Skiing the Mountain of Shame

Skiing is great in theory. The wind blowing through your hair (for those of you who have hair), traveling at a speed you’re not supposed to travel without a car surrounding you, with nothing between you and certain death by packed snow concussion but a pair of thin pieces of curve-tipped plastic. It’s like an amusement park ride, only without a hint of safety precautions and with the increased incidence of head trauma. Fun! I tried skiing once. Just once. I was in sixth grade and my family still went to Church every Sunday. There was a new, young priest there who could play guitar, and started a kick-butt chorus for folk mass. He was also big on getting the Catholic youth together with stuff like church ski trips. Even then I was not what you’d call a joiner, and I looked askance at any activity that forced me to have to socialize with other people. I was fat, quiet and self conscious. So of course I signed up to go.

You are probably as surprised as my parents were. What they didn’t know, and you soon will, is that there was this girl. Her name was Maria. She and Bridget were the only ones who went to my school and were also in my parish. She made the mistake of seeking me out after the Christmas Midnight Mass and wishing me a Merry Christmas. To a socially inept fat kid, any acknowledgment of his existence might as well be a lap dance.

So when I found out Maria was going skiing, there I was on the bus! Hope is a dangerous thing. It was a long, long ride. We were all herded into the ski shop for our fittings for rentals, which was being done by a couple of older teenage miscreants. They asked me my weight. I answered in a barely perceptible voice. They asked me again and I said it louder. “What?” one of them said. “That much! Is that all you?” He told the other guy my weight and that guy announced it for the benefit of the few people in the room who hadn’t heard it yet. The second guy looked me up and down and said something to the effect of, “No way you’re that big!” Between the two of them they bandied a few very large numbers around until they came to one, about thirty pounds light, they thought would fit. I was handed my undersized skis and shown the door, feeling publicly shamed and fatter than ever.

First up was a lesson on the bunny hill, along with four and five-year-olds. This is how you stop…I fell. This is how you turn…I fell. This is how you you breathe…I fell. And fell. The four-year-olds were zipping past my lifeless body, laughing and smiling, showing the bunny hill who was boss. The bunny hill owned me like the Yankees owned Pedro. I called it my daddy and went back to the cabin for hot cocoa. There was no sign of Maria. Just me, the hot cocoa, and my stultifying fear of making a fool of myself. After an hour or so of stewing in my own doubt juices, I decided I had no choice. My parents paid good money for this, dubious as they were, so I had to get off my bubble butt and give it a try. Maybe the big hill was easier, somehow. Maybe I’m one those people who has to “do” rather than “learn”. Maybe this is a blessed Church trip and God will deliver me safely to the bottom of the hill.

And maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt.

I’m fifty feet in the air. The ski-lift is transporting all these smiling, confident, happy people to their destinations…and one terrified chub. As the lift comes closer to the top of the hill, a thought crosses my mind that should have occurred to me before now: I don’t know how to get off this thing. Oh no. I watch the folks in front of me, and they seem to be skiing right off the lift. I can’t do that, I don’t know how to ski. What am I doing here? So I decided I was going to take the initiative and jump off a little early. Bad idea, I know that now, thanks for pointing it out. The tips of my skis stuck and I fell face down into the snow with the force of a self-imposed pile driver. As I began to lift my head up, I was face-to-face with big, burly bouncer type in one of those Spider-Man full-face ski masks. Our conversation was a short one. “Stay down!” he screamed, and pushed my face back into the snow seconds before the next lift passed inches over my head. He then picked me up—completely off my feet with my skis dangling—and placed me on this tiny hill that you took to get to the top of the real hill. I remembered all my bunny hill training, and immediately fell. The hill had a slight right turn to it, so I leaned ever so slightly to my right. And fell again. One of my skis popped off. I crawled over to the missing ski, while real skiers were joyfully hitting the top of the hill, and worked to climb my pole and stand upright. I reapplied the ski and gazed down the mountainside. Moment of truth. I dug my poles in a pushed with all my fat little might.

After about six feet, I fell. I made it to my feet once more, determined. This time I made it about eight feet. At this rate I should be at the bottom by sundown. I somehow lifted my substantial body weight once more. This time, I said to myself, I’m not going to move. No turning, no leaning, just me, my too-small skis and gravity. Lots and lots of gravity. So I tucked both poles under my arms and started to move. It was working. I started going fast, really fast, in a straight line. As long as I didn’t try to effect the outcome in any way whatsoever, I could fly. I started hearing that head-out-the-car-window sound of rushing air passing my ears. I was almost on the verge of having fun with this.

