Opinion | Biff America: Lasting impressions
It was 1974. Seeing the “Going Out of Business Sale” sign on that Boston ski shop, I knew I would be getting a good price.
The salesman sat in a chair smoking a cigarette and did not stand when I walked in. It wasn’t until I told him that I was moving to Colorado and knew nothing about ski gear that he perked up.
He brought out boots that hurt my feet. He said they would break in after a few days on the slopes. This was back in the ’70s when a guy my size would normally be on skis around 190-plus centimeters. The salesman took a drag from his butt and said all the good skiers were going shorter this year, and I was in luck because the only pair he had left was 170 centimeters.
Just before I walked out with my new skis, poles, boots and bindings, he asked if I owned ski clothing. “Those jeans and leather jacket won’t cut it. People will think you’re a tourist.” He grabbed one of the few jackets still hanging on a rack and handed me a pea-green parka that came to my knees and a matching hat with a pompom the size of a cantaloupe on top.
I’d only seen skiing a couple of times on TV. Luckily, my best bud and traveling companion Keith had been on ski trips with his church. Keith was raised Lutheran, a faith that allowed parishioners to have fun and the priests to marry. I was born a Catholic. When I had fun, I was told it was a sin and could ruin my eyesight.
Keith assured me that once we got to Breckenridge we could get my boots worked on and my short skis would be OK to learn on. He kindly said nothing about my new hat and jacket. We arrived in Breckenridge well before the lifts would run. With much excitement and fake IDs, we entered a local bar on our first night in town. Keith suggested that I leave my new pea-green ski jacket at home. “Wear your leather jacket, it won’t stain.”
Luckily, I was way more comfortable in barrooms than on a ski slope, so we had made some friends after a week or two.
In those days the ski season ran — if the weather cooperated — from Thanksgiving to Easter. Having earned a foray into the local bar scene, my next concern was to not make a fool of myself on the mountain. The town was much smaller then, and I was told most of the community would be out on that opening day. I knew I wouldn’t be good having never skied before, but I just didn’t want to be so bad I would ruin my chances at perhaps meeting a future Ms. Right, or at least Ms. Right Now.
Keith thought it would be a good idea for me to learn at least the rudiments of downhill skiing before the lifts ran. We met a guy named Torpedo on our first day in town who, like Keith, had skied before. Beginning a week before Thanksgiving, we would hike partway up Peak 9, allowing me to hone my ski-craft. After a few tips, I would push off and they would ski behind me, screaming advice.
Having mastered the sport of skiing, Keith said getting on my first chairlift would be my next big challenge. This was before detachable chairs, so the chair would approach quickly. Torpedo warned me that the lift lines would be filled with locals and falling while getting on the lift would haunt me well into my 30s.
As usual, Keith had a plan. We visited a local base area and stationary lift to practice. Keith instructed. “The chair will approach fast,” he said, “The liftie will grab it and slow it down by tipping it back. I’ll grab it too, slowing it down even more. You just have to make sure you are ready to get on. Everyone will be watching, so don’t let us down.”
Thanksgiving morning found almost the entire town in the lift line. As we shuffled up, Keith said, “Are you ready?” I wore an expression that belied my nerves but said, “Yes.”
The chair approached. But before it got close enough for Keith or the lifties to grab it, I launched myself backward and stuck a perfect landing in the middle of the two-person chair. When my pal tried to load, there was no room for him and he fell face first in the snow. The crowd hooted in mockery.
The chair was stopped, and I sat about 5 feet off the ground looking back. Keith looked up from the ground and I waved. I know it sounds awful, but my first thought was, “Better him than me.”
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stoplights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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