Friday, December 6, 2013

Rocky Mountain Thanksgiving: Skiing

I was nervous the morning after Thanksgiving Day. 

We were going skiing at Winter Park with Mark's sister and her family. During the last 30 years, I have gone skiing four times, all since 2002. The first was when I went with my son and the Deacon's Quorum from our ward. But that was his first time on skis, and we never got off the bunny hill. The second and third time were in 2012 and involved going up to Alta for a couple of hours and skiing down a road up Millcreek Canyon.

The last time was last December, when Mark took me back country skiing up in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Skiing in wasn't too bad, but once we started climbing, things started to go downhill - in more than one sense. I found it very difficult to switchback on skis as we mounted the hill. I would start sliding backward or lose my balance and fall down. 

By the time we reached the point where we started heading downhill, my chest was already constricted. If going up had been nerve-racking and physically taxing (which it was), looking down a slope filled with trees, bushes and boulders to be navigated, requiring sharp turns in a narrow space - this was terrifying. My chest grew more constricted to the point of being painful. By the time we reached the trail out, I honestly thought I was having a heart attack.

Mark was a bit bewildered, even though he is a doctor. He knew how fit I was and, I think, couldn't imagine how this little bit of back-country skiing could have brought on a heart attack. I should say at this point that Mark has skied for 40 years. He was on ski patrol at Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado during the 80's (see pictures below) and has been an avid back-country skier for many years. 

Mark is the gorgeous blond guy at the top of the stairs

I had never had a panic attack. I didn't know what they felt like. I couldn't imagine my body feeling this way unless I was having a heart attack. After all, I was 54 years old, going back-country skiing for the first time in my life. As we drove down the canyon, we debated taking me to the ER at Intermountain Medical Center. I wasn't feeling any better. My breathing was even more labored. If I'd had health insurance, I probably wouldn't have hesitated, given how I felt. But I was loathe to go there, fearing that it would turn out to be nothing after incurring hundreds if not thousands of dollars of expense.

In the end, I told Mark I'd be ok and that I probably just needed to lie down. We drove home, and within ten minutes, I felt fine, albeit a bit shaken. I didn't go skiing again last year.

I had first learned to ski when I was in college. Being from southern Illinois, there was no place to ski there, and I wasn't exposed to it until I went to the University of Illinois, where a number of my fraternity brothers were from Chicago and had often gone skiing in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan ("UP"). I ended up going several times over Christmas breaks with a group of guys to Big Powderhorn Mountain in the UP. I also skied once at Heavenly Valley at Lake Tahoe with another fraternity brother who happened to be out there when I was there for a sales convention. (I wish I had pictures from those trips.)

But after that, nada. Even though I lived for 10 years in Vancouver, BC, near some world-class resorts, I never went. No time. No money. Same thing down here in Utah - until I met Mark.

Thus the trepidation last Friday morning as we set out for Winter Park. This would be my first *real* time skiing in over 30 years. I insisted that I would only be skiing the beginner slopes, that Mark was free to go ski with his sister and brother-in-law and their boys. But, ever loving, patient and kind, Mark said he'd go with me. 

Well, that first run was, um, rather boring and not the least challenging, even to me. But it gave me some confidence, enough to say that I was willing to do a blue run next. And so I did. And I fell. More than once. But I only came out of one of my bindings once. And my tumbles were, fortunately, not too painful (or embarrassing).

So, it was a good experience for me, and I'm ready for more here in Utah. It was fun going with Mark's sister, her husband and their two boys, all of whom were very gracious and considerate of my novice-ness. They are a great family.

The rest of that day was low-key. Most of the clan gathered at Tim and Marie's house that night for pizza and more visiting. 

It was a great day.

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