Sunday, January 30, 2011

1-30-11 The Ski Story

Deana and I actually went to Easthaven, though I was there during the school year and she did the summer program. That's how Stephanie knew the both of us, because she did both. I remember Deana from high school, just obliquely through other friends who were also in choir.

So it was Stephanie spending summers in Colorado that finally got the three of us together for the now infamous Chicago Lakes hike during which I finally wrecked my knee enough to send me to physical therapy, which was one of the best things that could have happened.

So when Deana suggested perhaps we get together, perhaps to ski? I jumped at the chance to finally try it. So many people have said, "Oh, you live in Colorado. You must love the skiing there!" to which I always had to reply, sheepishly, "Actually, I've never been..."

We settled on this Saturday and the reality of how little I actually knew began to sink in. I spent Tuesday through Friday learning how to get a lift ticket, what gear I would need, what gear I would rent, what gear I would borrow, and on and on.

Deana got up at 3:45 a.m. Saturday and was at my house by 5:45 so we could hit the road to Breckenridge.

We found the Hyatt and parked at 7:40 in a relatively empty garage. We found Christy's, where we had done the advance rental for ski boots, skis, and poles and although their website said they opened at 7:30, the lights were still dark when we walked up at 7:50. Luckily it was only a ten minute wait to get inside and get going. The back of the shop is the rental corner, where you mount the stairs and look down at your feet to talk to the ski guys below you who are going to be messing with your boots.

When I tried the boot on, my toes where right up next to the end, which I was told is perfect, although it felt way too small. These things have tons of tricks to tighten and clamp down on your leg not unlike a hungry 'gator. These things weren't going anywhere. Then you take them back off to get the boot fitted to the ski, and when he waxed them, it crossed my mind to ask him not to do it -- could you maybe put spikes on the bottom of mine instead?

After getting over the sticker shock, Deana settled on a new hat (everything is ridiculously expensive), we got our gear, and set off for the lift walking in these Frankenstein ski boots that kind of pull your hips forward whether you want them to or not and you feel like you ought to be grooving to "Talking 'bout Shaft" or something.

So we get to the base of the lift, set our skis and poles down, and try to find tokens to leave our backpacks in the lockers, the guys have no tokens available. Then we can't get Deana's camelback open to fill with water, and after asking three different guys we finally get it loose and filled. All of this is happening in the Frankenboots. So finally we clip in to the skis for the first time and, (I know how ridiculous this sounds) I am shocked at how slippery they are. We are on the slightest of inclines and I can't keep from sliding backwards. There is NO getting up the hill to the lift. The good news is, once you get to the lift, it's all downhill, so I finally get out of the skis, walk up to a flatter spot right by the lift, and manage to get in line.

We are with a ski instructor and two little ones, five across, behind other lines of five scooting up for our turn to the lift. When the line in front of us is next, there's a little dip down and there I go, sliding right into the poor guy in front of me. Luckily there are people there to help me up. And I manage to fall into the seat correctly when it comes around. The ride up is spectacular.

For $92 (the lift ticket cost) I think I would be happy to just ride this thing up and down over and over again if they would let me stay on.

So as we're approaching the top, the ski instructor starts to lift the overhead bar, which is also attached to the place where you can rest your skis, and mine get stuck, so I barely get them off in time to set them down. I think I've got it, but I'm on the far outside, so as the chair makes the turn to go back down, it catches me right behind the knee and down I go again.

Once again, the lift operators are right there to help me up, which I realize I am not going to have the rest of the way. You can just see my rescuer there, top right.

So we're at the top of Silverthorne and it is absolutely amazing. Give me some snow shoes and just let me wander. . .

Instead, it's time to start down. Deana proved to be an infinitely patient coach on what was, especially at first, a very slow descent.

Case in point:

This was the second fall, which came not too long after the first. The first fall was more toward the center of the slope without any deep snow. In the first fall, I tried to use the "how to get up" knowledge I'd gleaned from watching my Skiing for Idiots videos earlier in the week as well as Deana's pointers. I must've needed the Skiing for Überidiots, because it wasn't working.

I could not get the motion or the strength in my arms or the angle of the push to be able to right myself with these four foot extensions and Frankenboots on my feet. I was going to have to take the skis off to get up. And I couldn't get my skis off by myself. About this time a big dude with a camera on his helmet comes to my rescue and pulls me up. So somewhere out there someone's ski day is going have a pathetic girl in a cookie monster hat show up unexpectedly.

The tree encounter was part of the on-the-ground fall, once Deana helped me get out of my skis, and I discovered you sink really fast into very deep, unpacked drifts against the trees. Two steps later and I was sunk in up to my thighs.

So, just guessing, we covered about 50 yards in an hour. Since you ski under another lift, I had plenty of encouragement from above, mostly in the form of "go cookie monster!"

