Utah's 1.7 million "Ski Utah" license plates and catchy "Cheap thrills" Brighton resort billboards did the trick this winter and lured me, an avid non-skier, into a beginning lesson.
The experience redefined humility.For starters, few physically mature Utah males are non-skiers; few still would admit it. At least that's my hunch, based on observation and informal statistical analysis of friends and family.
For example, all of my siblings and most of my co-workers ski. At least, they fit the definition of a skier: one who owns equipment (however archaic); one who at least once a winter can boast racoonlike facial sunburn from wearing goggles on sunny slopes; and one who parades around with an all-day pass dangling from a parka.
Though skiing is clearly the "in" thing to do in Utah, I have spurned the advances of skier acquaintances for years--until this winter. It occurred to me that the sport might be a way to spend some fun, active time with the kids. Maybe all of this Winter Olympic fever began to give me the chills.
Prior to the lesson, there first was the matter of deciding what type of skiing to pursue. I considered Alpine, Nordic and cross country. The choice was narrowed to two when some know-it-all pointed out that nordic and cross country were one and the same. From there it was easy. Why walk when you can ride and glide? Downhill (skier jargon for Alpine) was the obvious choice.
From there, queries to resorts and skier types led my 7-year-old daughter and me to Brighton.
Lesson day rolled around, and a few unforeseen obstacles cropped up. The first was getting borrowed skis into a rackless car.
The skis were Rossignols, which made me feel good. I'd hate to make an inagural appearance on the sloped with skis labeled Craftsman or Western Family.
The boards, as I affectionately called them, would not angle into the trunk. And they wouldn't fit across the back seat. The only alternative was to call upon some geometric calculations, angling and bending the skis into the car after opening all four doors, then resting them on the dashboard and back window ledge. The boards were neck-high and protruded distractingly into the front seat. A broadside hit from another vehicle would have meant decapitation.
We made our getaway, armed with lip gloss and wearing four layers of socks for warmth--and so my brother's oversized ski boots wouldn't cause blisters. But I hadn't counted on how tight all those socks would make my Nikes on the way to the resort.
At the Brighton ticket office, we requested two lesson passes. The guy behind the counter gave us one, and asked if I wanted a day pass.
"You want a lesson too?" he said, after I had restated my position. He wasn't blatantly condescending, just surprised--and maybe not real bright. Guess he figured anyone with a Utah's drivers license and a set of Ski Utah plates would have learned years earlier.
My daughter and I donned uncomfortable ski boots and hobbled up the stairs to the lesson area, where I was whisked away to the adult class. I had figured on being the only older type willing to submit to a lesson and had planned on being with the kids, where I had hoped to assume a sort of leadership role.
Instead, I was with a bunch of other old folks--all claiming to be from out of state.
The instructors--cloned 20-year-old males with Travel Council smiles, Coppertone tans, GQ hairstyles and no evidence of whiskers--asked if anyone had been on skis or ever ridden a lift. I didn't admit to anything. The sky ride at Lagoon probably wouldn't have counted, anyway.
Then they got personal and asked where everyone was from.
"Alabama, New York, Florida, Los Angeles, Georgia..."
I stared down at the snow. Not a soul from Utah. Or at least nobody admitted it.
Fortunately, they didn't pin everybody down. I took the Fifth.
They herded the group to a short tow rope, where we were dragged 50 yards uphill after having our arms wrenched from our shoulder sockets. They had us go down one at a time and then split everybody into two groups. Group A members all demonstrated the ability to stop at the bottom. I was in Group B.
We spent the next two hours learning to sidestep up hills, fall, and then get up. Eventually, we took brief turns gliding downhill, practicing turning, clowing down, and stopping. Young skiers riding the lift overhead laughed, pointed and catcalled. One spit.
Finally, the coup de grace--the trip up the lift. We snaked over to the one called Mary--not real macho sounding. I was paired with a fellow from Alabama in town for a farm convention. We chatted about the Hefefords and hybrid hays all the way up the mountain. It was a long ride.
About halfway up, I saw my little girl skiing down. I yelled and waved. She looked pale and didn't smile. I realized that she, at 7, had ridden this monster lift, which didn't include a safety bar. I felt like a pushy parent who had threatened my kid's life while forcing her to do something I had wanted to do. All in the name of improving family relationships.
We successfully disembarked the lift--no small feat--and followed our instructors slowly down the hillside like a family of ducks.
We reached the bottom uneventfully, said farewell, and that was that. After 32 years, I was finally a skier, more or less. There was no "S" stamped into my forehead, but the assurance--and $20 lesson receipt--was there. And I had the pass dangling from my parka to prove it, even if it was hooked onto a paper clip.
My daughter and I made another run together. She did OK and seemed to have recovered from the shock of acrophobia. Her therapist says she will be fine.
I made a couple of runs by myself and kind of enjoyed it, though we haven't hit the slopes since. But as bona fide Utah skiers, we're looking forward to going again next year. Once.