One late winter day last year, I stuck my feet into downhill ski boots and strapped on the skis for the first time in a little over two decades. The first run was terrifying, but with guidance from a friend and colleague, I made it down the hill alive and unbroken (though screaming most of the way). I remembered how much I’d enjoyed swooshing down the hill and determined to do more of it. I managed a second venture back to that ski hill, this time bringing my children, but it was more stress than fun: my daughter didn’t take to the lessons well (part of the issue being the instructor’s accent — my daughter doesn’t speak any French — and the steep grade of the hills), but my son loved it, even going on after his first up-close-and-personal encounter with a tree.
So this year, I decided for my own mental and physical well-being, and to encourage my kids to enjoy the great outdoors in our long, northern winters, we’d each get skis and a membership at Larder Lake Ski Hill, which is only 30 minutes away from home. This brought back a lot of memories, including being given my first new-to-me pair of skis when I was 11 or 12.
I have tried to keep in mind what it’s like to be a child, trying to recall my perspective when I was my children’s ages and how baffled I sometimes was by my parents’ behaviour. It’s much easier to recognize now their motivations (and levels of exhaustion). So I understood that my son was a little dismayed by the scratches and faded colours of his new-to-him skis, picked up for a bargain along with a set of boots. But they work, and they were very, VERY affordable, and they let him fly down the hills. Plus, they’re safe.
My first set of skis in 1988 were blue and green in colour, and although they gave me speed, my parents didn’t know at the swap meet that they were unsafe. The rules of safety on the ski hill had changed without their knowledge, and I didn’t find out until I had nearly outgrown them that the leash on the bindings was basically illegal. The design was meant to keep one’s skis from running away down the incline in the event of a wipeout, but it had a terrible side effect of banging the skier painfully about the head during the wipeout. Happened to me the second time I bombed down a steep hill, in fact.
Oh, yeah. At that time — 1988 — we didn’t wear helmets. Those skis hurt. A lot.
Poles were also considered standard for everyone back then, but I remember at one point deciding to leave my poles at the chalet and taking on the ride without them. I loved it! So it didn’t surprise me when I was told last year by the instructor, and this year, that kids are no longer taught to ski with poles. My husband still finds it a bit hard to understand, but I get it. They’re optional, after you’ve learned to balance and shift.
Adolescent me didn’t wear a helmet, occasionally used the poles, had leashes about my ankles that threatened me with more pain than necessary, and outgrew the equipment quickly. By the time I could no longer coax my feet into the boots, my family had moved too far from most ski hills to make purchasing new equipment worthwhile, and when we went back within a comfortable driving range, I had lost interest. My head and legs probably still remembered those damned leashes, though I missed that terrific swish and swoosh downhill.
Adult me isn’t growing anymore, though. My main concern now is making downhill skiing (and outdoor activities in winter) a healthy habit. If I can do that, it will make purchasing brand-new skis a worthwhile investment. It feels a bit funny to wear the helmet, still, but I’ve known people to get badly hurt smacking into a tree or a hard patch of packed snow, so I might just put effort into decorating my helmet in order to personalize it for myself. And it’s like wearing my helmet when I’m on a bicycle (darn, another item I need to replace since mine was stolen three years ago . . .) and with the kids: it’s a good example for them.
Plus, the helmet is incredibly comfortable and warm. I mean, sometimes with a hat on you get a slight breeze or it flies off and you’re downright cold. But a lined ski helmet is downright cozy when you’re flying down that hill. Definitely worth the money.
It’s funny, but walking into the chalet brings back memories of shyness and anxiety. I remember feeling so out of place when I was an adolescent, perceiving glances as unspoken questions like “Why are you here?”; now, though, I’m able to walk into the chalet and meet others’ eyes with a smile. Maybe it’s the difference of twenty-odd years, the experience of growing up, the necessity of considering whether my children are feeling shy and wanting to set a good example for them of how to cope, or a combination of all these things. One thing is for sure: I love the atmosphere of the Larder Lake Ski Hill chalet more than any other I’ve experienced. It’s happy, friendly, and welcoming. Of course, it helps to see familiar faces, but there is a vibe in that small building that I didn’t experience at the Tri Town Ski and Snowboard Village, Blue Mountain in Collingwood, or Mont Kanasuta in Quebec. It’s possible that they are friendly and welcoming, and I’m filtering my experiences through my own lack of confidence in my skiing abilities, problems in my own social skills, and issues with my self-esteem.
But I’ve been riding the endorphins ever since the first run this afternoon. We all went to the hill last weekend — my hubby included, although with surgery needed on his knee skiing is out of the question for him for the time being — and I managed one run before my feet went numb because I’d buckled my boots too tightly. This afternoon my son and I did about an hour’s worth, had a great time, and resolved to try to get back again tomorrow. And next weekend my daughter will start afternoon lessons with a terrific instructor I know. The thing I like, too, about making this a family activity is the time it gives us together to talk about whatever is on the kids’ minds, get away from being couch potatoes, and make the memories that I know will last for years and years.
For now, I will continue to bask in the recollection of today’s fluffy, creamy white powder, fresh-fallen and still coming down; how it squeaked under my skis on the lift and slid in puffs away from me on the way back down. The whisper of snowflakes on my skin as I whisk past them in the cold air, and my son’s gleeful laughter at seeing me buzz past him. Today was a good day.