by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter 2/2010 and Boston City Paper 3/2007
He’s about seventeen years old, awkward as hell, and trying his best to look cool while standing on a pair of skis for the first time. Beautiful girls swoosh by, making the skiing look easy. Little kids — some as young as five — also whoosh down the difficult trails, looking like Olympic material.
The teenager remembers the words of his friend John: “You don’t need to take lessons. To stop, just bring the skis together like this.” He slides a few feet, brings the skis together as instructed, and promptly somersaults into the snow. Getting back up on two feet with all the grace of an elephant on stilts, he steadies himself. “This is only a bunny hill. Little kids can handle it, you’ll have no trouble!”
With a push, he’s off! (His rocker, that is). Within four seconds, he’s flailing, within another two, he’s on his face, and within ten he’s at the bottom of the hill, desperately trying to remember his blood type for the EMTs that will surely come for him.
Another run down the hill follows. He actually flies impressively about ten feet before attempting to slow down. The resulting fall this time is right out of the cartoons; he feels like a snowball rolling out of control, skis, feet and hands flying every which way, until he finally flops onto a snow bank.
A child — five, maybe six — whooshes over, skiing to a perfect stop and squeaks, “Hey, Mister, are you okay?”
Embarrassed and soaked, the would-be-skier just snarls, “Go away, kid.”
Back at the top of the bunny hill, he thinks about the waiver he had to sign, which read something like, “The ski place isn’t responsible if you break any of the 600 bones in your body (or if you die doing this), but you are responsible if you break our skis.”
Our hero makes three more runs down the bunny hill. He collides with a young woman on the first run, wipes out on the second, and on the last run, finally makes it all the way down the bunny hill until he finally collides with the snow fence separating the slopes from the highway. Dazed and sore, he decides skiing isn’t his sport.
And thus ends the official and absolutely true account of my first and only attempt to ski. After my less than stellar attempt at skiing so many years ago, I’d decided never again to try it. I had cheated death, and knew that the unforgiving bunny slope would certainly get me next time.
But a few weeks ago, I gave the skiing thing another try. My wife and I were away for a glorious, inexpensive 24 hour vacation — we were going to try cross-county skiing.
“No we’re not,” I protested, “I nearly died doing that.”
“Cross-country skiing,” she emphasized. “It’s not like we’re going down any black diamond trails.”
Before I knew it, we were in New Hampshire, at the wonderfully familiar cabins where my family had spent so many happy vacations for almost twenty summers. Gazing fondly at the snow covered landscape, I reflected that I was about to create a new memory here at the old mountain home, or die here, at the old mountain home.
Despite my concerns about my impending snowy demise, I couldn’t help reflecting how happy I was to be back in Bartlett. Every memory of this rural New Hampshire town is a happy one, and in all the times I’ve returned here, I’ve felt at home.
Before I knew it, I was lacing up a pair of futuristic looking purple booties and learning how to snap the boots to the skis. We were off!
You’d think that the simple fact that cross-county skiing is on a FLAT surface would make a lot of difference, but it doesn’t. We were still flopping all over the place, each taking turns losing our balance and falling into snow banks. Any indication of success, such as, “Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of this!” was always immediately followed by a loud cry and a flop in the snow.
Feeling brave after five minutes without a fall, I tried a little hill by the Saco River. As I expertly navigated the twenty-foot slope, I jubilantly announced, “I did it! I did it! Did you see this?” just as I wiped out and married another snow bank.
Over the next few hours, (and after many falls) we started to get the hang of it, and as I swished along the snow, I realized that I was living in a perfect moment. The sky was absolutely clear and bright blue, the temperature a comfortable 25 or so, and the wind was mild. It occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about any of the problems or issues in my life during that entire time. I wasn’t thinking about work, or stress, or anything else. My biggest concern was making my way across the beautiful snow covered landscape.
Within 24 hours, I’d be back at the desk, but as I swished along a perfectly groomed snowy trail, all that mattered was the wonderful feeling of being outside on a perfect day, in a place I love, trying to do something new and challenging. For that precious day, nothing else was important.
I’ve learned that the best vacations can be those inexpensive, spontaneous moments in time that we grab from our busy schedule. Those are the real vacations that put everything in perspective. And sometimes, you even get to retry something that had eluded you the first time.
Now, if I could just make it down the bunny hill without killing myself, life would be perfect. Maybe next time. And there WILL be a next time. This experience was too rewarding not to repeat. I WILL conquer that bunny hill one of these days.