I do love skiing, even in Korea
January 15, 2008 — Growing up as a young ski racer in Vail, there were certain things that we just didn’t question our coaches about. Questions like: “Why does your breath smell funny this morning?” “What’s that funny brown stuff in your teeth that you keep spitting in the snow?” -and- “Why do we have to wear these skin-tight, neon suits in below freezing weather (and more importantly, can I put a sock down there)”.
Above all, the brain buster we knew that might result in actual brain busting was “Why do we have to do this?
I still recall one such day filled with questions that begged to be asked. Our coach Phil had made us hike up the mountain below a perfectly good chairlift. This would make us tough, we were led to believe, though I still think Phil was just having girl trouble and probably hung-over to boot. Truth-be-told, hung-over or not, coaches were just cruel bastards.
And so as we grinded to a halt and Phil instructed us to put on one ski and throw the other one in a tree well, we couldn’t help but muffle a grumbled, “You want us to ski down on one ski, why would we do this?”
Big mistake. Sensing our escalating mutiny, Phil decided to assert his power over the 15-year-olds of which he held all the power. Take that Tiffany, or whatever her name might have been. “Yeah, one ski. And unbuckle all of the buckles on your ski boots.” Damn that Tiffany.
Defiant questions still swirling in our heads, my smartass friend Trevor was not above the challenge of serving as the mouthpiece of our adolescent discontent. “Phil, when in the hell are we ever going to need to know how to ski on one ski with our boots unbuckled?” I’m sure Phil’s diatribe of an answer had something to do with being prepared for all conditions on a racecourse or some sh**. I don’t know, I wasn’t listening. I was busy listening to the voice of my 30-year old self.
“Dude, do what he says. One day you will be skiing in Korea. You’ll be on man-made snow. You’ll be on 160 cm rental skis, the edges of which couldn’t cut through a fart. Your rear-entry rental boots will be three sizes too big and the beginner skiers surrounding you will swarm like the locust on the apocalypse. You will thank this man.”
Fast-forward 15 years. I’d been chopping at the bit to go skiing in Korea for over a month now. With reports coming in from home of epic powder days and endless snowstorms, I just wanted to get out on the slopes. At the very least, I needed to humor myself and to possibly satisfy the inner turmoil that stirred in my soul as a result of leaving behind a perfectly good ski season. I had to chase my own “white dragon” (random heroin addict jargon I picked up while watching CNN International – to be clear, I’m addicted to skiing, not heroin).
The day started early, at 5:30 a.m. to be exact - a time I should mention that I had not seen in Korea since my first jet-lagged morning on foreign soil. (Let’s face it, when you have to work at 4:40 p.m., 11 a.m. seems like such a logical time to wake up). I met up with a group of Koreans, only one of which I had vague acquaintance with. They directed me onto the correct bus and we were off on our two-hour journey to Muju Resort.
Upon arrival, my new friends helped me walk through the process of renting skis and boots. Having never really done this before, I probably would have needed help doing this were the process to be completed in English. Much to my chagrin, the racks and racks of ski boots all looked the exact same: the rear-entry rental jobbers that I consistently mocked back home. The non-skiers out there may have no idea what I’m going on about, but the skiers reading this will get a good chuckle knowing how big of a snob I’ll admit to being. When it came time to pick up my skis, I politely inquired if they might have anything a bit longer, perhaps anything newer than circa 2004. Granted there was a major language barrier to contend with, but I took the confrontational look on the rental guy’s face to mean, “160 cm, deal with it”.
The rental process behind me, I embarked towards the mountain content to be back at what I’ve always known best. Taking to the slopes, it took me a moment to get my skis under my feet. My turns slid from side to side without much grace. My feet shifted around in my boots. A small child nearly lanced me with his ski tips. The “white ribbon of death” took on a new meaning as I actually began to sense death at every turn.
But then the lessons of my youth returned to me. Phil’s goofy laugh through tobacco stained teeth echoed in my ears. Stay centered, keep your shoulders squared to the hill, be strong on your downhill ski. . . ignore the girl sending a text message while simultaneous snowboarding; poorly.
It wasn’t long before I began to get the feel for my short skis with the dull edges. The crumby rear-entry boots that were much too big (in Asia, I know!) were a challenge that was not too big to surmount. I actually began to feel good about my skiing, and more to point, began to enjoy my skiing. I can’t pretend to know good heroin from bad heroin, but I have to imagine that the addict will take either one just the same. I was skiing and I was happy for it.
At the end of the day, every skier wishes to be left with tales to tell of deep face-shots, cliffs dropped and of corduroy shredded beneath their feet. But I defy you to find me a true skier who in the absence of all of that, can’t find joy in the simplicity of making good turns, of feeling the bite of cold air on their faces and of remembering what drew them to the sport in the first place – to feel happier moving quickly along a snowy surface than standing stationary on top of it.
My coach Phil may have taught me a lot of lessons that have been long –since shelved, but there will always be one that remains. Learn to ski well and love doing it. I do love skiing.
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