Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
Just so you know where this is going.....
ON THE OUTSIDE:
ON THE INSIDE:
This terrified penguin poops big jellybeans. He was a gift, as I went off to learn to ski in the
Dolomites of northeastern Italy. He’s on a sled, not skis, but it’s the same idea….terminal
slipperiness with optional stopping. Skis don’t have brakes. His mental condition inspired
me to Google "ski accidents" while I was packing. That's like shutting a hypochondriac in a
closet with a medical encyclopedia. By the time I got on the plane, I’d racked up an
impressive list of alpine misadventures, but had no clear idea of how to avoid having one of
my own. Is there a pattern here? Even now, they’re piling up:
Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, took a fatal spill on Christmas Eve, as
did expert Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke, two months ago. Robert Kennedy’s son,
Michael , a few years ago in Aspen - but he was playing football on skis, without a helmet.
(Plus, everyone knows he was not a champion of good judgment, reportedly having seduced
his kid’s 14-year-old babysitter, although he swore he in fact had thoughtfully waited two
years until she was 16, legal age in Massachusetts.) In Austria, a British mother of three
collided with another skier. Spanish golf star Miguel Angel Jimenez is out of action with a
broken leg, after he lost control in the Sierra Nevada. In Maryland, another “wonderful
skier” caught an edge and tried to take out a tree. So did U.S. Congressman - and Cher’s
former husband - Sonny Bono.
And the Beat Goes On… drums keep poundin’ rhythm to the brain. Or not. Bono, in particular, caught my attention. “Could he have avoided it?” I asked myself, as I felt my boots snap securely into the ski bindings on Day One of my lessons; or was it, as my father would have said, just his time? Daddy was a believer in that sort of thing; he didn’t even like to fly. “I don’t care if my number’s up,” he’d say, “I just don’t want to be on board when somebody else’s number is up.”
I was thinking along those lines as I picked up speed on the kiddie Learners Slope on Day Two, and slammed headlong into a 6-foot laughing plastic bear mounted on a pole. ”Aaaaaa!” I threw my arms around him. At one point, I remember glimpsing my skis silhouetted against the blue sky. It was spectacular. Parents stopped watching their three-year-old aces and began betting on whether I was going to get up. In Italy they bet on everything. My sci maestro (ski instructor) bent down to say with a grin that he’d never “seen-a someteeng-a like-a dees-a” before. He reminded me of my hockey teacher standing over me, hitting my helmet with his stick like it was the most fun he’d had all day.
By Day Five, with all that casualty research still rattling around in my head, I’d gotten up the nerve to take the ski lift. Don’t laugh. Previous attempts to ride to the top of the easiest slope with a T-bar stuck between my legs resulted in letting go of the damn thing too early. I’d flung it away with a flourish, certain this would impress the Italians. But there wasn’t enough momentum to keep going forward at the top, and gravity took me down backwards, like Wiley Coyote. This time my instructor, Roberto, was a tireless, fearless man with a great sense of humor and an appreciation for Harleys, guitar playing and anything by Bob Seger.
At the top, on the Blue intermediate slope where I had no business even getting my skis wet, Roberto made me sing “Against the Wind” as I negotiated its twists and turns in a beginner’s snowplough position, with him skiing backwards directly in front of me. The muscles in my legs were screaming. But then… then, there were two long moments that made it all worthwhile, spots where the slope was about as steep as my driveway and I could really enjoy it. That had been his plan all along, so that I could have that experience. Thank you Roberto, I could not have done it without you.
At the bottom, I decided my father would be happy to know that my number had not been up. And I gave myself credit, after all, because nobody had had to carry me down.