I started to type a brief response to this thread, but was having so much fun recalling that one particular day that I wound up writing a bit more than I’d intended. Though I think that this is a pretty funny true story, you can just skip the whole thing if you get bored or have a short attention span. I won’t be offended.
On a saturday afternoon in either January or February of 1971 I was one of a small mob of hormonally loaded junior high school kids who took a day trip to Great Gorge Ski Area, in McAfee, NJ, courtesy of the ski club organized by our ex-marine turned metal-shop teacher. Some of the cool kids with some previous experience had their own gear, but the vast majority of the group were herded off to the rental shop and probably created a minor fracas and most likely earned the enduring ire of the shop’s staff. Me and my fellow first timers then headed off for a 1/2 day group lesson. Lot’s of time spent learning to herringbone, and then snow plow to a stop. Next big step was ascending via the rope tow, then having a bunch of fun and flopping around some.
The cool kids were led by your basic junior high school alpha-male named Ronnie. Ronnie was a life-long skier, and was not the least bit humble about his expertise. I was a 7th grader, and he was, I believe, on his second go-round through the 9th grade. (This was in dramatic contrast to his younger sister Donna. She will figure in the tale a little later on.) During the course of the group lesson, Ronnie and his toadies seemed to take particular relish in buzzing by the bottom of the rope tow and spraying all of us lesser humans with that particularly granular and dense frozen substance referred to in New Jersey as “packed powder,” prior to making their way back to the chair lift.
For those of you old enough to remember skiing at Great Gorge, and have any recollections that are contrary to the details that I can dredge up, please feel free to correct the particulars. I’d really appreciate the refreshment of my somewhat selective memory, especially as this all happened so long ago, and in a location that I’ve not seen since.
But I digress... I believe that there were three lifts available at the base of the ski area. From the lodge, looking at the mountain and starting on the right, you would see the rope tow; then there was the first of two chair lifts. I believe that this was called “Kamikaze”. On the far left hand side was the other chair, which I believe had something to do with the concept of “Cloud Nine.” For the sake of continuity, I’ll assume that these names are valid and I’ll use them for the duration of the narrative.
Graduation from the group lesson entailed learning to get onto and off of the Cloud Nine chair. That may seem like a fairly simple task, but you did not have to share the double-chair with my assigned partner, Susan. Susan was a somewhat chatty young lady, and apparently had something else that was much more important to do in the grand scheme of things than actually listening to our instructor. I’m not sure, (because I was listening to the instructor,) but I believe that while being told how to get onto and off of the chair, Susan was embroiled in recounting a teen-tragedy of Shakespearean magnitude with Emily, and included such exclamations as “eeewww,” “that’s just gross,” and “it’s all sticky.”
Not for the first time of my life, I began a thought with the precursor: “If I only knew then what I do now....”)
To be as brief as possible, the first chair-lift ride of my life was not without incident. I managed to avoid being shoved off within a few seconds of the chairs’ union with my bottom. Susan was looking behind her to finish an important sentence directed to Emily, and to be entirely truthful, her bottom had substantially more heft and volume than mine. Thus distracted, Susan managed, totally involuntarily and probably obliviously, to force me over the edge of the seat. I was dangling at what seemed a decidedly precarious and dizzying height from the cold-rolled steel that constituted the arm of the chair. Remember dear reader that I mentioned that the teacher who organized the ski club was the metal-shop master. I first learned of cold-rolled steel from him, and trust that I’ll retain the definition of it’s nature to my dying day. I also specifically remember that I was on the right hand side of the chair. After I regained my seat, I immediately launched into what was probably the first and most vociferous, invective laden tirade that I’d ever made in my life to that point, and most certainly the first one that I’d uttered that was directed at a female human.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Donna was a few chairs back on the lift. She’d witnessed my little incident, and heard most of my eloquent reaction. Upon off-loading, she and her posse passed our group, and in a gesture that would have been more readily expected of her brother at the time, gave my butt a gentle whack with her ski pole before heading down the mountain. I was smitten.
Our ski-school group then headed down as well, though at a decidedly more sedate pace and with substantially less grace than Donna displayed. I remember that the final pitch was, to me, terrifyingly steep, but managed to make it down to the lodge where the entire junior high school group, (in addition to a whole slew of other junior high school ski groups,) converged for lunch. The meal itself is a complete void in my memory, but I’d imagine that as ketchup was free, that one specific condiment probably was the primary source of nutrition for most members of that pre-pubescent hoard. Ronnie took the opportunity to play “Lord Of All,” and seemed immensely proud to be the only one of our cadre that had a pair of ski boots that were not black.
The afternoon passed more quickly in my recollection. I was quite adamant in my desire to avoid Susan and Emily, and they seemed to be curiously hesitant to be in my company as well. I did not however succeed in finding my new heartthrob Donna on the mountain. She was off with her friends doing laps on Kamikaze, and I gathered all of my courage and made as many laps on Cloud Nine as I and my new ski buddies could manage.
