First Time I Skied

The prompt for the Chatham Memoir Group was to write about the first time you skied. In January of 1972, I went to Ski Round Top, in south central Pennsylvania, with 3 of my friends. My story follows:

In the winter of my senior year of high school, two of my good friends tried to encourage me into joining them on a trip to a local ski area. They both knew how to ski, I didn’t. At that point in my life, I was not interested in learning.

“Oh come Ernie, it will be fun!” They said.

“For who?” I asked. “I have never been on skis in my life.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, we’ll teach you.” They offered.

Their efforts to entice me to the ski slopes began began just before Christmas break. They were planning on going some time during the break. I was adamant in my refusal. During a New Year’s Eve party at the home of one of these skiers, the screws really got turned up. The two experienced skiers cornered two other friends and me and really talked up what great fun we would have. The reluctance of my two non-skiing buddies began to melt. Caught up in the enthusiasm displayed by the two guys who knew how to ski, they agreed to go.

The skiing buddies now concentrated their efforts on me. “See! We got Jim & Paul convinced it will be great! Come on Ernie!”

As the party wound down so did my resolve and I agreed to go. Everybody was elated, I still had great concerns and was more subdued. A day during the week was chosen, the ski area would not be as busy as the weekend. It would be great. Maybe.

On the day of the ski excursion, I was mildly surprised to discover that we would be all going in the same car. That was because my non-skiing buddy Paul couldn’t go with us, he had to work. The scalawag most likely snagged the McDonald’s shift I tried to get so I wouldn’t have to go. Off the four of us went, half of us excited, the other half wary.

There were several things I noticed when we arrived at the ski area. First, being south central Pennsylvania, the ski area was on several high hills – not mountains like Vermont or Colorado. But having never skied, these hills looked like Rockies to me. Secondly, the clothes I selected for this ski trip, jeans, an army fatigue jacket, leather gloves and a New York Giants ski cap, stood out in sharp contrast the the stylish insulated and water proof ski outfits everyone else seemed to be wearing. Lastly, it was really busy. Every school student on Winter break seemed to be there. After getting fitted for my rental skis, I met up with my friends at the beginner slope, supposedly to get ski lessons from the two experienced guys. They showed me how to grab the rope that would pull us to the top of the little slope. My skis crossed and I toppled to the side, getting dragged rather than pulled. Everyone on the lift behind me began to swear. “People will swear at you if you fall off the rope line.” Said experienced guy #1. To avoid being the target of further invective, I side stepped the rest of the way to the peak of the beginner hill.

Once there, the experienced guys showed us novice skiers how to snow plow down the hill. That was the extent of our lesson. Their parting advice before heading off to the more challenging trails, was to take a few snow plow runs, then try putting your skis parallel to gain speed, bye. Watching their colorful ski clothes disappear into the throng of other skiers, I turned to my novice buddy and asked, “How do we turn?” That would prove to be a challenge.

Cowed by the outcry after my fall from the tow rope, every trip I made to the top of the beginner hill was via side stepping on my skis. I would start to snow plow down, attempt to turn, fall. Get up snow plow, fall. My skis would usually come off after each fall. Eventually reaching the bottom of this small hill, I would sidestep back to the peak and repeat the process. Ski, fall, ski, fall, ski, sidestep. Some kind skier showed me how to make turns. Things improved somewhat. I wasn’t falling as much. However, my previous encounters of the ground kind had led to my jeans and long underwear being soaked through to my skin. I was wet, cold, exhausted from side stepping, the time was 10:00 AM. It was hard to believe I had been skiing for only two hours. Well, maybe not skiing, falling for two hours.

Gaining confidence in my ability to turn, I thought I would take a shot at a run with parallel skiing. I started out well, gaining speed as I progressed down the hill. I saw a ski school beginning to form in two lines, they were right in my path and I was now bearing down on one of the lines. I tried to make a slight turn, but lacked the skill to make it slight and was now barreling down on the middle of the other line. Desperate, I tried to make one of those Olympic stops that end in a shower of snow. I got the shower of snow, but it was because I catapulted over on to my side, eventually sliding to a stop between the two lines of beginners. I heard some gasps. Needing a moment to get my wind back, I stood up slowly, wobbled a bit, looked at the two lines of gaping skiers and introduced myself as their instructor. Eyes flew open wide, jaws dropped even wider. I said I would be right back after I got a different set of skis, these were making me fall.

I turned in my skis, went into the lodge and spent the remainder of the day sipping hot chocolate in front of the fireplace. It would be 25 years before I gave skiing another chance. I do know how to turn and parallel ski now. I still haven’t figured out how to stop falling.

Ernie Stricsek
Chatham Memoir Group

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