Confessions of a first-time skier


By JEFF OGRISSEG

Let’s face it, ski resorts are places where all but the agile pay good money to fall down in the supposed name of fun. The sport itself is highly overrated and I can only feel fortunate to live to tell about it.

SAPPORO, Japan — The exhilaration was simply incredible, or maybe it was just the normal apprehension of being on skis for the first time. Whichever, it too late to change my mind.

Now moving at interstate-highway speed, I concentrated on bending my knees to lower my center of gravity and prepared to make a turn.

So tightly packed was the snow that it resisted my shift in body weight and I continued to accelerate. Things were not going exactly as I had visualized they would. No matter, the next opportune spot for a turn was 50 yards and closing — closing fast, too.

In a panicky change of plans, I decided I’d better just stop and regroup.

I hit the top of the crest still moving around 45 kph, well short of my goal of zero, and I swear my life flashed before my eyes. This was honestly a better scene than what was below me: a near straight-down path loaded with other skiers, lift cable junction poles, and other obstacles.

Among the various scenes I witnessed in what I believed were the final moments of my life were those of watching Olympic skiers in action, and thinking, foolishly, that I could probably learn to do this and it would be fun. I was wrong, and no amount of repenting at this point could save my rapidly evaporating existence.

Visions of everyone in my life who claimed that skiing was fun also taunted me. I vowed, if I survived, to chastise each one for luring me into this predicament. And of all the stark realizations to have, I somehow landed on the most obvious one: I was, without a doubt, completely out of control.

Somewhere near what I thought would be the end of my life (you know, the vision of the bright light, and me skiing recklessly toward it), I recalled a lesson learned from my single experience of riding a motorcycle: lay it down. BAD MISTAKE. I next remembered, inconveniently late, that laying down the motorcycle wasn’t on the list of smart things that I’d done.

An outsider might have guessed that I was auditioning for that “agony of defeat” scene from ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The resulting cartwheel action, however, did delay my demise as I came, quite spectacularly, to a stop.

Within a few moments of wiping the pound and a half of accumulated snow from my sensory organs, I witnessed the glee of a 7-year-old who noted my survival. The little rug rat was, incidentally, nimbly skipping down the slope without any problems except that he had to dodge my hat, goggles and skis in his descent. The only pieces of my equipment not in his way were my poles, which I have determined are of absolutely no use coming down a hill unless you suddenly get the urge to joust a tree, or spear another skier so you can ride along behind to the bottom.

I decided to keep the poles (the rental shop people would have had a fit) and try to reattach my skis to my boots, and get moving again.

Putting skis back on, for those of you who have never thought about doing this, is not easy when you’re standing at a 45-degree angle on a slippery surface. What this means is that because the sadists in the sporting industry designed these smooth-bottom death contraptions without brakes, they slide along quite well (especially down hills) with the slightest action — like that of trying to insert your ski boot into them.

I won’t elaborate — you get the picture.

I’d only be guessing at the number of additional falls and spills, some face-first, that it took for me to finally reach the bottom. I do know that the 7-year-old passed me no less than three times, the last two times without his poles, and I will hate him forever.

To date, I’ve also not been contacted by any major sports networks, even though my exploits have become quite famous among specific vicious circles.

But, whatever possessed me to do what I did next made me seriously consider checking in for a CAT scan: I went back to the lift and rode up to do it again.

What the heck, I figured. I paid for a full-day lift pass.