Then I saw her. Yup, her. Maria was standing in the middle of the course, talking with Bridget. I’m no math whiz, but I realized intrinsically that there was going to be a problem involving velocity and bodies in motion that needed to be worked out in about four seconds. Lacking the necessary time and algebra to solve it, I decided to go with my plan “B”, such as it was. I yelled “Fore!” I swear that’s what I did, for reals. It succeeded in having Maria turn slightly to her left so she was semi-facing me when I plowed into her at an alarming rate of speed. One minute she was speaking to Bridget and the next she was tied into a pretzel knot of limbs, skis and poles. I had crushed my crush.  Instead of standing up and celebrating over her like she was a quarterback, I did something I had already gotten quite proficient at. I apologized about 6000 times. Bridget could not stop laughing, and despite the air being forced out of her lungs by a missile in husky snow pants, soon Maria was too. I was mortified. The two of them continued down the hill, my pathetic apologies following in their wake. I looked down at me feet, probably in shame, and realized I only had one ski. I looked up just in time to see it finish its journey down the hill and bang into a bunch of firewood. I was only 1/3 of the way down. My right ski had wisely abandoned ship and decided to try it’s luck alone. My equipment was better at skiing than I was.

Disgusted, I took off the other ski and dragged it with one hand, the two pole straps in the other, as I began to trudge down the hill. I heard hysterical laughing all around me, but when I looked around there was nobody. Then I felt something wet on the top of my head. I looked up and realized everyone on the ski lift above had seen me perform a flying figure-four leglock on the girl I had a thing for, then lose my ski down the mountain. People were spitting, throwing soft drinks, raining all sorts of curses atop my head with disdainful looks, if they weren’t laughing their everloving heads off. My personal walk of shame.

So no, I don’t ski.

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  1. Didn’t you see the sign? “Keep Ski Tips Up!”

    I remembered all my bunny hill training, and immediately fell. – classic

    If you get any consolation out of this, I’ve been skiing for almost 19 years and have never had as much “on-ski” fun with a girl on the ski hill so while you may have only skied once, your ski-to-girl contact ratio will rank globally for decades to come.

    • Yes, and I’m sure she’ll remember it fondly for the rest of her life. Especially when her neck hurts before a rain storm.

    • Joel Flowers
    • February 25th, 2011

    This is so much like my first and only ski experience that I thought you were retelling my story at first! I could not stop or turn either, did not get that snow plow thing. So, I also decided to use gravity alone to get down the bunny hill. It worked too well, and I flew all the way down the hill, through the parking lot, and into the street. I finally just threww myself down – it’s the only way I could stop. Lucky for me, no cars were coming! I tried to play it off as if I had intended to do that, but people were looking at me with horror on their faces. At least you were a child; I was around 35.

    • Gravity is a double-edged sword. It pushes you along, but cares not where you end up. And that snow plow thing! They said bend your skis in but don’t let them cross. The second I tried it they crossed and I nearly broke both ankles.

      I’m glad there were no cars coming too!

    • Joe Petti
    • February 25th, 2011

    OMG, I tell this story to my friends EVERY time I go skiing. I remember falling on the floor laughing when you got home and mom explained to me what happened. Good ‘ol Father Sorgie, right? As funny as I tell it after all these years, I got a good cry out of you telling it. You’re such a great writer!
    Hey, what about the Ramapo 500 and it’s infamous, deadly turn that I passed at 80 MPH with the 20 ft. cliff, the “Wasp Nest,” or me flying in through the back window of our Mustang when I learned how to ride a bike? Or whiffle ball with Tom Stiso….the guy 10-something years older than me who shot me in my deserving ass with his new pellet gun in the “woods” behind our house in Monsey? They definitely make for good writing. But you fill in the details SO much better! Lots of great memories Brian. I’m glad we ended up ‘friends’ as adults. Alot of those childhood memories were of me picking or beating on you! LOL!

  2. Whenever I feel a little down, I remember the sight of you flying down Manor Drive yelling “I can’t stop! I can’t stop!” then ending up spread eagled on top of that back window. I was crying because I was too fat to keep steady on the bike and my little brother wasn’t. That made me happier.

    This will definitely make a blog appearance very soon.

    I’ve been trying to recapture the dimensions of the perfect whiffle ball field we had in the back yard ever since. Remember you could catch it off the roof and rob a home run? And when we got big enough to hit it over the house we thought we were hot. I also remember you tried hitting with one of those thick red bats and drove a liner through the kitchen window. As a matter of fact, we used to put balls through the window when it was open pretty regularly. Automatic triple?

    I don’t remember you being able to take me until you hit your growth spurt around 15 or so. That’s when I remember starting to try to “talk things out”.

    • Anonymous
    • February 25th, 2011

    Yikes! I was not brave enough to even try skiing until I was well over 40 – what was I thinking??? I, however, refused to succomb to gravity – slow and steady is the way to go. So I mastered the turn, though in very poor form, and would go back and forth across the slope all the way down. Other skiiers would pass me two or three times – down and back up again, before I made it down once!
    I was terrified of falling, because I could not get back up! A 40-year old woman with no upper body strength simply cannot “just push up with the poles”. Nuh-Uh, not happening!! I finally got someone to show me an alternative way to get up-get yourself belly down, head uphill, spread-eagle, skis at an up-hill angle, and push with both arms – not pretty, but effective, works every time. Of course, I was then facing backwards down the hill….

  3. Don’t feel bad, a fat 11-year old boy can’t hoist his weight up a shaky pole either.

    Maybe I should have tried slow. Or backwards. Or asking Maria to a movie.

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