The car, warm and humid, smells of dirty wet socks and preteen sweat with subtle notes of Dorito and popcorn. In the passenger seat, the oldest boy dozes, lost in headphones and dreams. Behind me, the youngest cheers, “I know where we are! Now that we’ve slowed down, I can open a window!” and the three middle kids guffaw over a phone. We are on our way home from a day at the ski hill.
I am not much of a skier, but I often wish I were. When I watch people swoosh down a slope and skid into a splashy stop right at the end of the line for the chairlift, I think that it looks like fun. When I ski, however, there is no swishing and no suavely swooping stops. Mostly, I pizza my way down the beginners’ slope, praying that I don’t look as stupid as I feel.
This is the first year my kids have skied since Covid began three years ago. Today was the first day I have skied in a decade. I wish I could tell you that it went well. Instead, I worried my way around the house as we left, all too aware that I didn’t know exactly what we needed for the day. Once at the ski hill, I sausaged my thighs into snow pants and had so much trouble putting on my boots (bought maybe eight years ago when I became convinced that to be a good Canadian mother I needed to own skis & take the kids skiing regularly, but never actually worn because I’m not actually a skier) that a young woman in the rental place took pity on me and helped me out after she had finished with the kids.
Immediately, my feet began to hurt, but I’ve forced my feet into uncomfortable ice skates year after year, and I know that ski boots aren’t meant to feel *good* exactly, so I pushed forward. Outside, the boys stepped into their skis and took off. I tentatively stuck my toe into the front bit and pushed my heel into the back, feeling proud that I managed not to slide down the (almost nonexistent) slope as I did so. Then I moved towards the bunny hill, pizza wedge already firmly established.
By the time I got there, my feet were screaming. I focused on figuring out how to get up the tiny incline to the magic carpet that takes tots to the top of the hill. I watched several little ones in front of me get on, and gathered my courage to step onto the mat. All the way up, I rocked from side to side, trying to give my poor feet a little relief from the pain. Just as I began to realize that the pain was coming from compression, not weight, I reached the top and had to return my focus to remaining upright.
Sliding down the bunny hill without falling took most of my concentration and, at the bottom, I felt a sudden burst of confidence. A much longer “green” slope was just off to my left. I could take the chair lift up and have a lovely easy ski, I thought. I couldn’t see the actual – it was just behind the trees – but I was certain I was ready.
I remembered how to sit into the chair lift & up I went. I rested my aching feet on the support bar and was grateful for what relief that provided. About halfway to the top, I began to worry about getting off of the lift. I tried to recall the tips and tricks for something I had never been expert at: lift your ski tips, let the chair push you out… I did it! Then I promptly fell over.
Once I righted myself, I spied the arrow to the green slope and skied over. Then, I stood at the top and panicked. I almost turned around to check that I had chosen the right run, but I knew I had. I took a deep breath, formed a wedge with my skis, and started down. I fell on the third turn. Once you’re on the hill, there’s nothing to do but keep going, so I stood up, took a deep breath and started talking myself down. Soon, I was talking out loud, encouraging myself down the hill like I might a small child, “You can do this, you’ve got this, okay here comes the turn, don’t worry, just put your weight on one leg and… don’t panic, don’t panic… Good job! You did it! See how well you’re doing! Here’s another turn…” I kept the positive patter up all the way down. As I turned for the last time and straightened my skis towards the bottom of the hill, I heard myself say, “Good girl! Now you never have to do that again.” I almost laughed out loud; my subconscious knew what was what.
As I skied towards the chalet, I realized that my feet were numb. When I finally sat down and took off those boots, sweet relief washed over me. Even my winter boots felt welcomingly roomy in comparison. “Well,” I told myself, “I guess that’s it: I’m done skiing forever.” I settled in with my book and became home base as kids came in and out, looking for food and warmth. I felt a little sad about being such a terrible skier, but my feet were really happy to be done.
Hours later, I pile exhausted, smelly kids into the car and drive them home. Over dinner, I describe our day to my partner, and a look of concern comes over his face. “Honey,” he says, “ski boots aren’t supposed to feel like that.” I explain how skates are uncomfortable and my feet are old and my arches need support and… “No. That’s not it,” he insists, “We need to get you some better boots.”
I nod my head bravely. I imagine those swooshing skiers. I thought I was done forever, but I might not be – but right now I’m too tired to think about it.