By Wayne William Cipriano
I got pretty tired of all that snow. I would guess that, besides the schoolkids of Ava, just about everyone felt the same way. Some kids, who would never admit to it probably looked forward to a return to school once the hilarity of hitting cows and their little sisters with snowballs wore off.
Of course, our snow was not much compared to the shellacking other locales got. Imagine having to use a long-handled rake to drag snow off your roof to prevent its collapse, and doing so without need a ladder!
I went to school on the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York where there is a phenomenon called lake effect snow. I am not sure of the meteorological reasoning but the wind coming off Lake O and hitting the cooler shore, tends to make snow a never-ending winter event.
I am talking about a yearly snow average in the hundreds of inches at least during the three years I was there. And when you live in conditions like that a foot or two of snow is casually brushed aside to get to the roadway, which has been plowed and salted all night, so you pretty much always get where you were going. But, the snow is an ever-present fact of winter life.
It was normal to see dump trucks backed up to the river sliding their snow loads into the water. Business parking lots always had snow pushed up in great tepees at every light pole and in June, no kidding, in June and sometimes July, half-sized tepees remained awaiting the final melt in August. Sounds like a drag, doesn’t it? And, often it was, but we did have skiing!
During my first winter there I heard about the school’s ski lodge. I was way too smart to get involved in a sport that naturally and regularly broke everyone’s legs, but the lodge was rumored to be a fine place to meet chicks and so I checked it our.
The lodge was a large barn-like structure with wooden benches scattered about, a huge fireplace at one end, a snack bar along one side, and an equipment room at the other end. Years before, the engineers, as a department project, had built a ski venue. It consisted of a series of hills suitable for novice skiers (bunny hills actually), a rope tow, and several warming huts. As the popularity of the place increased, the lodge was built and skiing equipment was purchased for the use of students who did not have their own.
As I said, I was much too wary to try the sport but I did hang out at the lodge a bit (the rumors having proved to be true). My resolve to eschew skiing was buttressed by the occasional appearance of ski patrol people carrying in a wire sled to the ambulance park, (yes, there was a designated area so named), an overzealous practitioner or even an innocent bystander overrun by a skier only vaguely able to control speed and direction.
¿Quién es más macho? is a phrase you do not hear much in Upstate, but it’s translation, “whatsa matter chicken?” is. And, I was not a chicken, so eventually my well-thought-out reluctance to engage in such a dangerous, silly, cold, wet sport was eroded and I tried skiing.
I loved it!
Growing up I tried just about every sport but my favorites were springboard diving, and trampoline. I was crazy about falling with acceleration, and little did I know, skiing would provide that in spades.
For the surrendering of your student ID card you were issued boots, skis, and poles. It was a slight cross-country trek to the base of the hill where the rope tow began. You could ski from noon until 9 p.m., seven days a week, as long as snow remained. And, it cost absolutely nothing.
Periodically, someone would build a small ski-jump next to the first hill, then someone else would build it a little higher. Pretty soon there would be all the falling while accelerating thrills a novice skier could possibly desire.
If you played your class-selecting cards carefully, you could schedule your winter semester classes for the morning, ski all day into the evening, bug out occasionally to the dining hall for dinner, and study at night aided by a library that never closed except during vacations. This was perfect for the ski bum, into which I was turning. I was there when they turned the rope tow on, often doing it myself, and was frequently the last one to make the final lodge run at night.
I did not check out ski poles, they just got in the way. You could ski-skate to the rope tow, ride it up to the top, ski down, and when there were few other nuts there late at night, you could ski right up to the tow rope and grab on – never stopping until exhausted or it was 9 p.m.
I loved it!
But, there is a dark side of skiing that they never tell you about. As with all the other real joys of life, once you try them, experience the joy they provide, you feel almost selfish in keeping that joy to yourself. You want to. You must share the wonder you have been privileged to know with others not yet so blessed. And the more resistance you encounter, the greater your responsibility becomes to spread the word of your discovery. Just as I did with Kathy Siebert.
Kathy was one of the first women I met at school – a very, very fine person. To describe her various talents, accomplishments and character would neglect many as a result of 40 passing years. She was a great friend and it was she with whom I decided I must share my newly acquired joy of skiing. Her reluctance merely a spur to my determination.
Kathy was finally convinced to hit the snow, I am sure not by my arguments, but, as is the case of all true believers, by the beaming of my countenance as I extolled the virtues of the slopes. We took Kathy out to the lodge. I say we, as there were four of us all together, but none as insistent as I was that she go.
The three of us made several round trips, each time waving at Kathy, calling out encouragingly to her, enticing her to try just once, and then, of course to be hooked! And, finally, probably bending to the collective encouragement of all the skiers on the hill joining us in our attempts to get Kathy shooshing, she consented and stepped up to the rope tow.
Now a rope tow is very easy to use. There is a one-inch diameter rope being pulled up the hill by a machine, a continuous loop arrangement with pulleys on overhead poles. You stand to the right of the rope, point your skis up the hill, and loop your ski poles over your left wrist so they are dragged behind you as you are pulled up the hill. You grasp the rope loosely in your cupped left hand and hold it at waist level as it slips through your fingers. You place your right hand on the rope loosely as well. You slowly close the fingers of both hands on the rope and as the friction of your hands on the rope over comes the friction of your skis on the snow you are slowly pulled forward. You tighten your grip on the rope until it no longer slides through your hands but now pulls you up the hill.
When you get to the top of the hill, you simply open your hands and drop the rope. What happens if for some reason you cannot or will not drop the rope? You are pulled along until you reach a very light piece of wood across your path. If you bump into that stick it shuts off the rope tow immediately and everyone on the hill swears at you good-naturedly for being a dork.
I explained all this very slowly and carefully to a doubting Kathy. While we were practicing the grip on the rope, all the other skiers were patiently awaiting turns as everyone remembered their first pull on the rope tow and is willing to wait for a neophyte.
Kathy was ready. She took the proper position, stowed her poles, held the rope in her left hand, bent her knees, grasped the rope with her right hand, slowly increased the pressure of her grip, began to move, fell down, and broke her leg within four feet of her starting position.
I am sure Kath derived no comfort whatsoever from the statements surrounding her that not one person, many of whom were avid longtime skiers, not the ski patroller, no one at all, had ever seen anything like that.
You cannot imagine how inconsolably sorry I was to have been so instrumental in my good friend’s injury –– to think that the trip to the ambulance park in a wire-basket sled that forewarned me of the angers of skiing was now being made by Kathy, because of me.
Many hours later Kathy gave me the honor of being the first one to sign her ankle-to-hip cast, bestowing that honor to signify she released me from any responsibility for what had happened to her and as evidence that she bore me no ill will. I was very grateful for that forgiveness, and remain so today.
However, Kathy’s boyfriend and future husband, Tony, did beat the tar out of me. But, I had it coming.