Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fifty years of skiing

This past Thursday I was skiing at Afton Alps. Unlike the previous two times, this time I was alone. Meaning, I had a lot of alone time on the lifts. You always spend more time riding up the hill than skiing down. I started to reminisce about my skiing history.
I think I was about 12 when I started. My most memorable Christmas had to do with my first skis. There were few presents under the tree for me and I was a sad, sad boy. Then there was the treasure hunt and the skis wrapped up in the basement. They were so much nicer that what I had even expected. They had ebonite bottoms instead of just painted. There was ski free binding that allowed the toe to swivel for safety reasons. They had steel interlocking edges. There was a cable that went around the heel and then a lever that was in front of the toe piece to hold the boot onto the ski. Ah yes the boot. They were leather, laced boots. My first boots had an inner boot. So you had to lace up two boots, one inside of the other. They came up less than 3 inches above the ankle bone. These skis were a huge step up from the 8 footers with one strap that I used to wear at the resort when I was 6 or 7 years old. I would be at the top of a wooded hill and pick a route, straight through the trees, theoretically avoiding them all. From my mother's view from the side, looking through our picture window, she feared for my life, so she told me.
Hardscrabble ski area is no longer being operated but I have such a soft spot in my heart for that area. The cost was about $1.50 per day, I believe. My Mom or Dad would take me out or a friend's parents. The lodge you see above no longer exists. It burned down years ago. It was a classic building. It had three, large fireplaces in the largest room. You could sit all around each of them. Not sure if the lodge burned down from a fire place or not. A cafeteria off to one side of the room with a ski shop off to the other side. We would just find a bench to put our lunch and winter boots under to change into our ski boots. I never heard of anyone stealing anything back then. You could roast hot dogs over the fire if you wanted. The lodge was rebuilt and our high school class had a reunion there. My friend Bruce Larson, who I used to ski with all the time and I made plans to go the following winter to ski for old times sake. We did. It was cold but our hearts were warmed with nostalgia. Scant snow falls brought my beloved hill to another closing. I fantasize about opening it up self. On second thought, ah nope.
All they had were rope tows. They were something to master in of themselves. You would be at the bottom of the slope. When it was your turn you would slide up to the moving rope and let it slide through your choppers and gradually tighten your grip until you started to move and then you would hold on tight to stop the slippage and up you would go. Sounds easy, right? No so fast. If your grabbed on too soon or too suddenly, you would go flying forward and to a face plant. If you did fall or someone in front of you would so, then the rope would be running over your boots, legs or wearing the paint off your wooden skis as you watched and struggled to get out from under the rope. At the end of the day, your arms would be killing you from holding on to the rope all day. There were gimmicks invented to hold on to the rope. One was a clamp attached to your pole that allowed you to hold the rope with your pole. Much easier. The other was a pliers-like tool that would clamp onto the rope.
My friends and I used to do a lot of jumping. We would build a 3 ft. jump and see how high we could get. This is how I broke so many skis. When you would land, your tips would smack down and off would go the tips. Man, I think I broke 5 skis this way.
When I got into high school, I purchased a pair of skis from Arnies Ski Shop in Eau Claire. They were wooden but the had plastic tops, hidden edges, p-tex bottoms, ( the latest surface) and the first step in bindings called Cubco. I also had newer boots now; still leather, still double boots, still lace but higher, more supportive. About my first time on them had me at Indianhead ski hill in upper Michigan with my best friend. He had an uncle that lived up near there and we were staying with them. Almost the first time down the newly covered with powder hill, I fell forward and snapped of the tip of one my skis. I was devastated. I had saved up and picked these skis out on my own. I had to use rented skis for the rest of that day and next. I did replace the broken ski and it was a slightly different color from the other.
I think I was in college when I moved up to the next high tech ski equipment. Metal skis and buckle boots. The skis were Hart Cameros with Nevada bindings. The Cubco bindings turned out to a disaster. They would come off while you were skiing. The worst was when I had just gone off a large jump; 4-5 ft. and the one binding released. Talk about a fall. I will never forget my first run down the hill at Hardscrabble with this new equipment. I had more edges than I knew what to do with. I had to learn to ski all over again. No more sliding all over the hill.
Games on the hill. I had a bunch of buddies that I would ski with and there were some girls from our class that we needed to impress too. Tag was one that we would play. Jumping was always a hit. We would link our poles together by slipping handle through the basket of another guy and then we turn circles around each other as we skied down the hill. Doing tricks like tip rolls; skiing toward the edge of the run, placing poles down hill near tips and then jumping, keeping tips on ground and bringing the heels up to your back as you pivoted around to face the opposite direction. My brother Jeff was very good at it, me, not so much. Jumping by doing spread eagles and bringing our legs up in a crouch were a couple other moves we would do.
Embarrassing moment on the hill; skiing up to the most popular girl in the school, shortly after getting my braces off my teeth, smiling widely and asking her if she noticed anything different. Panicking she says, "You are not wearing your glasses". Sheeeesh, I had never worn glasses. Shot down again.
When I got to college, skiing was still my favorite winter sport. My last year in college, my fraternity buddies and I went on several trips. One was to northern Michigan and Indianhead. We also skied Telemark near Hayward and Mt. Ashwabay near Ashland and of course Hardscrabble. Those were good, crazy, alcohol induced times. I think I got out 20 some days. that last year.
Even when I got into the Coast Guard, Mom and I would go to Lake Placid and ski on White face mountain. I had a tough time there. There was more powder and the runs were narrow instead of wide open like I was used to. I just couldn't make turns when I wanted but when I needed to. The powder added to my demise and the result was blue stained long underwear. You see, I was wearing my Coastie dungarees and I spent so much time on my butt that the wet dungarees bled blue die right through to my white thermal underwear. My confidence took a big hit skiing there. While there I bought new skis at a season ending sale in Lake Placid. Roussignal strato 102's. One of the best selling skis of all time. I skied on them up until 3 years ago when I bought a pair of parabolic skis on E-Bay second hand. Last spring I bought new, expensive boots at a store in Chaska where my son-in-law, Matt worked. I was able to use them three times this year and they are nice. Comfort and support.
So, there is my 50 year ski experience. You would think I would be pretty good by now. Actually, I'm still a work in progress. I'm still trying to get better. As I look at the window today, I think this year's experience might be over. I still hope to ski out west some day. That experience has not happened.....yet. As sore as I get after going, I am so grateful that I still can to it.


  1. very fun thinking about you skiing for all these years. thanks for sharing, dad!

  2. My favorite tidbit is that you used to be able to roast hotdogs over a fire in the lodge. That sounds so far from any kind of possibility today, and yet it seems so harmless. I liked that.

    The game about linking your poles together sounds pretty nuts. I have never heard of that.

    tip rolls had gone out of fashion by the time I was skiing.

    I hope you get out West one day too.

  3. Hey Dad, what a fun story! I remember trying to learn the tow ropes also. I think it's great you still can get out on the slopes! Keep it up! Anna