I had a spectacularly-brief time in my life when I was a “skier,” for about 3 months the winter I was 14. It was the cool new thing to do in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, as the town had been recently blessed with the addition of a ski hill. It was actually just a very large amount of dirt all piled up to make a few ski runs, making anyone who had been to Colorado or Vermont or Utah laugh and point, but it was our dirt hill and hanging out at the ski lodge beat drinking watery Blatz in someone’s smelly paneled rec room. Skiing looked cool and fun, all the rich kids skied, and I was pretty desperate to get out of the house for any reason at all. I ditched my red parka from Sears for a sleek black ski jacket (fifty dollars it was!), put my smokes in my wool socks, and begged enough money from my folks for a day pass, equipment rental, and some hot cocoa and a cheeseburger in the lodge.

I should have taken ski lessons, but that was deeply UNCOOL. Most of the other kids had been skiing for awhile, and I figured if I just watched them I could figure out what to do pretty quickly. How hard could it be? Snap those boots in the bindings, get on the lift, go down the hill. Sigh. I spent most of the first few times falling three seconds after I started trying to even move towards the lift, then trying to pretend I had skied already and needed a break in the lodge. A lot of hot cocoa and a lot of Marlboro Greens, which I am sure looked completely ridiculous – some librarian-looking child smoking in a fifty-dollar jacket clomping around in ski boots.

Eventually, I made it ON the ski lift. Oh, dear. How do you get OFF? SHIT. How I got off was pretty much fall off at the last minute and try to scramble out of the way of the next chair before I got clocked. I remember looking down from the top of the snowy dirt hill for the first time, thinking that perhaps this was a very bad mistake on my part, because if I wanted more cocoa or to ever return home again, I would have to SKI DOWN THE HILL. I think it took me about 30 minutes freezing up there with my friends coming and going and laughing and encouraging before I decided, well, alright, get on with it. I pushed off and I did not fall. What I did was pick up speed at a very alarming rate. Something I also had neglected to think about was TURNING and STOPPING. I had a vague idea that you were supposed to make big S-turns and then dead stop in some kind of a cool sideways spray of glittering snow. My vague idea was completely replaced by the realization that skiing was much harder than it seemed and I had not too much time to figure out how not to die. Down the hill I went, zipping past other skiers in one straight bullet line, faster and faster. I was terrified but also thought it was terribly funny and started laughing. Good to go out with a smile.

At the bottom of the hill were a couple people who had set up a large camera on a tripod. I would like to now, many many years later, apologize to these photography enthusiasts for ramming into their expensive equipment, sending it flying into the air as I rolled and tumbled to a stop in a mess of skis and poles and crushed cigarettes and Bonne Bell Dr Pepper Lip Smacker. Fear is a great motivator – as I heard them yell at me I ditched the skis, one of which was quietly sliding down towards to the bunny hill anyway, and clomped away as fast as I could, red-faced with snow covering my glasses, to hide in the ladies’ bathroom. Eventually my friend Linda walked into the stall next to me, and assisted in my rescue. She located and returned all my rental crap, got my regular boots from the locker, and borrowed a bright pink ski jacket and a pom-topped knit hat from one of the rich girls so I could make it out of the lodge and down to the parking lot where my parents were going to pick me up. The disguise worked, and of course I am still friends with Linda today. I did rescue her a few years later from a toilet stall at the Milwaukee Arena during an Aerosmith concert, climbing under the door even. She was a bit out of it, heh.

You would think I would’ve learned my lesson about skiing, but it took a real accident a couple of months later to get it through my concussed and ambulance-transported skull. The lesson was that I had no business being on skis and that I was a danger to myself and everyone else. Another thing learned was that I really wasn’t all the interested in skiing, and that trying to hang out with the rich kids wasn’t all that exciting except for that one time I gave Bill Johnson a buck to eat a cigarette and he did. So, to recap:

1. If you are going to ski, take lessons until you feel fully in control of your bad swift self;
2. Wear a helmet ALL THE TIME (RIP, Sonny Bono);
3. Don’t smoke;
4. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t because that never ends well;
5. If you mess up, atone for it or at least throw a twenty-dollar bill in the air and run.

This is pretty much what it looked like then, except there were no mountains. I totally love the blue-shirted lift guy.