Ice Age

A lifelong athlete is ravaged by the bunny slope

click to enlarge DOWN AND OUT IN BOUSQUET: In the aftermath, - Snider contemplates the implications of a life lived - without skiing. - BONNIE SNYDER
DOWN AND OUT IN BOUSQUET: In the aftermath, Snider contemplates the implications of a life lived without skiing.

The kid — he was probably 13 or 14 — stood atop the bunny slope with a gaggle of friends, a snowboard leaning against his hip. He watched me clop off the conveyor belt on my skis and start to trudge through the slush.

"Skiing is hard," he said.

"Tell me about it," I replied, heartened by the kid's apparent concern. I could've left it at that, but I had to add, "Yeah, it's hard, especially when you're trying it for the first time when you're almost 50."

The kid looked perplexed. "Why would anyone waste a life by not skiing?" he said. That pissed me off. I swiftly poked him in the Adam's apple with my ski pole and watched him clutch his throat, fall to the snow and writhe in pain.

No, I didn't do that. But I wanted to. For a second. I'm usually really good with a cutting retort, but none came forth. I just continued clopping out toward the top of the bunny slope of the Bousquet ski facility in Lenox, Mass., ready to take yet another crack at sliding successfully down about 150 modestly inclined feet.

Old dog: Me

New Trick: Skiing.

Actually, there are some pretty legitimate reasons why I waited until I was 49 and eight months to strap on skis. Growing up in New York as a basketball player, I heard this common coach's refrain, usually delivered at top lung: "I don't wanna hear about you guys skiing! You'll tear your knees and ankles apart!" I followed orders. Then onto college in upstate New York: more sports, no money. Post-college: move to Florida; no snow, no hills, no money. Married, kids: money going anywhere but skiing.

Truth is, I hadn't really missed trying it. I did not feel my life was wasted as a result. My best athletic endeavors had always been team sports on flat surfaces, and I'm still holding my own in that area. I'm a poor swimmer and a bad golfer. I've water-skied a couple of times and it was pretty damn sad.

Then, with snow-skiing thoroughly off my radar, opportunity knocked.

In late September I'd been reunited with Paul, a friend going back to grade school, in Las Vegas. He happens to be the food-and-beverage manager (and sometime bartender and cook) at Bousquet, a quaint ski facility in Lenox in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

"C'mon up," he said. "I'll arrange the gear, lift tickets and lessons."

That was simply too good to pass up. So on Dec. 27, 2003 — low 40s and sunny — I found myself at Bousquet with my wife Bonnie, 50, my daughter Karin, 19, and my son Dan, 16. I did not expect skiing to be easy, but I didn't expect it to be all that hard either.

Our instructor was named Al. He was a sharp-talking transplant from Long Island, quick with a wisecrack. "I can learn to ski from this guy," I thought, brimming with get-up-and-go.

Bousquet hadn't seen new snow in a while, so the surface was heavily granulated, with little chunks of ice mixed with wet snow.

A guy zipped by me, chugging up the hill, his skis splayed outward. When I tried to head up the hill, I slid backward. Al showed us how to work up the slope sideways, taking small choppy steps. This was some truly difficult, laborious shit.

After slogging up a ways, I turned and slid about 20 feet down the slope, where Al awaited to stop me. Technically, I was skiing, I guess. All around me, little kids zipped around, rosy-cheeked and smiling. After a few mini-runs and some more instruction, we jumped on the conveyor belt that took us to the top of the bunny slope.

Al had showed us how to form our skis in a wedge, toes pointing inward. This would enable us to control the speeds and, most important, help us to stop. It didn't work, not for me. Taking my maiden bunny run (sans poles, at Al's direction), I gingerly pigeon-toed my way forward and then — whoosh — off I went. I know I was not going very fast, but it sure felt like it. I did not turn the skis; they turned me. I picked up speed. I hurled toward the kids and parents. I tried to turn. I couldn't. I tried to slow down. I couldn't. I tried to stop. I couldn't. I finally sat back on my skis and voluntarily wiped out. That wasn't bad at all, although returning myself to upright was much harder than I would have ever imagined.

I tried again — and missed a mom and her little daughter by a couple of feet and crashed again. Sitting in the snow, forlorn, I saw Bonnie wobbling down the hill, farther and farther to the right, toward the mud, toward the shed, toward the heavy machinery.

Down she went. She had fallen. And she couldn't get up. I clopped over, where Al was helping her. I stood on the periphery, in the wet snow, when down I went, as if for no reason. I landed front first, and my skis got tangled up in a way that put pressure on my shins like a pro wrestling submission hold. Next thing I know I'm hollering. "Oww! My legs! Take the skis off! Take the skis off! Take the skis off!"

Al took the skis off. I rolled over and sat there for quite some time. Surprisingly, I heard no laughs; I did not see crowds of people pointing at me and doubling over.

Bonnie called it quits, but I wasn't ready to admit defeat. I tried at least another half-dozen runs, each time with the same anxieties about turning children into bowling pins. I usually fell. On only one ride did I feel a semblance of control. I scurried back to the top, flush with renewed enthusiasm, and on the ensuing run I fell sideways and landed hard on my hip.

Then I did something that had previously been out of character. I quit while I was ahead. I stopped skiing, then and there, with one aim in mind: to walk away healthy.

I was dejected during the ride back to Paul's house. Was I that much of a stumblebum? Did I really quit so easily? I drank many beers and felt better. Soon enough, I put my ski debacle in the rearview.

Since then, a number of well-meaning folks have tried to encourage me. "It's really hard to ski in that icy stuff," they'd say, or, "You had bad conditions for a beginner." Their solution: "You need to go out west where you can ski on powder. It's much easier to control."

I don't see that happening. But there's a sliver of me that wants to return to Bousquet and conquer the bunny slope that once proved so humbling.

Contact aging athlete Eric Snider at 813-248-8888, ext. 114, or at [email protected].


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Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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