My last column in this space documented my brief entry into the daring world of skiing which I luckily escaped with nothing more than a bruised ego and a life-long shin scar. I prefer, though, to dwell on the fun, family ski stories that we still laugh about.
Our kids learned to ski at Buckaloons in Youngsville. Only a few years after we moved to Warren we were thrilled to realize that we could take them just a few miles down the road to learn skiing on a tame bunny slope. We'd head out on Friday evening with an eager, responsible, nine-year-old girl child and a six-year-old male kamikaze.
Just in case we didn't bump into any friends to join for a glass of wine, we'd take along a book while our miniature daredevils took their skiing lessons. We thought it was a win/win. They get to ski, we get to relax, it's Friday night . . . and everybody's happy.
It was slow going at first, but as they got better they were also more excited . . . and one of them was definitely more dangerous. By February we wound up spending the end of the evening watching the lesson results from the bottom of the hill. Abandoning books, burgundy and buddies we stood freezing together waiting for the familiar silhouettes to race towards us. Alix showed us what she learned and usually asked for one last run.
We were never able to speak to the streaking blue blur who was her brother. Some ski instructor reasoning had dictated that his age group not be issued poles, and at first I couldn't argue with that logic. I mean I understood that a ski pole could be a weapon, especially in a Star-Wars minded first-grader. The problem, however, was that Mr. Inter-Galactica did not know how to stop on skis and didn't have a weapon, er, pole to help propel his direction. Twice he crashed into the lodge which actually did slow him down, but did not slow his rapid return up the hill.
We slowly realized that the game was how many runs can one claim in one evening - with stopping being only an annoying technicality. Unfortunately, his last run that February night was his fastest of all and he didn't make it to the lodge wall. Hell-bent-for-leather, he was coming straight at us, veered just a little bit to miss me and smashed full-body into the owner of Buckaloons, knocking him boots over earmuffs, onto his butt. He came up sputtering, appropriately furious and hollered, "Who is that stupid kid?"
Stupid Kid had survived unscathed, which added insult to injury to the angry proprietor. He did, however have the last word and it was, "Out! Get off this slope and don't come back." And so endeth the lesson . . . and the season. Fridays sadly weren't the same that March.
It was a few years later that we found ourselves in a time crunch that was solved by skiing . . . what we hoped might be another lucky win/win situation. We worked alternate Friday evenings in Corry and had a quandary about what to do with our children. Our idea was to take them to the evening ski program at Peak 'n' Peek.
This involved some serious introspection. We hoped that our parenting skills had created two kids who were reasonably responsible. We worried: Are they old enough to leave alone? Together? On a ski slope? At night? Can we trust them to do what they're told? - to do the right thing? We decided to brave it, many years before cell phones would have eased our minds.
The evening lift ticket wasn't much more expensive than a babysitter. Tom would drop them off with the right amount of money plus a little extra for hot chocolate. Alix, the money-minder, was 12, and still responsible. Bart was 8 and was told emphatically that if they didn't stay together they wouldn't be back. We figured we were safe dropping off two practicing snitches. They went together every other week and it worked perfectly through December and into the middle of January.
The week following Bart's birthday we had to work on Saturday. A full day on the slopes seemed like a nice late birthday present for our intrepid little skier, and his patient sister had certainly earned it. Tom dropped them off at Peak 'n' Peek and gave Alix the same amount of money he always did and drove away. And that was the problem.
Standing in the ticket line, Alix realized she had only enough money for night tickets and hot chocolate, not full-day tickets and lunch. Her ticket was an adult ticket. Kids outgrew the child rate at age nine . . . and Bart had been nine for three days. She gulped. By the time she was at the booth she knew she was in trouble. The kind ticket seller asked what the problem was and she explained it, quietly including the fact that her brother was now nine. "Honey, when will your parents pick you up?"
Alix replied 5 o'clock and the nice lady said, "Well we'll just have to sell you a child's ticket for your brother." And a little voice piped up, "But I'm nine!"
"That's okay, Sweetie, you don't have enough money for two adults, so we'll do it this way." And the little voice whined louder, "But I'm nine!!"
"I understand, Honey, but just for today, we'll pretend you're eight again so you can ski." Then once more the plaintive voice shrilled, "But I'm nine!!!"
And she blew. . . and then she barked, "Shut up, kid, you're eight. You're gonna ski, you're gonna eat, and you're eight until ya leave here, ya got it?"
So a much-reduced newly nine hit the slopes. I can only imagine it didn't him long to work up to his usual adult speed.
We never knew who she was to thank her and it seemed too awkward to write to the Peak to thank one of their employees for her semi-larcenous act of kindness.
I just came back from Boston where we celebrated the Princess of Boston's sixth birthday . . . the only other January birthday in our family. She's heading out this weekend for her third day on the mountain on a snowboard. The lessons have gone well and her balance is good. When she left the slopes two weeks ago she asked her Dad, "Where do they do the tricks?" and "How long will I have to wait before I can try them?"
I'm hopeful that responsible instructors are teaching her how to stop. Oh, and please, God, don't let her see the half-pipe until she's nine.
Marcy O'Brien writes from her home in Glade Township. She is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and can be reached at MOBY.firstname.lastname@example.org.