Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Greatest Snow (Mishaps) on Earth: Snow Tubing

My little White girls after a day of sledding in Provo more than a decade ago.
You’ll remember my experience downhill skiing (aka human bowling, aka across-hill stomping) as a 13-year-old.  I wish I had remembered it a year later because that experience should have taught me not to join the annual ski trip with my church’s youth. But I was a slow learner when it came to those sorts of things.

Look how they've grown!  (#5 has been born.)
So far, #3, my current eighth-grader, has escaped this winter
unscathed.  She does not take after her mother in that respect.
This selfie is from our New Year's Eve sledding at East Canyon.
My sister, Carolyn, was kind crazy enough to invite us to
share her vacation condo and disturb her peace for a few days.
The winter of my eighth-grade year came around and I found myself piled into another minivan on our way to the same ski resort.  This time however, I was determined to not give the bunny hill a second chance.  Instead, I convinced a few other friends that we should join those who were snow tubing.  The ski resort had a really great “hill” for this.  In plowing their road all winter, the resort had built a big berm of snow between the road and the stretches of meadow that were now blanketed in several feet of Utah powder, This sloping meadow made for a wide tubing hill.  In theory, the bank of snow protected tubers by keeping them on the meadow side, rather than on the road side.  

(Do you see where this is going?)

The rental shop was very helpful in providing all sorts of injury-inducing snow gear, so that’s where we picked up our tubes.  We would ride our snow tubes on the meadow side of the snow bank, the long hill carrying us away from the lodge, probably a quarter of a mile.  One leader would drive on the road side of the bank, pick us up at the bottom of the hill, and drive us back up to the top of the road, where we would hop on our tubes for another ride.  It really was great fun.

Imagine these rolling hills covered in snow and children sledding.
Tangent time! Next to ice skating, flying downhill on an out-of-control piece of plastic was my favorite winter activity.  My parents used to take us sledding at the Mount Ogden Golf Course.  The course crawls up the foothills of Ogden, Utah, becoming a perfect sledding site in the winter.  We used to plant our three-person toboggan at the base of the trees that line the course, load everyone on while one parent held us in place, and then race down the hill into the open, wide space below.  There was plenty of room for dozens of sledders coming down the foothills together.

#5 on a sled run at East Canyon, circa 2015

Sledding, the next generation.
This saucer wasn't built for three people, but it's a step up
from the laundry basket that carried our kids down the hill
the previous year.  I like how #4 is "buckled" in by Dad's leg.

After a few outings, my family became more sledding savvy.  In addition to our plastic toboggan and Flexible Flyer, we started bringing our tubes.  In those early years, we went sliding on the big, black tractor inner tubes that we used for floating canyon rivers in the summer.  One or two of us would climb on, avoiding the giant inflation stem, wrapping our little arms around the sides and around each other, and clinging for dear life as we screamed with exhilaration all the way down the slope until it leveled out somewhere on the tenth fairway. Then I'd call Alfie, our Golden Retriever, who would retrieve my tube's rope and drag the tube to the next sibling waiting at the top of the hill.

The year that we got the yellow waterpark tubes was special, because then we had handles and we could take on the man-made snow bumps that would launch us into the air.  I distinctly remember taking flight like this photo shows.  There was one run where my tube and I became separated in the air, but gravity brought us back together and we continued down the slope.  It was both breathtaking and intoxicating!  

Back to that fateful night with the youth.  As an experienced tuber, I was confident that the ski resort’s lengthy tubing hill would convince my friends that sitting in a plastic doughnut and handing all control over to gravity was obviously superior to racing downhill with poles and skis on which one could supposedly stop and start as desired.  My friends and I made our first tube run with no mishaps--just lots of laughs and shrieks.  Good stuff!  But fate was teasing me.

We piled with our tubes in the back of the pickup truck for our lift to the top.  (For those readers who are worried by the fact that we weren’t buckled safely in the cab, just know that this was a compromise.  Out here in the West, another winter sport, when there aren’t hills around, is to simply hitch trains of toboggans behind a truck and get pulled around icy parking lots.)  This tubing train idea caught in our brains that night, too.  At the top of the road, my friends and I lined up our tubes side-by-side, grabbing each other’s handles to attempt to go down the hill in chain formation.  The natural bulges and depressions in the meadow’s snow forced us apart as we picked up speed.  I must have hit one of those snow bumps exactly the wrong way, because it bounced my tube right to the protective berm that stood between me and the road.  I remember hitting the edge of that berm like it was a surf wave, flying into the air, and hanging onto my tube for dear life.  I did not want to lose that tube!  The tube and I both flipped over in mid air and came down on the road.  We then proceeded to slide along the asphalt for a few yards--upside down. Upside down, aka on my face.  

