by | Jan 21, 1990 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

LAKE TAHOE, Nev. — Let us begin today’s ski lesson at the chair lift, where I am standing with my friend, who, like me, is not an experienced skier, but we are not worried, because, after all, what can happen at a chair lift? And our turn comes. I clomp forward on my skis, then I look over my shoulder, and, uh-oh, this is bad. My friend is not moving. My friend is just standing there, petrified. And here I am, all alone, in the middle of the loading zone. And I’m thinking, “Hmm. Should I go backward? How do you go backward? Can I –“

And here comes the chair.

Whompf! I am tackled by the ski patrol.

“Sorry,” says the man, brushing off the snow, as the chair whizzes by overhead, “I didn’t want you to get hit.”

Lesson No. 1: Better to be tackled than to get on the chair. If you get on the chair, you have to ride to the top of the mountain, and sooner or later you will have to come down, on skis, unless you want to marry the woman who operates the snow blower and live up there for the rest of your life. And that woman weighs 374 pounds. Without boots.

And speaking of boots. Are these the right ones? Who knows? I tried to ask the tall, handsome, Nordic-looking man who rented them, but he looked at me as if to say “I am a tall, handsome, Nordic-looking man, and you are a flea. Why should I answer you?”

So I didn’t ask. Besides, it is my fault. Every winter, I hear this voice from the mountains, which seems to say: “Fresh powder, brisk air, exhilarating sensation . . . ” Of course, we now know this is just a Communist code. The true meaning is: “Torn ligaments, complete humiliation, certain death . . . “

And here comes the chair. Stick with the ski patrol

Skiing, of course, dates back to the dawn of time, when a tall, handsome, Nordic-looking man dropped his beer down the side of a mountain, grew very upset, knocked down two trees, and rode to the bottom. He finished the beer, then, seeing as he was already down there, opened the first ski tavern.

Since then, millions have enjoyed the fine sport of skiing, which is a Swedish word meaning “two pieces of wood you could buy in a lumber yard for
$3.97.” Did I say enjoy? Ha! No one really enjoys skiing. Sure, you see pictures of skiers smiling as they spray a cloud of powder behind them. Don’t be fooled. Those are professional actors. The real look of a skier is actually the same look the priest had when he saw Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”

But let’s get back to the chair. What a delightful ride! Twenty minutes in freezing cold, without a safety bar. And if you are lucky, you sit next to a man who had salami for lunch.

The ride up, however, gives us a chance to check the sights below. Look. A glove. I wonder what happened to the rest of the body.

And look. A pole. The purpose of poles, of course, is to throw them high in the air just before you go barreling head- first into a snow drift. This way, the ski patrol has a marker by which to find you.

Hey. Where is the ski patrol?

They are in the lodge, drinking hot chocolate. Which is where you ought to be. Except you are in the chair, freezing.

And to think, this only cost $378.95. Never look directly at the teeth

Of course, that just pays for the lift ticket and the equipment rental. That does not include lessons. With a lesson you get a tall, handsome, Nordic-looking man who says, “Follow me.” Unfortunately, you are temporarily blinded when the sun reflects off his gleaming white teeth, and by the time your vision clears, he is nowhere in sight. So you try to go down the hill on your own, and you point your skis together, in an effort to go as slowly as possible. They call this “Snowplow,” a Swedish word meaning “spastic.”

And you tumble into a tree.

And here comes your instructor.

And he says: “$50, please.”

Oops. We are almost at the top. And I have not had a chance to tell you about the other hazards of the slopes, which include The Loose Binding and The Speeding Child On Tiny Skis Boy Would I Like To Wring His Neck. But we will discuss that some other time . . .

. . . because now comes the moment of truth, Lesson No. 2. Getting off the chair. You can try to stand, in which case your ski will catch and you will flip over like Mary Lou Retton. Or you can jump off and yell “YEEHOOO!”‘ like other skiers. And crash into the wooden map. Or you can just fall off in the fetal position, and claim you were sleeping.

Or you can do the wise thing: Stay in the chair. Do not get off. Ride back to the bottom. Take off your skis. Go to your room, and watch NFL football. It may not be active, but look at it this way.

At least someone else gets tackled.

Mitch Albom’s columns appear regularly in the Free Press sports section.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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