Skiing with George


The first thing you learn when beginning to ski is as much philosophical as it is physical: life can go downhill fast.

Oh, you’ll enjoy some of it, but no way around it, you’re eventually going downhill. When the law is gravity, it’s one strike and you’re out.

That law is more of a suggestion when skiing the shallow, rolling hills of Southern Wisconsin where Lands’ End resides; if you’ve never seen a horizontal chairlift before, check out our tiny ski hills.

But New England topography is another story.

As a 12-year old growing up in Massachusetts I took skiing lessons with George, a tall, gangly friend who never once got two skis going in the same direction at the same time. George’s powder trail looked like a seismometer tracking two completely different earthquakes.

George and I practiced on the beginner’s slope, which was called “the bunny slope” because if we didn’t survive, much like bunnies, they could always make more of us.

We wore adult goggles that our heads would be lucky to grow into a decade later. They looked like those giant joke sunglasses you can’t win at carnivals. The sight of us caused the paramedics, who were always standing around, to laugh. What we should have worried about was that this was an activity where they paid paramedics to always stand around. These guys backed the ambulance into a space at the base of the bunny slope and left the rear doors open, so George and I could ski right in.

One day George came close. He lost control on the main hill, went hurtling over a protective berm, over the wooden railing of the ski lodge, across the porch with pointy poles flailing, through the door and into the lodge, where he removed his giant goggles and ordered cocoa.

That was George’s last day of skiing.

I kept at it for a few more years, but as with all sports requiring coordination, never really got that good. I remember seeing the brand on my skis, “Graves,” and hoping it wasn’t an omen. Back then, instructors recommended much longer skis, especially if you were tall. I was approaching six feet and growing, so the fiberglass planks attached to my feet were approximately 300 yards long. Riding up the lift, my skis extended well beyond the chair in front of mine. People three chairs up would rest their coffee cup on them. You could have seen my skis from Google Earth, had personal computers had been invented – but if they had, I wouldn’t have been out skiing, I would have been at home on Google Earth.

I’ve since lost track of George. I don’t know where he is now, but I hope it’s somewhere flat. And I hope that at this time of year, he still enjoys a nice, warm cup of cocoa.

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