Day two of skiing: After my savant-like performance in the “Learn to Ski” class the day before, I was confident I already knew most of what I needed to know about skiing, but I went ahead and placed myself in a “Ski Better” class anyway, mostly because the beginner class hadn’t covered a) how to turn or b) how to stop, and I wanted to give both of those things a try.
Just like the day before, all the instructors gathered to wait for that morning’s students in a genetically perfect herd, tossing their manes of thick, glossy hair in unison in the crisp breeze while sunlight twinkled on their perfectly straight white teeth and moving around on their skis telekinetically. I swear, it was like accidentally crashing a ski model’s convention. Maybe something about being in the cold air burns all the imperfections out of your DNA, or maybe the government is working on developing specially modified clones who will be able to survive in snowy wastelands when irreversible climate change precipitates a new ice age, and they’re testing them out in places where they won’t attract any attention from the public, except for sexual.
The supervisor came by to give me a quick interview for placement with an instructor. He asked me a few questions, none of which I understood because he was using words I had either never heard before or didn’t understand in context:
Boss: How’s your slalom foot?
Boss: Are you wedging still?
Me: Well, that’s a little personal, but my pants are comfortable, thanks.
Boss: Show me your barrel roll.
Me: [makes a cute little airplane puppet with one mitten]
What I realized is that interview had a dual purpose: not only was it for appropriate placement, but it was also to quickly sort through people who thought they knew what they were doing, but for their own safety should really just be put in a giant hamster ball and rolled back to the lodge to get drunk and wait for the real skiers to come back.
I seemed to place just above the hamster ball category (but just barely), and I was paired with an instructor named Stu. Stu reminded me a lot of Legolas, the Corey Feldman of elves. He was tall and graceful, in his mid-20’s, with the kind of perfect face you usually only see on TV or in heavily airbrushed liquor ads, and had long blond hair, which long hair on men is so gorgeous it makes me a bit dizzy, and when he took off his mirrored ski goggles, I could see he was wearing those little wire rim glasses that make me need to sit down and put my head between my knees for a while until I can breathe normally again. Also he had a California accent so strong there was a three-second lag between when he finished talking and when I could mentally translate what he had just said. It was a little like learning skiing from David Lowery. And since every other instructor had at least four students, but that day I saw it would be just Stu and me all morning, I could tell Stu was obviously my destiny.
Stu and I instantly had a deep, rich connection that most people will never know in a lifetime, which I could tell because he said, “Hi, I’m Stu,” and I said, “Hi, Stu.” Then I smiled at him. He said, “Uhh, ok, we’re going to wait a minute to see if any other students show up. I’ll be right back.” I watched him telekinetically ski over to his boss and three seconds later nodded my head in comprehension.
But alas, the course of true love never did run smooth. About five minutes later, Stu came back with another student, a Japanese man whose name I learned but instantly forgot in my rage at how inconsiderate he was being toward Stu’s and my alone time, so I’ll just make something up. I think Kenji was probably just jealous of the purity and strength of the love visibly connecting Stu and I, and decided to crash the lesson to try and rip us apart. For a moment I was worried, but fortunately just then Stu nodded at me, and I knew that was his way of saying that we’d never let the cruel world separate us again.
This lesson was immediately different: the very first thing we did was get in line for the lift. We were much more advanced than the putting-on-your-skis part of the lesson. Stu asked if one of us wanted to ride up with him. I almost volunteered, but I played it cool so that Akira wouldn’t think he had any power over our love. “Either way is ok by me,” I said, nodding conspiratorially at Stu. “See you guys up there, then,” said Stu, in a tone that I knew meant “You live in my heart eternally.”
The real worry on the way up was that I had only once previously successfully exited the chair lift, and by “successfully” I mean “didn’t fall completely down.” I said a fervent prayer to Aphrodite, goddess of love, and Bob, god of ski lifts, to not let the chair hit me in the ass on the way off so Takeshi could laugh at me. I’m not sure if it was Aph or Bob or some kind of teamwork, but believe it, Shoji, who was a chair ahead of me, ate snow on dismount, while I glided uprightly and gracefully to a full stop, like a swan held up on the currents of love. Suck it, Taro.
The lesson consisted a lot of getting comfortable on the skis and learning how to use all parts of the ski to control your movement, and my favorite part, how not to accidentally start skiing backwards down the mountain. But mostly it was about making turns while keeping your skis parallel, which is apparently really important, instead having them perpendicular to one another on a minimum of three axes, as I tended to do. But Stu was a great teacher and I got the hang of everything he taught me, often on the first try. At one point, when I had mastered the particularly challenging task of skiing with my poles balanced on both of my outstretched arms, Stu shouted up his love and encouragement to me from 50 feet downhill:
“That was perfect! Great job, Christine!”
My name is not Christine.
And Stu knew this, and corrected himself immediately. I wasn’t offended, though, since obviously he loved me so much he wanted to give me a pet name, something that was special to just the two of us. I could tell I really meant a lot to him, since he kept calling me Christine for the rest of the lesson. I really respected his willingness to proclaim his love publicly like that. Not a lot of men have that kind of courage.
The whole rest of the way back down, I floated on my skis, turned gracefully with both skis parallel, sped down the mountain with perfectly controlled speed, and glided easily to a stop when and where I wanted. Whereas poor Yoshiro was panting and struggling all the way down, but did wind up getting all the way down without falling. He pulled up next to me at the bottom and said, “You’re quite good. I’m very impressed. I’m afraid it’s going to take me a little while to get the hang of this.” Which I knew actually meant, “You may have won this time, but I will destroy your love in the end.” We understood one another, so I simply smiled and said, “Thank you, but you’re doing just fine yourself. We’re both learning.”
