I am not very good at sports. Honestly, I was generally chosen last or very close to last on any team. There are a long string of coaches from elementary to high school who knew I only showed up at my chosen sport practice to chat with my friends. My mom’s best memory of my short-lived pee wee soccer career was watching me pick daisies in the backfield while the game went on around me.
But I love to ski. For some odd reason, my mother would bundle me up in all manner of puffy clothes and lug our skis, both annual ski swap purchases, across icy parking lots to spend what was likely a hefty amount of cash on a day of skiing. I’m guessing she liked the sport a little, too, although the first few years of my downhill education she spent hunched over as I teetered between her legs, hanging over her ski poles. No way was that fun for her – but it was an outrageous time for me!
As I got older, I got better and eventually started skiing faster and steeper stuff, all the while demanding better equipment. And money for lift tickets and lunch. She complied. I skied. I loved the speed and the near-death experience you can have while facing down a tree or leaning just a little too far back on your heels. I loved the icy air, and hidden trails between runs, and the rhythm of turns to get lost in.
It was inevitable that when we went to Chile one summer in June that I would insist on a trip to a ski slope. It was winter there, after all, and the Andes shoot straight up behind Santiago. I could practically smell the snow from the city streets. We found a small tourist shop that rented skis and sold reservations for a bus up the mountain. I remember arriving at some early hour to pick up our equipment with a few ex-pats and tourists, and off we went. Straight up the mountain, on roads covered in snow and ice, in a bus with bald tires. There was only room for one car on the narrow road, so the morning route meant everybody was going up, and in the evening everybody went down. Like suicide lanes on city streets, only deadlier. I remember sliding backward for the umpteenth time when our bus had to stop abruptly while a plow pulled out the car in front of us, and realized someone had forgot to put guardrails on this particular switchback. Actually, all the switchbacks.
We finally made it to the top, thanked the many saints and angels on duty, and went about spending a fine day skiing the Andes mountains. El Colorado was the resort where we skied and it could not have been a more perfect day. Blue skies, fresh powder and view from the top of the world. I could not believe my luck! I may or may not have accidentally fallen off the side of the lodge deck while peering down into the city far below, but aside from that slight misadventure, I thoroughly enjoyed my first ski trip on the South American continent.
I still ski, and will continue as long as my legs hold me up. It’s probably the most expensive hobby one can enjoy, and every few years they change all the rules for equipment. But for me, it’s still about the speed, the sound, the rhythm and the icy, open air.