In the past week, my mid-sized burg has received upwards of a foot and a half of snow. In other words, I’ve already had my Christmas.
Snow, to me, is a gift. I love that junk–slippery, light, heavy, cold, transmuting, crystalline; it satisfies my Myers-Briggsian ENFP need for change, as it takes the entire world around me, covers it with Abominable Snowman vomit, and makes everything seem different and new and worthy of attention.
Plus, snow means skiing. And, hypothetically, I love skiing.
Since we didn’t leave the house so much during my youth in Montana (but, man, did we watch us some Family Feud!), I only took up cross-country skiing when I was 29. In my mind, then, that was last year, even though a closer look at the calendar might reveal it to have been 11 years ago.
When I started skiing, I lived in Southern Minnesota, where the strongest adjective that can be applied to a hill is “undulating.” As well, I didn’t know anyone else who skiied, so I pretty much winged it when it came to buying equipment and technique. Suffice it to say, I went “novice” with both. I learned to slide a little on short, wide, waxless skis. Shuffling along, I zip-a-dee-doo-dahed and looked at deer and squirrels at the local nature center. They looked back at me. It was all very “Disney on Ice,” except no one came along and took a rifle and blew Bambi’s mom’s head off while I shooshed by.
A decade later, my equipment and ability were still stuck at novice. I had met and married Ye Olde Groom, a Norwegiany type who had been on skis from age 4 (admittedly difficult during the summer months, but, amazingly, he still managed to swim, eat corn on the cob, attend the State Fair, and learn to cross-pollinate corn, all with a pair of Rossignols strapped on). He’d even competed as an individual in cross-country skiing at the State tournament during high school. Having held a life-long anti-jock policy (killer premiums), I had to take a great leap of confidence to allow such an experienced athlete into my life, much less to allow him to lay eyes on me attempting to ski. The first time he watched me barrel down an icy hill, he was typically kind, applauding the fact that I had stayed on my feet, smiling joyfully, the whole way down.
I confessed that my face, pulled back by the G-force of the wind during my uncontrolled plunge, had been frozen into kind of a death grimace.
Nevertheless, I benefitted from the tips he gave me. But then, a few months later, we started running the Kid Gig, and that meant tag-team parenting, which, in turn, meant I was back to skiing alone, my technique petrified. Two winters ago, when we finally took the financial plunge to buy me some new, waxable skis, it was my will that became petrified. While my hope had been that better equipment could help me take that leap into becoming a better skiier, the actual result was that better skis highlighted completely my inability to ski. Those old, waxless skis? They’d obligingly hidden my lack of know-how. However, genuinely slick skis caused me to cry, panic, and then crumble out there on the trails. They went really fast, and I didn’t want to go really fast. I had rather cottoned-to skiing like an 80-year-old priest, it turned out.
So now I’m all about rationalizing my way into situations where I need to use my old, comfort skis. The newer, excellent skis sit largely unused there, in the corner; they’ve taken up crocheting. I may get a lovely scarf out of my neglect. Instead, I either make a case for the temperatures being too cold or, um, too warm for me to deal with waxing my hot-shot skis. Barring that, I have decided to cultivate an enthusiasm for back-country and river skiing, pursuits that require wider, hack-em-up skis and virtually no understanding of how to use the poles or hit a rhythm. I don’t even mind the spots with frozen waterfalls, where I have to take off my skis and huck them to the top and then scramble up after them. I’m never a better skiier than when I’m holding my skis and tossing them away from my body.
Oh yes, I’m a rhapsodic river skiier. Today, I twittered out for my first river ski of the season. Sure, it’s been cold, but the season is still in its infancy, and the subzero temperatures have just settled in, so as I departed, I tossed a quick, mostly-facetious, “Hope I don’t break through” to Groom.
Forty minutes later, after zig-zagging past and over myriad patches of open water and burbling holes, I had, indeed, broken through at least five times. The first time a five-foot slate of ice crumpled below me, causing my being to drop a foot, I squealed like Angelina Jolie spotting an Asian orphan. I didn’t get wet, though, and since I know the creek I was on isn’t particularly deep, I kept going. And breaking through.
After a bit, one of my skis was caked in two inches of ice and would no longer glide. I was snowshoeing on skis on a semi-frozen creek. But, hark!, there was a birdie. Tweet, tweet, little birdie. Look at Jocelyn here, being a skiier!
Crash. Down I went again. On about the sixth whomp through into the still-running creek, my one ski had become a leaden popsicle, weighing me down. I did a weird little wet-in-a-frozen-creek version of the hokey pokey and finally managed to extract that iced-up paw from the waters below.
Since the whole point of my venture had been exercise and relaxation, and since I was feeling decidedly weighed down and anxious, I did the logical thing: I took off my skis and climbed up the side of the little canyon to the road.
It was an agreeable toddle back down the road to my car. During my walk, I considered the ambivalence that marks my relationship with skiing. I have a bit of a complex about it, what with living in an intensely-accomplished outdoorsy community. I would like to be good. I would like to hang with the big guns. I would like to be able to stop screaming in my head when I have the sticks strapped to my feet.
Odds are, that isn’t going to happen. What does satisfy me is knowing that I’m doing it and that there is a certain grace in trying. I don’t come from a tradition of “getting out there.” Yet I’m getting out there. In the larger context of my life, the fact that I even own skis is a marvel. The fact that I willingly take them onto thin-ice-over-running-water somewhat cavalierly is nothing short of miraculous.
As is the feeling that my kids will grow up free of my athletic demons. Although I will fail them in other ways, and they will grow up to discover they lack other skills they wish they had, I can at least snarl at them in the middle of a future argument, “Listen. You know how to ski. I gave you that. So hesh up, Little Miss ‘Why Can’t I Play the Bassoon When All the Other Kids Can’!” (that’s generally how I talk to the kids, incidentally)
For right now, when they are young, and my feelings toward them are uncluttered with too much annoyance, I can simply call it a miracle: thanks to a community program called KidSki, my kids will always find skiing natural.
Tomorrow is the first meeting of Kidski for this year. It will be Girl’s third year and Niblet’s first. Already, they’ve been in the yard this week, tootling around merrily on their skis. Niblet spends most of the time on his back, skis to the sky, eating snow. Girl, however, whips around the house in gleeful loops.
Groom built a “digger sled,” which can be pulled while he skis. We took Girl out on the river with it one day, a couple seasons ago. She refused to set even one boot in it–because she insisted on skiing instead. Of course, she got all frustrated and had an enormous meltdown out there, and we had to threaten to leave her there in the snowy woodlands to grow up a feral child, raised by wolves, speaking like Jodie Foster in Nell, before she stopped her fit and allowed us to take the skis off her feet. But, hell, she wanted to ski that badly. I would have been in the sled in a trice, were I her. I was in the sled, in fact, as we waited for her to wind down, the crazy little snitter.
I could have used her today, as I broke through repeatedly. In her absence, though, I plowed on, gave up, and hoofed it back to the car, mentalling marveling at her easy confidence, her free-wheeling joy, on skis.
I don’t get it. But I sure do admire it.