Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful (and thankful) ...

Boston, drizzling ...

Having just wrapped up a few stories for the New England Ski Journal, I got to thinking about one of my favorite ski tales (which, by the way, are almost as good as fish tales, depending on how much alcohol is flowing apres ski). A few years back, I was on a ski press trip to Utah along with Maddi, who was all of 8 at the time. On this particular day, she was in the ski school at Park City, and I was freeskiing this superb resort, grabbing as many turns as I could. Then it all turned bad (No, that's not me in the accompanying photo -- it's actually from Vail -- but I've always wanted to use it! Plus, I think it's safe to say that, had I seen this photo before my Park City adventure, I'm not sure I would have ever gathered the nerve to jump!) ...

Lift hucking in the Wasatch

The bright light of day was already beginning to relent to the peach and pink hues of late afternoon when I curled into the Silverlode lift line at Park City, Utah. I was pushing my luck, having roamed far from the Park City's sprawling base village, where my 8-year-old daughter Maddi would be waiting for me after her ski lessons. But I couldn't help myself – it had been an glorious Utah day at a world-class resort, and I was going to squeeze every run out of it I could.

A large, no-nonsense lift attendant herded me onto the Silverlode high-speed "six-pack," along with five other powder hounds. She didn't crack a smile when I quipped, "Beautiful day, eh?" Maybe she didn't like the look of the dark shadows that were rolling in. Her loss, I thought (though she could have learned a lesson or two from my friends back at Sugarloaf). The six of us plopped onto the padded seats, the chair clamped onto the high-speed cable, and we were off. For about 12 seconds.

I'd barely had a chance to say "Hi!" to the snowboarder on my left when a loud "Bang!" shot from deep inside the lift building. The lift jerked to a halt, and then started swaying up and down. We all instinctively grabbed the safety bar, trying to settle our nerves and our stomachs. "That didn't sound too good," said my new snowboarder friend, in a deep, Arnold Schwarzenegger-style Austrian accent. Once the waves in my gut subsided, I looked over the front of the lift and saw that we were suspended about 15 feet over a fresh patch of untracked powder. "Doesn't look too bad," said Ah-nold with a big, toothy grin. "I'm not so sure," I replied with a shaky laugh, the thought of flinging my 40-something body off a lift not sitting well at all. Being from New England, I'd seen what lurks beneath the lifts – sheared tree trunks, jagged rocks, and other assorted hazards, both natural and man-made.

So as the lift rocked gently in the breeze, we made ourselves comfortable. To my right was a Wall Street type, who immediately pulled out his Blackberry and started multi-tasking, not saying a word to anyone. To his right were a mother and daughter, the latter wearing a helmet festooned with one of those ridiculous polar fleece ornaments that made her look like a court jester. She was chit-chatting non-stop, in a high-pitched Valley Girl voice, convincing me that if the lift didn’t start soon, I'd be forced to jump just to save my sanity. I was certain the poor, ordinary looking character sitting next to them on the far right felt the same.

Five, then 10 minutes passed. Anyone who's been stuck on a lift knows what an eternity that seems like. Even Mr. Wall Street started getting agitated, after he apparently ran out of things he could do on his Blackberry. Finally, Mom thought to call the resort from her cell phone. She explained that she was sitting on the Silverlode chair, and it hadn't moved for 15 minutes. After nodding her head a few times, she blurted out "Thanks," closed her flip phone, and sighed. "Well, they’re sending someone over, " she said, exasperated. "It appears they’ve blown a piston or something."

"That's it, I'm out of here," announced Ah-nold abruptly. "You go, I go," I stammered, though unsure where the words were coming from. The irony is that, during my first forays into skiing as a youngster, I had an annoying penchant for falling off lifts, much to my Dad’s consternation. But that was a long, long time ago, when my body was much more pliable. Plus, I don't think I ever fell more than five feet, max. This time, I’m looking at a good 15-foot drop, with a body that’s unaccustomed to hucking off of high places.

Undeterred, Ah-nold quickly unfastened his board, tossed it aside, took a deep breath and pushed off, hitting the snow in a soundless burst of powder. "It's good … very good," said my Austrian shredder, beaming. And with that, he collected his board and post-holed his way into the nearby woods (apparently to avoid prosecution).

Without giving myself time to allow another doubt to creep into my grey matter, I threw my poles into the divot created by Ah-nold’s landing and reached forward to pop off my skis. I ignored the surly demands of the barking lift attendant, who, I learned later, had every right to insist that we stay on the lifts, since it's illegal to jump off them in Utah. Better I didn't know. My only thought was that it was late, and getting later, with little to no hope of getting off the lift and getting back to Maddi before sundown. Other than jumping.

I jettisoned my skis as well, watching them spin in a perfect arch before hitting the snow, like a twisting diver off the high platform. One stuck the landing, sinking past the bindings, which told me I had at least three feet of fluff to cushion my 215 pounds. Rushing to prevent thinking, I bid Mr. Wall Street, Mom and Daughter, and Joe Average a quick adieu, slid my butt to the edge of the seat, and launched myself. I’m fairly certain I didn’t look as graceful as my skis, especially on impact. My feet hit first, but my forward momentum drove my face into the powder, filling my mouth, nose and ears. And it felt wonderful.

With blood and adrenaline thumping through my veins, I spun to give my chair mates a quick thumbs up, before gathering my gear and tracing Ah-nold’s footprints into the woods. Only then did I hear the cheers of other skiers stranded in chairs further up the line. Taking one last glance behind me, I watched as the daughter, hanging full-stretch from the chair, plopped down with a yelp! I kicked off the packed snow on the underside of my boots, snapped in, looked around for any vigilante lift attendants, and skied off to find Maddi.


1 comment:

Nancy Marshall said...

It's amazing what we'll do for our kids. And yes, at Sugarloaf we don't let a few black clouds scare us! Great post, Bri!