Back on the bus, our amalgam of experts and neophytes, covered in sweat and pimples, slowly unpeeled ourselves from our variety of down jackets, blue jeans, moist sweaters, snot encrusted scarves, (the cool kids had something they called “ski pants,”) and various other cold weather gear, until we appeared as the gods intended: a bunch of excited kids in damp, waffle-iron-stamped long johns, covered by their mother’s idea of “suitable street clothes.”
Then, the usual teen-age bus pecking order rules of conduct took hold. Ronnie, along with his pack of toadies, took pride of place and commandeered the back seats. (This was considered cool even after the burning example of bravery exhibited by Rosa Parks, for reasons that still cannot be fathomed by thinking individuals, but those noble souls forget that on a school bus, the driver is the final arbiter of law and order. The farther away you are from “The Man,” the cooler you are.) I, being a 7th grade newbie, was of course relegated to a window seat in the middle of the bus and considered myself pretty well off.
Then the gods took notice. Donna, (bless her soul, she was, and hopefully still is, a much more courageous person than I was,) took the aisle seat next to me. While King Ronnie was holding court with his mostly male retinue in the back of the bus, talking loud and bragging proud, your humble narrator was enjoying whispered words, silent smiles, holding hands, and sharing some particularly gentle, sweet, exploratory kisses with Ronnie’s much quieter, and infinitely more appealing sister, just a few rows away. Thus was the tale of my first ski day.
As quickly as my ski life began, it came to a resounding and seemingly final halt. The following Monday, back in school, the wrestling coach, Mr. Brown announced that he’d learned that a few members of HIS team had had the audacity to go skiing during WRESTLING SEASON. This was particularly distasteful to Mr. Brown.
If I may, please allow me to interject a bit of explanation. In the middle of the 20th century, there was a specific position in much of the USA’s educational system that could only be referred to as “the serious gym teacher.” Mr. Brown was a particularly robust example of just such an educator. He was enormously powerful, both physically and mentally. He could sit at half court and using just the strength of his arms, shoot baskets. It didn’t matter it the shots went in or missed. He was always close, and never came up short. If you think that this is an easy feat, give it at try. No drill instructor that I’ve ever met has instilled the type of bowel clearing fear, fealty, and respect than that which Mr. Brown garnered at that time from my 12 year old mind. I’ve never met the teen-age soul that had the will, gall, sense of purpose, or sheer bull-moose lunatic courage to oppose Mr. Brown.
Needless to say, I was sufficiently cowed. I went on to an astonishingly mediocre high school wrestling career, and never got to share another kiss with Donna.
As a minor form of rebellion, and perhaps to act as a salve for things that might have been, I would on occasion visit the school library and peruse Ski Magazine. Though I was not even a remotely possible perspective customer of the places and gear displayed on those pages, I do recall articles and advertisements from the early ’70’s that offered the promise of grace, glory, and enjoyment for all things ski oriented. I knew that Volkl made Zebras, that ROC 550’s were cool, that The Bugaboos was a place on Earth with glorious powder, and that the K2 company had the funniest advertising I’d ever seen except for Volkswagen and Alka Seltzer. (19K2.) I was aware of the fact that Kneissel made skis, but hadn’t the slightest idea of how to pronounce the name “Kneissel,” and also knew that Blizzard made skis, but didn’t know that I didn’t know how to pronounce “Blizzard.” Spaulding made the small pink rubber balls that were the ubiquitous rock upon which my countless childhood games of stick-ball were built, but in my neighborhood we called them spall-deens. It wasn’t until an Italian genius named Gustavo won gold at Sapporo on skis made by a company with the same name that I could conceive of the concept that they even knew that the color orange existed. As a conceit that supposedly was intended to ensure Gustavo’s status as an “amateur” skier, Spaulding could not use his name or his face in their advertisements. The photo in the particular ad that I remember showed the skis held vertically on a white background, and the only part of Gustavo that was visible was the tip of The Great Man’s nose. Back in those days, a the concept of nose brought to my mind either Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, or Our Leader in Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper. Still, I knew just whose nose was in the photograph.
Alas, that was what I believed to be the end of my life’s experience with skiing.
I managed to earn a diploma, serve my country, tried my best to be a good person, engaged in a pair of vastly rewarding careers, met, fell in love with, and married a most wonderful woman, become a father, and have had the good fortune to have traveled to, worked in, and made friends on 6 of the Earth’s continents. Little did I suspect that I was merely passing time during a rather lengthy hiatus from skiing.
Fast forward to New Years Day, 2005. My skiing rebirth took place at Vail, Colorado. That my friends, is another story, but you may infer that I’m no longer a member of the wrestling team.
Edited by Bazzer - 12/27/12 at 5:42am