At this moment, my body has as many new scars as a trail map loaded with expert runs.
For the first time in 45 years, discounting two pregnancies, I will not be up on skis of any kind. I had a feeling that this day would come and it is here.
An unfortunate lift of a too-heavy piece of furniture in early September sent me for back surgery in mid-December. Now, there are physical restrictions, like no skiing this year, at least.
There may be older skiers who would defy doctor’s orders, but I am not one of them. The raw memory of searing pain, lost time and pre-surgery agony that was coming from my back is enough to make downhill abstinence almost a relief right now.
Next year should be different. But at my age and level of experience — a shaky intermediate, especially when the surface includes ice, rocks and roots — gives me some shadow of worry that I will be so risk averse that I will be sent back to the beginners’ hill.
The worry is not so much about facing down the hill. It is about the snowboarders and skiers behind me who veer off course at high speeds and may not see me toddling down the mountain.
Splat. There goes the back, shoulder, hip and who knows what else. They zoom on.
So why not hang up the skis? Put the boots in the closet?
Well, stubbornness and sunk costs are two reasons.
I have a very new pair of skis waiting for me. And I stubbornly do not want to miss drinking cocoa or some much stronger alcoholic concoction in the lodge while I eye 80-year-olds flowing in for lunch, flushed with cold and comradery, after a morning of skiing. This has been observed repeatedly at Bretton Woods, where the temperatures can be bracing.
How lonely would it be to have my husband, family and friends swinging on the lifts while I read a book? I am the shakiest and slowest skier of the lot, but I do stick with it and get down the mountain, just as they do.
And, there is the wimp factor. How many ski instructors and friends do we know who have had accidents or multiple replacement parts who got patched up and continued schussing?
What would be my excuse?
My earliest experience with skiing and how painful it could be on several levels is another reason to keep going.
My first time ever on skis, did I endure a literal face plant at Kissing Bridge, a small ski area not far from Buffalo, to end it like this?
That was like a Warren Miller movie gone bad.
Did I freeze as a college student through ridiculous sessions of night skiing on ice and poor lighting to quit now? There was probably more peppermint schnapps consumed than runs taken by all of us and it was an effort for me to struggle with wooden skis and run-away straps that pretty frequently let go.
That, too, was like a Warren Miller movie gone bad.
There also were the sessions where I humiliated myself in front of boyfriends who were expert skiers. Thank goodness the day came where I could pay for proper lessons. Now when I see a seemingly hapless young woman or guy on a too-challenging slope being taught by a loving partner, I want to shout from the lift, “Don’t do it. You will never learn that way.”
So, here I am, incisions as long as ski poles waiting for healing, strength, and, of course, physical therapy. I don’t live in a place where there is much of a skiing culture. Many of the people at PT using therapy bands just want to move properly to resume their lives. I think it would be selfish to announce I have to be ready for next ski season.
If that day comes, there is a plan to conquer fear and make it easier to ski again.
Start slow and stay small. That is, stay off anything that flashes black, for sure, and be wary of greens that might be slightly black, depending on the venue.
Pick places where there are not terrifying snowboard packs, back bowls, and too many lifts to count. I am done with that. Instead, I’ll be heading to unassuming places like King Pine in Madison, N.H.; Mont Habitant in the Quebec Laurentians; and maybe Cranmore for an early ski and then a break in the warming hut at the top of the mountain.
The conditions have to be pretty close to perfect. Silky, well-groomed runs. Sunshine.
Isn’t it enough to know that you are up for doing it? Isn’t it enough to know that questionable conditions, shadowy light and skiing after lunch might not be the thing?
With age comes the wisdom of the mountains: The blues are for you, as are the views of Mount Washington and the valley below our home mountain in West Virginia. Scars will heal.
Cindy Skrzycki is a senior lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh and a visiting fellow at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.