, you embrace it. When a hunted animal gets cornered, it turns and fights. When a skier senses doom, a built-in human survival instincts kick in. It says: Better to fling yourself onto the slope right now when falling will only hurt like hell, than wait and face plant at a speed that can do real damage.
But a funny thing happened on my way to skiing ignominy. Somehow I reached the bottom of the hill without a graceless collapse. And like a wobbly-legged Bambi who has just learned how to stand, I was filled with a sense of triumph all out of proportion to the accomplishment.
“You got guts,” said David McLeod, a ski instructor and ski race coach. “If I had taken a middle-aged mom and she had done what you did, she would have been mad as hell at me.”
It sounded like a compliment, and so I took it as one.
Before Friday’s run, I hadn’t skied in nearly 30 years. And not once during that three-decade interval had I felt the slightest twinge of a desire to slap on a pair of skis. My only vivid memory of that one exploit three decades ago is falling and falling again. Getting out of the car after an afternoon of uncontrollable tumbling, I felt like a rusty lawn chair, bones and muscles aching. But then my 507 magazine editor, Bryan Lund, suggested that I write a first-person account of spring skiing.
Skiing is not like, say, basketball or baseball. Pick up a ball and fling it and you have attained a level of proficiency. The true beginning skier has to learn on how to put on skis. The true beginner will shuffle back and forth and go nowhere. The true beginner struggles to slide on 20 feet of flat ground to get to the chair lift.
I will say this for the Coffee Mill. They treated me like the beginner that I was, and I appreciated it. When I mentioned my novice status, a staff member clapped a white helmet on my head to protect my brain pan. When I went to rent my skis, the guy outfitted me with a smaller, more manageable set of skis.
It helped that it was Fun Day at Wabasha schools. There were number of school-age children on the slopes who made skiing seem like second nature. I tackled relatively simple slopes such as Midway and Singing Hill. Then I took on Barnstormer and, though it shot me out like a cannon, I bested it. Just trashed it.
And I had a pretty decent time. I had exorcised some of my ski demons. And as I coasted down hill in my last run, I could imagine myself doing it again someday.