The year of a skier is full of maudlin little milestones. In my case, I pass the first one in late July or early August, while cleaning out the cat’s litter box in the basement. Directly overhead are the shiny top-skins of skis resting base-up in the rafters. They catch my eye meaningfully for the first time since I stowed them there in April. Not long now. Actually it still is long now, but it’s late enough in the calendar year that I can give myself permission to start thinking about it. The buyer’s guide issues of Ski and Skiing will be out in a couple of weeks. In public I sometimes turn up my nose at these mags, but I pore over them hungrily in the privacy of the bathroom, where no one on EpicSki can watch.
Late in October I take down all the skis and inspect them carefully to determine which ones need to go to the doctor because of injuries sustained on late-season obstacles. On a crisp day when the thermometer testifies conclusively to summer’s end, I take them to the shop, and spend much longer there than filling out the work tickets really requires.
There is the day I first set up the tuning bench and touch up the skis that did not need serious medical attention. Eventually there is the first day of the season. Usually this is better than I expect, but only because I have carefully set low expectations. It is the second day when my ego takes the big hit, as off-season fantasies about how good I had gotten the season before encounter the real but forgotten hurdles of joint-stiffening cold, heavy gear, and muscle memory that will never forget a litany of skiing movements I learned when I was six and twelve and eighteen. Some of these habits are good – I can snowplow in the lift corral with the best of them. But many will need to be laboriously beaten down again this season. This in-my-face evidence of aging becomes tiresome, a decade or so into the brave new world of modern equipment and technique.
The first week in January marks the start of the beer league. Many of the acquaintances from my workplace, who got me started on this years ago, have become close friends. The signature artificial sweet odors of disinfectant, layers of damp old paint, and leaky plumbing in the cramped and ancient men’s room at Shawnee Peak now trigger an improbable nostalgia, when I encounter them for the first time each year.
In February or March, though, a day comes when I realize I’m skiing well again. An après-ski beer and high spirited trash talk with ski buddies, fueled by memories of a few high-quality turns, seems like a bigger gift than might seem reasonable to a non-skier. At that point a satisfying richness of days before the end of the season appears in front of me. Life is so good. Let’s plan the next big trip.
That richness of days is deceptive, though. Here we are again, now, today; so surprisingly, so predictably. “What did you think? Spring wouldn’t come this year?” my wife asks. I am postponing the day when I clean off the bench, but it is coming soon - perhaps this weekend. Maybe I have one more day on the hill, maybe not. It depends on many things beyond my control. Within two weeks, the skis will be back in the cellar.
Two days ago my dad, were he still living, would have turned 100. Forty-five years ago he taught me to ski on the slopes of Wildcat and Mt. Cranmore. I remember him putting the skis away carefully in the rafters, when that ceiling seemed impossibly high to me. My own son, taller than I am already, knows this whole routine too by now. Cheers, Dad. You done good.
Edited by qcanoe - 4/20/13 at 5:05am