I don’t remember my first thought, other than being confused about how this had happened.  Why had snow tubing turned on me?  Literally.  Then I noticed that my face burned. I suppose, given my luck, I should be grateful that I didn’t land on my leader’s truck or under its tires.  The adult leader who had been driving alongside us on the road stopped and climbed out as my friends punched holed with their boots across the tubing hill to see if I had survived.  

Everyone was a little concerned, I think, by the blood and sandy gravel covering my face. Back at the ski lodge, I spent the next half hour in the bathroom with wet paper towels, picking bits of road out of my face. Once again, my snow “fun” had turned into another evening alone in the ski lodge.  As dozens of teenage skiers returned, I had the displeasure of telling my tale over and over to all who saw my face and asked, “What happened?”
One of the tamer GPK.
I never liked these cards.

I got to repeat the retelling several times at school the next day, too. It was humbling to face my peers 12 hours later with scabby road rash face. I looked pretty gross. But it turns out that in eighth grade, gross can be good. (Keep in mind, this was in the age of Garbage Pail Kids.) My face earned me a lot of attention that day, including from the boy I then had a crush on. He seemed particularly impressed by my toughness, as evidenced by his compliment at the end of my story: "Cool."  

Go road rash!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Greatest Snow (Mishaps) on Earth: Alpine Skiing

When I was a youth, my church took all the teenagers downhill skiing for one night every winter.  I had never been Alpine skiing before, and not being the adventurous type, I went only because I always went to our weekly activities.  I remember my 13-yr-old self gathering with high schoolers in the parking lot of Nordic Valley Ski Resort. These older, cooler kids pulled me into their circle and offered some “community Carmex” as they talked about how fun this activity would be. I took courage from their interest in me, a lowly seventh grader, and their apparent concern to protect my lips from the harsh wind I would be facing in a few minutes as I swooshed down the mountainside. It’s funny how kids’ brains process friendship.

We rented our gear in the resort’s lodge.  Once I had everything strapped on, and a firm grip on my ski poles, I joined two or three other friends who had never been skiing before.  One of our youth leaders offered to teach us the basics.  I’m sure I don’t remember everything he tried to teach me, but it probably sounded a lot like this sage advice I found on “Skiing Tips for Beginners”.

  1. Helpful tips for avoiding this
    Gravity - This takes you from the top of the mountain to the bottom in the most direct route.
    • My seventh-grade understanding of physics, specifically mechanics and motion, concurred with this assessment.
  2. Balance - snow is slippery! Trying to balance whilst sliding down a mountain isn't easy!
    • Agreed.
    • Also, “whilst” is one of my favorite non-American English words.  I’m going to incorporate that into my verbiage.
  3. Dress Code - Stay warm!
    • Got it.  We hadn’t reached the part in our science class about thermodynamics and heat transfer, but I was pretty sure that winter night temperatures + snow + not being cuddled up in a blanket watching “My Two Dads” = the chance for chilly.
  4. Protect your skin
    • Carmex applied.  Check.
  5. Gear - I'd recommend renting your skis and boots
    • Check.
  6. Skis - All rental shops should give you skis that suit your ability, but their height is the key. Make sure they are 20-30cm shorter than your height.  If you find the front of your skis keep crossing whilst you ski then don't be afraid to take them back to the rental shop and ask for some shorter ones.
    • Check, I think.  The rental shop guy held skis vertically next to me until he was satisfied, and he seemed to know what he was doing.
    • Whilst!
  7. Learning to stand up
    • I reminded myself that I’d been working on that skill all day every day for more than a dozen years.  Confidence boost!
  8. Speed control/Stopping - If you can't control your speed and stop then there is a good chance you will hurt yourself and other people. The snow plough position is perfect for both controlling speed and stopping on gentle slopes! To slow down to a stop, simply turn your toes towards each other slightly more and push your heels further apart - making the snow plough wider at the back but keeping a small gap between the tips (front) of your skis.
    • Got it, at least in theory.
    • And it's farther apart, not further. (I can't tolerate poor grammar on my own blog.)
  9. Getting involved - Strapping planks to your feet and slipping down a mountain may not sound like something worth forking out a few hundred quid for really is. It's a great sport, no matter what standard you are! Skiing is a massive confidence sport though, so take your time learning and don't rush straight up to the top of the mountain, because getting out of control and stacking it at high speed can put people off.
    • Yep.  
    • Notice how he didn’t say “skiing is a massive confidence-building sport”?  Just...yep.
Six-year-olds make it look easy.
We glided out of the lodge and paused, looking down the steep slope towards the ski lift.  Our leader then pointed to the death-defying bunny hill.  He explained we would be using the bunny hill for starters, though I was sure it would be my end.  He showed us how keep to our skis parallel and most importantly, how to make a snowplow V with the ski tips, which is supposed to stop you from going down the mountain too fast.  

