It’s all downhill from here

At the ripe old age of 22 I decided to learn to ski. I went with a church group from Colorado & Jackson Street Church of Christ (now Southgate) in San Angelo to Ruidoso, New Mexico. How hard can it be, I thought, to strap a couple of boards onto your feet and slide down a hill covered with soft, downy snow’ The problem with skiing at Ruidoso is that the ski area is owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache Indians, who are evidently still exacting revenge on the white man for stealing their land. If you don’t think they still scalp people out there just go rent a pair of skis or buy a lift ticket. Better yet, try to get a soft drink and a candy bar for under four bucks. All the way to Ruidoso my friends, Keith and Kevin Pool, explained skiing to me. They told me how to put my skis on, how to get up when I fell, how to get on a ski lift, and how to apologize when I ran into people. They assured me that I didn’t need lessons, since they could teach me to ski in a couple of hours on the bunny slopes. I kept hearing this right up until we got into line to buy our lift tickets. When I got my ticket and turned around, I was alone. My friends had deserted me. So I got on the nearest ski lift and rode to the top of a slope called “El Capitan,” since it looked fairly short. This was a huge mistake. I soon figured out that “El Capitan” should have been called “ElGeneral.” Since I didn’t know there was a color code to let people know how difficult the runs were, I was blissfully unaware that I was on an intermediate slope, where it is legal, even desirable, for more experienced skiers to use their ski poles on downed beginners as they speed past. I spent four hours learning to lie in the snow and whimper while other skiers, including old women and five-year-old children, cheerfully skied over me. Keith and Kevin finally found me and gathered up my most important body parts from the slope above me. They taught me to ski, and I ended up going back to Ruidoso on several more occasions. But I never forgot being abandoned on the slopes, and I promised myself that, if I ever got the opportunity, I would try to make the world a better place by teaching someone else to ski. Seventeen years later I discovered that my friend, JD Futch, had never been skiing. It took me a while to convince him to go on a trip with me. I asked him if he wanted to go skiing, and he said, “OK.” He obviously had no idea what he was getting into. We decided to go to Taos, NM, since my hair had not yet grown back after my last trip to Ruidoso. This turned out to be a wise decision. Taos is nowhere near as crowded as Ruidoso, and JD definitely needed the extra space. We stayed in a hostel called the Abominable Snowmansion, where we rented a couple of bunk beds in a room with ten other guys, and shared a bathroom with all of them. This is a perfect arrangement for someone who has just spent several years in a state prison, and can’t stand privacy. One guy coughed every 20 seconds (I timed him), and it wasn’t even a real cough. It sounded like he was clearing his throat, or maybe just making sure that no one else in the room wasted any time sleeping. JD amused himself by waiting until the cougher was in the shower, and then alternately turning on the hot and cold water faucets in the sink. The hot got an “Ohhhhh” sound, while the cold usually produced an “Ahhhhh.” After three nights JD could just about play a tune with the water taps. On our first day on the slopes we went to Cottam’s Ski Shop and rented our equipment. John, the owner of Cottam’s, likes to hire Aussies, so there were about fifteen of them working there. They were all very friendly and helpful, despite the handicap of speaking a foreign language. Marty (pronounced “Mahty”) fitted us with boots, poles and skis, and sent us on our way. I took JD to the bunny slope and gave him a few pointers. “Try not to fall down so much,” is the kind of thing I told him, by way of instruction. He fell, on average, once every time he stood up, which is really not bad. Some beginners fall two or three times for every time they stand up, but JD was a quick learner. After thirty minutes of watching him fall, I decided JD was ready to go to the top of the mountain. This was definitely a good thing, since he got a lot more skiing in that way, although most of it was on his back. After a while I got tired of waiting for him to get up, and told him I’d meet him at The Dog after the lifts closed. Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina, located conveniently at the bottom of the slopes, was where we ate breakfast and supper, attended faithfully by Molly Mainelli, who happened to be our waitress most of the time. The Dog is a great place for sore skiers to go and lick their wounds after a hard day on the slopes, and Molly was very sympathetic. She put up with our complaining and gave JD some helpful tips, such as, “If you’ll fall over near the edge of the trail, not so many people will run over you.” Thanks, Molly. All in all it was a great trip, and I highly recommend Taos if you ever need to inflict large amounts of pain on a non-skier. JD was tearing up the intermediate slopes on the second day, and actually ended up enjoying himself. My only regret is that I didn’t buy the T-shirt in Cottam’s that said, “New skis’$550. Lift tickets for the weekend’$90. Hotel and meals’$330. Seeing the snot bubble on the hot babe in the lift line – Priceless.” Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who lost a ski while riding a chairlift in Taos, and had to have Ray DuBose, of the ski patrol, retrieve it for him. Write to him (Kendal) at PO Box 564, Mason, Tx 76856 or email hemphill@towa.org

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