Beware the blades of death

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007

Editor’s note: Jenny Neyman seems to think being on vacation when this column was due entitles her to running a previously published submission. Since she happened to be the editor of this page, she didn’t argue with herself. This column was originally published in December 2003.

To ski or not to ski? That is the question I was faced with a few months ago. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the inevitable pains and face-plants of hazardous winter sports, or to take arms against a sea of goading (in this case, my friends trying to talk me into skiing), and by opposing, end their harassment?

It’s a tough one.

I knew that skiing, even the cross-country style that I agreed to try, requires balance, skill, poise, coordination — in general, athleticism.

My genetic makeup includes many interesting genes — sarcasm, inexorably cold hands, a propensity to make cars leak vital fluids — but athleticism is not one of them. The most athletic I ever got as a kid was playing Little League. I was shortstop, and I was good in that I was short and stopped the ball, but very rarely did I ever stop it with my mitt.

So I was not too excited by the prospect of affixing blades of death to my feet in the vicinity of low-hanging branches and tree trunks. Add sharp poles and hills to the equation, and you’re ready for a good time.

Just an aside — Where are all those people who told us to never run with scissors? How could they let this sport develop? It’s not OK to run with dull plastic kiddie scissors that couldn’t inflict more than a paper cut, but it is OK to hurtle yourself down hills with sharp, pointy sticks? How did this happen?

To calm my fears, my friends tried to put a positive spin on things:

“It’s easy! It’s just like walking ... only harder.”

Yep. Can’t argue with that logic.

So I appealed to my family for some reassurance. My mother was a big help when I told her I was going to learn to ski:

“Did you suddenly get coordinated?” she asked.

This from my own mother, who is genetically required to be supportive of whatever ill-advised scheme I devise. Although, I suppose I can’t blame her for being skeptical, since she is the one who paid for the various casts and slings my clumsiness landed me in as a child.

My other source of hesitation was the cost of getting outfitted to ski. You need to pay for skis, bindings, poles, boots, cold weather clothing, ice packs, heat packs, crash helmet, bandages, neck brace, portable jaws of life for those unfortunate tree encounters, etc.

In a moment of credit card-inspired impulse buying I let a salesman talk me into buying a complete cross-country ski package.

By “complete,” I thought he meant complete with safety features.

“Uh, so, where’s the air bags on these things?”

Turns out I just got the boots, bindings, blades of death and sharp, pointy sticks all for the low, low price of ... I don’t want to think about it.

Next thing I knew, there was a big snow dump, a minus 20 degree morning, and a call from my “friends,” who decided this would be an ideal time for my first ski outing.

The problem was, I’m not a good student. It’s not that I’m a slow learner or have to have things explained multiple times (although demystifying the concept of “offsides” in soccer took a solid 20 minutes, three sports writers, a wadded ball of paper and six beer bottles to represent the players ).

But if someone suggests that I do something, no matter how helpful the suggestion may be, I immediately want to do the exact opposite.

“You should breathe in and out.”

“Oh yeah? Who made you an expert on air? I’ll hold my breath if I want to!”

Yes, I know this is obnoxious. I apparently got gypped on the balance and poise genes, but the stubborn ass gene, I’ve got in spades.

So we get to the ski field and one friend launches into an explanation of what he thinks are the basics of skiing.

Him: “OK, so what you want to do is basically push off with one foot and glide and shift your weight to the other foot and use your poles for balance.”

Me: “OK, but do the curvy parts of the skis go in the front or in the back?”

Him: “Umm, maybe you should just watch us for a minute.”

Me: “OK.”

In my head, however, it was: “Up yours, I’m gonna stand here and poke at the release buttons on my skis while I should be watching you.”

And that’s what I did, until my poking efforts made me fall.

You’ve got to respect a sport where you can fall while standing still.

After getting up (a task which requires incredible and painful ankle flexibility due to the unmovable blades of death) I started to shuffle on down the track.

If I hadn’t nearly passed out after the first lap (whether it was from the cold or the scarf vacuum-sealed around my face to ward off the cold has not been decided), it may even have been a good experience.

Since then, I’ve skied several times and have even managed to avoid serious injury.

But no matter how many times I ski without maiming myself, I will never admit — at least not where my friends can hear me — that they were right about skiing.

No matter what they say, I know the truth: There’s a tree out there waiting for me to fulfill my emergency room destiny.

The blades of death will see to that.

Jenny Neyman is the city editor at the Peninsula Clarion, and has yet to be seriously injured by her dreaded nemesis tree, although a certain sledding hill has landed her on crutches.

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