Then Stu made an announcement that surprised both my nemesis and me: we were graduating to the blue slope. Really what he was saying was that no man would stand between him and his true love, and he was a man who would fight for my honor, and be the hero that I’m dreaming of. Haruki seemed to know he was defeated, and said he would rather stick to the green slope.
I turned to Stu. “Do you really think I’m ready?” I said, my tone as rich in hidden meaning as any Austen dialogue. “Yup,” he answered, as charming and tender as any Mr. Willoughby. “Then let’s do it,” I said. Together we took a romantic stroll over to the lift for the blue slope, which romanticism was admittedly dampened a bit by trying to walk with my ski boots on and carry both skis, so I wound up cutting a figure less reminiscent of Mikhail Baryshnikov than Mikhail Gorbachev, but Stu was fortunately about ten feet ahead of me the whole time, obviously checking the path to make sure it was safe for me, so he didn’t seem to notice.
I was still doing a fair amount of shuffling along flat ground while skied, but I think I managed not to completely humiliate myself mounting the much bigger and far more terrifying blue ski lift, and Stu was gentlemanly enough not to mention anything if he noticed. We rode up in the same chair, which over here on the adult slope for grown-ups who know how to ski, was big enough for three people. It would have been a great opportunity for us to sit next to one another, but cruel fate and federal safety regulations required us to sit on opposite ends. But he showed his interest clearly enough, since his left ski drifted over and touched my right ski. It’s a little-known fact that, much like the Victorian language of flowers, there is also a language of skis. For example:
Left ski touches right: My heart aches for you
Right ski touches left: My heart is my own
Both skis close together: Our souls are united
Own ski tips crossed: Your love is reciprocated
One ski facing north, the other south-southwest: My regrets follow you to the grave
This language could be a little vague at times, and since his left touching my right also meant my right was touching his left, I became slightly concerned I might accidentally send the wrong ski-message. But as it turns out, Stu is quite easy to talk to. Granted, it was mostly Stu talking to and about Stu, but I took that for the masculine awe of my overwhelming femininity that it undoubtedly was.
And it turns out we have a lot in common, Stu and I. We both went to college, we both could see how pretty the snow was, and we both were deeply impressed with what a burning hunk of male passion he was. When he asked me what prompted me to try skiing, I told him about the project. He said he thought it was cool. I replied, “Yes, of course I’ll marry you!” Although I may have coughed slightly instead; with all the excitement of the day, it’s hard to remember precisely.
Now that we were engaged, all we had to do was set a date. He told me that he only works as a ski instructor during the winters (a very wise and sensible career choice; he’s so smart and good with money) and during the summers he wants to be a forensic anthropologist, which meant we’d have to have the ceremony during the summer. That was ok by me, even though I might prefer spring or fall. But the foundation of a strong marriage is compromise, so summer it would be.
We got to the top and skied over to the “easy” slope. I held my skis very close together the whole time, both so I could communicate my true feelings, and because I finally got a look at the slope Stu thought I was ready for and would have wet myself otherwise. My estimation of the angle of this slope was about 90°, though I probably should have called Tom for help with that. I didn’t think there were actually slopes where you couldn’t see what was ahead of you, and where all you can see is horizon and it looks like you’re just going to ski off the edge of the world.
I looked at Stu and crossed the tips of my skis to the convey the dual message that I loved him, as well as that in my panic I had forgotten absolutely everything he had just taught me.
“Don’t cross the tips of your skis,” he said. “You’ll fall.”
That’s not the only way you can fall, as it turns out. You can fall by:
I was hopeless, and by the time we got halfway down, I could tell our love was as well. “What happened?” said Stu. “You were skiing so well before. Now you’re not doing any of the things we talked about. I really thought you were ready.”
“I don’t know! It’s just really…tall. I mean steep. I don’t want to go too fast.”
“You’re psyching yourself out,” he said. And that’s when he said what we were both thinking:
“That’s really disappointing to me. I thought you were a better skier than that.”
“You’re right,” I said stoically. “I think we’re both better off seeing other people, too. I’m sorry to leave things like this, but we both know it’s for the best. I hope someday you can love again.”
So we broke up, there and then. As he turned to ski telekinetically away, I sadly turned one ski to face north and the other to face south-southwest, but he never looked back to see what I was skiing to him.
But although Stu broke my heart, I skied my tears away by doing runs down the blue slope the rest of the day. I faithfully practiced all the things that Stu had taught me, sometimes at speeds of up to two miles per hour. Several times I was going so slow that I actually came to a dead stop on the mountain, becoming a traffic hazard for all the 12-18-month-olds whizzing past me in little packs on tiny skis with instructors shouting encouraging things from behind.
Still, this is not only crossed off the list, this is on the “do it again” list. I will definitely be skiing again, just as soon as I build up a nice pile of money and run out of matches with which to light it on fire. Seriously, though, it was amazing, and I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun. It was indescribable, going that fast with nothing but sticks on my feet and an appropriate level of inner ear balance to keep me going.
And where you ski is some of the most beautiful country around, covered in a gorgeous layer of stunning snow, and even though it’s all crowded up with lifts and lodges and other skiers, you’re still basically alone up there, controlling your fate and writing your own destiny. I want more of that feeling. I suppose there’s a chance of running into Stu again one day on the slopes, but we’re both adults and we can be happy for one another’s happiness without needing to be together. It’s possible he may even come to regret being so hasty with me, but I’ll just be there to ski.