“We’re going skiing this weekend,” I tell anyone who will listen. As the words part my lips, I hope the listeners envision my family clad in all the latest sportswear slicing effortlessly between snowy mountain moguls.
Little do they know, my family does not own a pair of skis. My husband thinks skiing is a total hassle. Our kids are little more than beginners. But our friends don’t need to be bothered with the details. All they need to know is that we are skiers, and as such, we are totally cool.
Our family foray into skiing began a couple years ago when we moved to Germany. Although I grew up skiing in the small mountain resorts of the northeastern states, my family had little to no experience. But I truly believed that they would soon share my enthusiasm for the sport if they just gave it a try.
I knew my husband would be a tough sell due to one winter in the 1970s, when he and his siblings were forced to take ski lessons on Saturday afternoons. The cold, the scratchy wool, the paralyzingly stiff boots and the bafflingly complicated bindings caused irreparable childhood trauma from which my husband has never fully recovered. The only thing that got him through those heinous lessons was the promised Styrofoam cup of hot cocoa he got to drink in the station wagon on the ride home.
Despite my husband’s negative associations with skiing, I thought maybe the snooty nature of the sport might appeal to someone with his exclusive Chevy Chase, Maryland upbringing. Much like golf, crew and squash, skiing attracts a pretentious crowd, and I figured that it might tap into an embarrassingly haughty aspect of my husband’s personality kept hidden since his crew-rowing days as a frat boy at George Washington University.
So, I signed us up for the barracks Ski Club and bought a cool-looking ski carrier for the roof of our minivan. Although we only load it with grocery bags and luggage, the ski carrier with the Ski Club sticker are tell tale signs that we are a family that skis.
I may have jumped the gun a bit, but I was eager for my family to experience the winter fun that I had as a kid on the manageable little slopes of Pennsylvania’s Blue Knob, Laurel Mountain, Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and even the tiny slope with it’s rope tow behind our local YMCA.
I wanted to relive my High School Ski Club days when my best friend and I would lie to cute boys on the chair lift, telling them our names were “Brooke” and “Claire” and that we went to boarding school in Massachusetts. I wanted to come to a quick stop at the end of a good run, sending up an impressive spray of snow, then triumphantly sip peppermint schnapps from a Bota bag.
Essentially, I wanted to deny the fact that I am a middle-aged housewife with three kids who could care less about skiing and a husband who just wants to sit in the lodge and drink beer, so I blinded myself to reality and dragged my reluctant family through our European ski adventure.
The charade did not last long. On our first family ski trip in the German Alps, our youngest daughter nearly threw up on the gondola before we even set foot on the slopes. Later on a t-bar, my son was mortified when he fell off and knocked four other people to the ground, including two very cute teenage girls, bringing the entire contraption to a grinding halt. All three kids ended up in tears for one reason or another that afternoon, and my husband projected the bitter resentments of his traumatic childhood skiing experiences by encouraging the kids to treat me as the primary source of their discontentment.
The day ended abruptly when I lead everyone onto a long intermediate slope from which there was no escape. As we descended the trail, it got steeper and steeper, until my son and husband began a freefall that looked something like the famous “agony of defeat” footage on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
Subsequent ski weekends followed, and although each family ski trip has been unique, a common occurrence on every outing is the inevitable moment when I grit my teeth and vow to myself, “I swear to God, as long there is breath in this body, I will never ski with these damned people again.”
But eventually, I get over it and start planning our next trip.
Sure, I admit it. Our ski-carrier has never actually carried skis. My husband is afraid of intermediate slopes. I fantasize about sending my kids to military school when I am on the chair lift. I post ski trip photos on Facebook that make us look like we are having fun when we are actually in pure hell.
I like to believe that perseverance is all one needs to be a skier, and even though my family may not really enjoy skiing or have any skill whatsoever, no one can take away the fact that we are skiers. Besides, who’s to say that the person who coined the phrase “hit the slopes” wasn’t describing a painfully embarrassing fall?