I plucked up some courage and went along with my cohorts who said we understood and were ready.  I pointed my skis toward the ski lift and let myself pick up a little bit of momentum.  As my speed increased, I got nervous about my ability to stop.  I remembered the wise words of my leader and pushed my heels away from each other into a deeper snow plow.  My ski tips were close, my heels were far apart, I had my Carmex on...but I couldn’t stop. I started calling ahead of me, “Look out! I can’t stop!”

Tangent 1: I learned years later, as a passenger in a van that malfunctioned and wouldn’t stop accelerating, even with brakes applied, that making noise is my go-to skill for “survival”.  In that instance, all I could think to do as we approached a red light was to honk the horn and find something soft to run into on the other side of the light.  It was good that Kent was driving.  He simply pulled into the left turn lane, turned off the engine, and coasted to a stop at the red light.

Back to the slopes.  There was a group of people gathering around the ski lift, and maybe they didn’t know which way the sound of my voice was coming from, but whatever the reason, no one got out of my way.  So I went into theirs.  I ended up skiing right between a lady’s legs, pulling her down on top of me and pulling her date on top of both of us. It was pretty embarrassing, especially for adolescent me who had not yet learned to laugh at herself.  The lady and her date, who very well may have forked out a few hundred quid to be there that night, were also not laughing.  I gave my apologies and they let me get up and leave in shame.
The only thing that went right that night?
This wasn't me.

I had made it almost all the way to the ski lift. Carefully, I scissor-stepped the rest of the distance and then waited with dread to catch one of the chairs that came around.  At this point I was terrified of 1) catching the lift, and 2) being able to stay on the lift. Thankfully, I did manage both of those parts of the skiing process.  My friend and I disembarked awkwardly at the top of the bunny hill where our leader was now waiting for us.  He reviewed with us again, eyes fixed on me, how to snowplow and how to keep my weight distributed to maintain an upright posture.  Then he smiled (maliciously?) and sent me on my way down the hill.

I fell so many times I stopped counting. Despite the assertion from the Brits that “[skiing] is a great sport no matter what standard you are!”, it actually wasn’t fun getting my limbs twisted beneath me, and tangled up, and stuck with skis and poles...and it was cold...and more than slightly embarrassing.  I was one of those kids who did most things right, so becoming the laughing stock of the evening was not easy. Looking back, based on how my middle-school P.E. classes were going, I probably should have known not to even attempt this Alpine activity in the first place.

Tangent 2: All the way through middle school, my P.E. teacher recognized how bad I was at coordination. I think she felt sorry for me because she would customize physical tests for me to pass to get through her class.  For example, while in the volleyball unit, everyone else had to bump, spike, set, and perform all other sorts of athletic feats.  When I couldn’t set the ball against the wall more than twice in a row, my final came down to just bumping the ball on my own wrists 20 times in a row.  (20 times! Was she serious?)  I remember her standing next to me and counting aloud for me. I would get to eight bumps and I’d drop the ball and start over. Then I’d get to six and drop it and start over. Then I’d get to 13 and drop it...and you get the idea.  I spent the whole class period bumping that ball.  I think eventually I got 18 bumps in a row and she said, “That’s good enough.  We’ll just round up.”  So I got an A in P.E. for doing almost none of the work the others had to do.  I did dress and show up for my daily humiliation in the gym, so I guess my A was for effort.
What my teacher was asking for.
What I delivered.
The bunny hill didn’t seem to care that I had dressed and shown up.  (As I said in my last post, snow is cold through and through.) Halfway down the slope, as I was wrestling myself in the snow, trying to detangle my legs from the poles and skis, I realized, I’m not getting a grade on this. This isn’t fun.  And I don’t like people watching me fall repeatedly. I looked up and noticed the ski lodge directly across the hill from me.  I pressed my pole into my bindings to free my boot from its plank, did the same to the other boot, picked up my skis and my poles, and I stomped across the ski slope to the lodge.  About ten paces in, I became aware of people yelling at me.  Why aren’t they grateful that I am finally getting off their slope? I wondered.  Are they upset that I’m taking away their entertainment at my butt-plants?  One loud, angry voice rang out across the hill to explain it to me: “You’re punching holes in the snow and ruining our slope!”  I did not care.  I could not win.  I finished my trek to the lodge, marched straight to the rental office, and returned my downhill ski gear for the first and last time.

This feels familiar.
Turning 40 this year, I’ve thought about maybe giving skiing another chance.  I do like cross-country skiing, afterall.  The universe must have heard my thoughts because it responded with one of my experienced-skier friends breaking his shoulder and one of #1’s squad concussing on the slopes in the past few weeks.  Two witnesses that I should stay away, and that’s enough for me.  Get well soon, friends. I'm sticking with the ounce of prevention and staying home.

*Thank you internet for providing images of what my adolescent experience was like since my peers didn't have cell phones back then to capture the real thing--thank goodness!