Going to great (graduated) lengths

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, January 15, 2012

Another brilliant day at the skate track where I have brought an acquaintance to make a loop. She, an out-of-towner who hasn’t cross-country skied in years, is on borrowed equipment, which turns out to be skate skis, which she is unfamiliar with. I have on my “sport” Rossignol skis from 20 years ago, long skinny turquoise curled sticks that make me think I’m actually from the elf kingdom and should be wearing a velvet cloak rimmed with bells.

Once I fall over — from going too slow — it makes me think I’m actually a character in one of those antiquated Warren Miller movies where the whole world gets laughed at. After picking myself up, I look around at the sparkly whiteness around me, and bear up. The sky is so blue, so sweetly, painfully blue, I can taste it.

Even so, back at the car I can’t wait to rip off the skis. I find myself thinking monomaniacally about purchasing a newer, more appropriate pair for days like these, and possibly taking a classic lesson, and maybe never looking stupid again in my life. What’s that all about? It’s about other things. Obviously.

It is 1971. I am on my first ski bus going to my first ski lesson, loading up the gear my father assures me will be good enough for testing the sport: 6-foot wooden skis with cable bindings and poles with baskets the size of grapefruits. I’m so excited to be getting on a bus at 5:30 in the morning in the dark, that I don’t really see what will be obvious in the coming light of day: that I will be the only one using equipment from a time when people wore knickers and scratchy sweaters, did Royal Christies and listened to Perry Como by the fireside.

An hour and a half later, dazed by the whole intoxicating ski bus vibe, warming to the prospect of more cute boys than I ever knew existed, I disembark at Snoqualmie Pass and somehow get my gear to where I’m supposed to be, to my never-ever group, and to a fascinating blond instructor named Charlie. He has a mustache and makes jokes a little too raw and sexy for 13-year-olds. I have blocked any memories of Charlie’s expression when he sees my skis.

I have also blocked the part about how I somehow get from the lesson to the ski school headquarters where onlookers, no doubt, are eyeing and coveting my equipment for their historic dioramas or skiing museums. The next thing I actually remember is being completely re-outfitted with Head skis so short I’m worried I’ll be joining the 5-year-olds and that Charlie will be lost forever. Nope. But I am a guinea pig in an experiment called the Graduated Length Method of skiing.

Frankly, I have blocked out everything about that first day except Charlie’s demo on Jet Stix (Google it), a steamy bus ride home drinking cherry coke, and this thought: that life has gotten alarmingly exciting. I want to say I remember telling my father, in the iciest tone I can muster, that skis are provided for those too impoverished to own them. And that current models are made of laminate and not hickory wood.

In fact, whatever it is that I do say makes an impression because the next year, dad takes me to the annual super blowout ski sale at REI where I literally claw and then dive my way to the last pair of red, white, and blue K2 comps, on sale for half of the original and outrageous $180. It is a whole new world of ‘70s cool.

When I arrive in Telluride in the early ‘80s, I have to learn to ski all over again, and the first thing to go? The K2s. The new hand-me-down skis I manage to get my hands on are a pair of Rossignol fp’s, probably 195s, silver, red and blue. A ski stiff enough to lay over a ditch and drive across. A ski straight enough to use as a level. An impossible ski to turn for a beginner weighing 110 pounds.

Hundreds of stem christies later, guided by a new fascinating blond and mustached instructor (whom I eventually marry), I am still trying to understand words like angulation and carving and camber. The next year, I graduate to a second-hand pair of Olin racing skis, white with red letters, 203s, which are so soft in comparison, I feel like they are nearly as short as those first Heads. I start to think that I might be beginning to learn to make a decent turn … which, looking back, might have been nothing more than wishful thinking.

I have no idea what the moral of this story is, even after searching a database of 600 English proverbs. I guess that the long and short of it is always simply that: the long and short of it.

One Reply to “Going to great (graduated) lengths”

  1. LOL I had a similar experience in 1970 when I started ski school. It must be a right of passage. Not only were my skis wood, my binding cables and my boots leather, but my ski coat was knee-length forest green, my hat a long red stocking cap, and my ski pants salmon pink (the best of the F&N left over sale). My strongest memory of those lessons was a girl from my school who was two years older (eighth grade!) in a skin tight purple sweater and her big breasts. The instructors paid much more attention to her than me.

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