Writer might even learn to enjoy skiing, just don't expect her to admit it

Posted: Sunday, December 14, 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 ended up choosing the pains and face plants over listening to them bug me about it any longer.

It was not an easy choice, however. 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, needless to say, I was not too excited by the prospect of affixing three-inch-wide blades of death to my feet that are designed to carry you straight to the nearest tree trunk. 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, except to say that if skiing is "just like walking, only harder," then Murkowski's plan to have us pay $5 per studded tire is just like taxes, only it's a user fee.

I appealed to my family for some reassurance (and a birthday gift certificate to help me buy the skis). My mother was a big help when I told her I was going to learn to ski:

"Did you suddenly get coordinated?" she asked.

Now that's cold. My own mother, for crying out loud, 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 (what a good little American I am; President Bush should be proud) I let a salesman at REI 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.

At one point I thought it would be wise to figure out how many times I would have to ski to make the purchase worthwhile, but then I decided this was one of those times where I'm glad I can't do math.

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.

I really can't complain (much) about my instructors, though. One is super athletic and about skied out of the womb so he knows all the ins and outs of the sport. The other is also a good skier but more recently has gotten into the sport so he can sympathize with what it's like to learn and I'm sure literally and figuratively feel my pain(s).

The cool thing about learning from them is that they loooove to explain things. They achieve an odd sort of Nirvana when they get into lengthy and detailed discussions about everything from foreign policy to battery life to road rage. Thankfully, they're entertaining, so this isn't nearly as obnoxious as it could be (although the jury's still out on the fancy, name-brand water bottle versus recycled water bottle debate as to whether anyone other than them could possibly care).

The problem is, 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 three sports writers, six beer bottles to represent the players, a wadded ball of paper and a good 20 minutes).

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. But for some reason I've always been like this and I can't seem to help it. 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 this is 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 passed out after the first lap (whether it was from the cold or the scarf wrapped 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 and that skiing is fun.

No matter what they say, I know the truth: That 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 a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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