I took out Deana a couple of times, when she was trying to help me figure it out. Really, there is no other way to learn except to fall, but I was getting really frustrated at how slow I was learning and how fast I was falling. Which was the primary problem: I couldn't relax, so I would get more and more balled up and tense, hunker forward, start sliding out of control, and end up laying down to keep from hurtling to my death. I learned in physical therapy I have a hard time knowing what my body is doing in terms of form. Carrie would tell me to get my back flat and I would swear it was. I had to have detailed instructions of what to do to actually get in the right position. Deana was quickly discovering this shortcoming of mine. She'd tell me to get up straight and I would swear I was. But I look at this picture and I can see immediately, I wasn't. I'm hunched over. And all of this bad form was stressing my hamstrings to no end.

We took a break (in other words, I took my skis off without falling down first) and waved at the passerbys overhead, even those who needed to ask, "Are you guys okay?" (Plus a few more "Cookie Monster!" hellos)

I also have to admit, even when I should have them, I just hate sunglasses. I always have. Part of it is not being able to see people's eyes -- it throws me off. And part of it is the discoloration of the shade. So most of the time, I kept my sunglasses around my neck.

After the break, when my legs felt a little better, we got back to it and between forcing myself to relax and lean back (straight up, but it felt like back), things started clicking. It's like learning to play a piece on the piano, or ride a bike or roller skate -- you are forcing your body to do things before it's mapped in your mind. And it just takes time and practice to catch the brain up to speed about how this is supposed to feel.

So there are finally more pictures of me upright than on the ground from this point forward.
The other thing that made a difference was Deana telling me, "we're getting close." Because the feeling as though this could last forever, no end in sight, is another part of the struggle. When she pointed out the buildings below, albeit still a little small for my taste, it made the rest of the slope far more pleasant. I had an end in sight.

Most of the rest of the way was Deana shouting "pizza slice!" "Push those legs!" "Pick up that ski!" and me realizing each time, even though I was getting exhausted, doing it was getting easier and making more sense. So we zig-zagged down, back and forth from one side to the other, turning the skis back the other way, and doing it again. I got ahead of myself once and managed to wipe out again, but that was the last fall of the day.

But there were also moments where I actually had my skis parallel, which was a huge improvement from where I started.

Deana had been directed our zig-zag journey, "from here to the mat" "from here to that tree" etc. until I spotted THIS sign and made a beeline:

We couldn't have asked for better weather, in the 30s with sunshine and no wind.

But by the "Easiest Way Down" marker, my legs were telling me I had a very short space between their current pain and complete shutdown. So we took the easy way only to discover we had arrived. . . at the wrong place. Our gear was further down the slope. Of course. Easy is not always expedient. But just getting the skis off and sitting was worth it. We also tromped through the masses toward the shuttle to more cries of "Cookie Monster" including one very baked dude who wanted to start up a conversation. I think was was exacerbating his case of the munchies.

Deana managed to figure out which bus we needed while I sat plopped on the bench.

And after about 15 minutes we found ourselves back where we started. Deana had brought a celebratory lunch, including champagne and Toblerone chocolate (man, the white chocolate was amazing...) and I finally was able to shed the Frankenboots and sink my sore feet gloriously into my Ugg boots again. Even better, Maggies (the spot where we ate) was blasting 80s on 8 tunes from Sirius/XM.

So after lunch, Deana hit the slopes again while I kicked back and basked in the sun, watching other skiers and marveling at how friendly the skis bums are. I think that may be the key: you gotta relax.

Deana did Silverthorne by herself, which took about half an hour. It took us three and a half with me in tow. But I made it, all the way down on skis, even though there were plenty of times I wanted to take them off and just walk, or hail one of the emergency snowmobile guys, or just curl up in a little ball and curse at how hard it all was. I made it all the way on my own.

So Deana joined me in my basking, snow boots still on, as we reflected on the absolute beauty of the place and the day.

We got our gear dropped off, with some hapless Aussie dude who couldn't find our paperwork, but just wrote our names down as "successfully returned", and we were on our way through town by 4:00, quite joyously taking the scenic route, although in this part of the country, even the Interstate view is breathtaking.

Why is it among the most
glacial mountain peaks
I find
the greatest warmth?
~Ivan Granger

The peaks even today show finger prints
Where God last touched the earth
Before he set it joyously in space
Finding it good.
~M.A. Seiffert

Let us go home with sunset on our faces
We that have wandered far
And stood by noon in high, disastrous places,
And known what mountains are
Between those eyries and the morning star
~George Sterling


  1. Congrats on the first of many ski days! - Marci

  2. Love it. Makes Chicago Lakes look breezy, doesn't it? Haha!

    Love *you* both!