Over the Hill and Still Skiing
a local winter memory
As a kid, my idea of a great way to spend a winter afternoon consisted of curling up behind the couch with a handful of cookies and a volume or two of the World Book Encyclopedia. Things changed, thankfully.
Getting out from behind that couch was one of the better moves of my life. It led not only to downhill skiing, but to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. And with those extensions on my feet, there are no boundaries except time to keep me from exploring and experiencing our winters.
We may owe one of our sisters for prompting the change. She and my younger brother and I, at the start of my 10th winter, took advantage of the foot of early December snowfall to head off to a steep hill in a nearby pasture. She carried an ancient pair of homemade skis that had hung in our garage and we’d never seen in use. My 6-year-old brother Joe and I pulled the toboggan and trailed along. As the sun lowered, she put her snow boots in the single leather straps, held the bamboo poles, and headed straight down the hill.
It was one of the spectacular sights of our young lives. Our sister flew downslope, unhindered by any restraint, skill, or judgment. But when, beneath the snow, the grassy hillside gave way to plowed furrows, her skis stopped suddenly and she flew upward and forward in an incredible swan dive. She landed head-first and lay in a crumpled heap in the snow.
“Duke, Joe, come here! I’m hurt,” she said between moans.
We, of course, thought it was a hilarious scene, and laughed and whooped on the hilltop. But it must have been serious, because she didn’t even bother to threaten to kill us. Eventually, we rode the toboggan down the hill, making ambulance siren sounds until we reached her.
Her forehead was bruised and bleeding, and her arms were oddly bent beneath her. We guessed that the situation was indeed serious. I trudged off home to get our dad while Joe sang Christmas songs to our sister. When she returned from the hospital with casts on each of her broken wrists, she had almost two months to remind us of the event.
But the accident led to our parents to get us real ski equipment the next season, and turn us over to a real instructor at the tiny three-rope tow ski hill six miles away. Now, 46 years of skiing later, I think I’ve concluded that winter is, well, all right.
My sister eventually healed from her injuries and became a smooth and disciplined skier. But she never, ever would let herself get out of control after that December evening.
Somehow, both my brother and I worked our way onto ski patrols at Midwestern resorts, treating skiers and snowboarders who had been injured. This will be my 33rd year of patrolling in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Perhaps it’s a sort of penance. Sometimes I wonder, but in reality it’s kept me out there and involved. Skiing became one of our family’s favorite activities.
Being out there has introduced me to some of my favorite places and put me there at the best of times.
Lots of people take up a sport such as football, basketball or soccer and find they can only do it part of their life. Though I dabbled in a number of sports with results ranging from forgettable to painful to merely mediocre, skiing and snowshoeing have been sports I can master, and ones I plan to enjoy all my life.