So skiing,

My brother-in-law Peter, my LA brother-in-law, invited me to join him skiing in Colorado with Jay, one of my Wisconsin brothers-in-law (the third one was lolling around somewhere in Costa Rica), and I jumped on it. I love skiing, the bros-in-law are fun, sorta. And the lodging was free (Peter’s brother’s vacation home—amazing). So, sign me up. We’d just had a week of super-sub-zero weather so I thought, hey, this’ll be like a trip to, well, Costa Rica. It was not. 

Snowmass, CO. . . I believe it was -1 when we arrived to the ski hill the first morning. So, no, the banana trees were not in bloom. What I had failed to grasp was that not only were they younger than I, they were waaaay better skiers than I am. Think walruses skiing with gazelles. 

We made a couple of preliminary trips down one or two of the hills (They, streaking like greased lightening; me, windmilling my way down, whooping and shrieking like Goofy) and then, on the recommendation of some lunatic riding with us on the lift, took a freaking interminable hike up another hill, in ski boots, carrying our skis to some goddam place called “Long Shot.” I recall my alarm level rising dramatically as what was supposed to be a “quick 100 yards” mushroomed into a full on quarter mile trek—UPHILL AND IN SKI BOOTS—at the very least. 

Eventually, and not without a great deal of effort, panting and anxiety, I reached them waiting impatiently for me at the summit. I did not, as I wanted to, lie sobbing in the snow and beg to be shot. Instead I gamely plunged down the slope with them into what I was pretty sure would be my final act of insanity, er, bravery. This run was 5 full miles of panic, punctuated with occasional hysterical whimpering, hyperventilating and some extremely heartfelt prayer, ok, bargaining with God. They went ahead without me at my insistence. It was a win for all of us. They got a great run in and I made it down alive. 

I may have had icicles of tears frozen to my face but I did not fall once. 

 Me, in my foolish innocence imagining I could ski about to embark on my first run.

The demon hill. Hundred yards my goddam ass. That’s the path to the top on the left. 

And my brothers-in-law waiting for me.

Despite the fatigue, the terror, and cold, I somehow stopped to take pictures.

The sign says “You are 3/4 way down.” I was like ARE YOU GODDAM SHITTING ME??!!!

Me with Frick and Frack

The perfect Colorado breakfast

I’ve been in Colorado skiing with my brothers-in-law (some of them, and, of which more later), but my LA brother-in-law likes big breakfasts and while normally I have a banana or a half cup of cottage cheese, I love the opportunity to overdo it, especially when I know I’m going to go out and work it all off before noon. Bacon and eggs and an english muffin. My god.

The first run

This was the view (seriously, the actual, unretouched photograph) when we got to the top of the lift in Vail. Blinding blowing snow. Once those 2 people were out of sight, which was like 10 seconds later, it was just white. Aside from the obvious decline of the hill there was no way to know where one was heading. Just down. I’d been there before. I knew where I was. I knew there is nothing exactly life-threatening hill-wise in the vicinity, and the situation was frightening to me. But for Ashish, who was on a ski hill for the first time in his life after one day’s lesson (on a hill that was small enough to be serviced by an escalator-people-mover thing), this was a little more than he had anticipated. He wanted to take off his boots and walk down. This was not possible. Not only was I unwilling to do that with him, he’d never have gotten there on his own, it’s freaking miles of walking in ski boots. Down a mountain. In blowing, blinding snow. This would end up to be The Revenanent, I was pretty sure—although I haven’t actually seen the movie. There was nothing to be done about it but ski down. And we did that, not exactly shush-booming all the way but we got there without injury or even harsh words spoken. When we finally got to the bottom, he went home.

I felt bad about that but I didn’t blame him.

I went back for more. The sun came out, there were 4 inches (all of which fell in about 2 hours) of fresh, if somewhat sticky snow, and it was pretty fabulous. But who wants to hear about that?

Skiing is like learning French

It occurred to me as I was careering out of control down steep and alarming mountain slopes that skiing is not unlike learning French. Certainly there are some differences. The possibility of being injured learning French, while it exists, is not nearly as great as it is when skiing. Special equipment is necessary for both activities but dictionaries, note pads and pens are probably not quite in the same accoutrements league as skis, boots and helmets. They are certainly not as heavy and cumbersome. Though, come to think of it, a helmet might come in handy while attempting to speak French in France. Not that you would actually be in any danger of being assaulted but you will at least feel safe. Wearing a helmet affords a certain level of comfort and safety if not exactly fashionability.

Skiing and French are things that do not come naturally unless you happen to have been born in the French Alps. They are activities that enter your life out of desire rather than need, generally speaking. And both of them require being taught, learning and practice, lots of it. The basics of the two are pretty easy to grasp and once you are off and running there is a curious sense of impregnability that can be the source of much frustration. Once you are conversant with, say, numbers in French, or stopping on a steeper-than-bunny-hill slope, you open yourself up for disaster. When in the market in Paris you ask insouciantly, “Combien?” (how much) and the impatient baker responds with “9.98 euro” (neuf quatre vignt dix huit) which literally translates to “nine four twenty ten eight,” the same vague panic creeps up on you whether you are losing control of a transaction in French, or your downhill velocity is ramping up to a point that your abilities may have outstripped by your limitations.

There are many unseen difficulties and dangers with skiing or learning French. Things that must be learned little by little, a lifetime, really, of learning, with all manner of arcane rules, steep learning curves and secrets only the initiated seem to know. Yes, skiing includes the prospect of broken bones but with French the emotional damage caused when you’ve been disgraced during a brief conversation involving bread in front of an impatient queue of French people can last a lifetime.

Tell that to Sonny Bono.