The wind is honking out of the east with a sharp sting to it. We are sitting in our home on Orcas Island after deciding to take a week off from skiing every day for the last three weeks. We will start back to Montana in a few days after thawing out, we hope. In the meantime the wind roaring down from Mount Baker, 60 miles to the east, brings with it the cold from 183 inches of snow. Wind-driven cold has a completely different feeling when you haven’t gotten up in the morning and gotten dressed for a day of skiing.
No long underwear, no turtleneck shirt, no sweater, no powder snowsuit, no layering. Instead, reverting to the same way I dressed when I was in junior high school in jeans, T-shirt and high top, black sneakers. But in those days I lived in Hollywood and an excursion to the nearby San Bernardino Mountains for a day of playing in the snow usually started at about four in the morning. One of my friends had a Model A Ford with a rumble seat in the back. Note: A rumble seat is an obsolete open air, completely unprotected seat over the rear wheels. We would flip a coin to see who got to sit up front and who had to sit outside and brave the wind for three or more hours on the way to the snow. Between us we had one Flexible Flyer sled and two toboggans. The trip from Hollywood, out through Pasadena, Cucamonga and San Bernardino took almost three hours to go the 60 miles.
I learned early on these trips to the snow to wear my pajamas under my Levis and to dip my 35-cent, cotton gloves in melted paraffin the night before so they just might stay waterproof all day long.
Our destination of choice was Big Bear because it had an official toboggan slide with a shelf that you would put your toboggan on and then everyone would climb aboard. An attendant would pull a 6-foot-long lever to make the platform tilt and down you would go. After half a dozen or so rides it would start to get boring and we would go to a nearby hill and shovel out our own toboggan track full of bumps and turns. The Flexible Flyer sled with narrow runners never did work very well because every time we went up to the snow it was never icy enough to support the narrow sled runners.
Somehow we all survived those early snow trips with no broken bones, but it sure was cold riding home in the rumble seat in your sopping wet clothes from walking back up the hill all day in knee-deep snow.
Starting in 1938, and for the next 70 years, the same three things have made my world go around in the winter: snow, gravity and skis. What else does anyone need to enjoy the winter? More people every year are getting addicted to my kind of frozen freedom. Everyone who comes back from a ski trip will spend until next year at the same time trying to convince everyone they meet that they should somehow risk their life like they do on the side of a hill.
Why don’t you grab an airplane or a bus ticket, bum a ride in a car and find your own freedom on the side of a snow-covered hill somewhere? I was really lucky to have found my freedom 70 years ago as I gradually discovered that my toboggan would go faster with the right kind of paraffin on the bottom of it.
It’s lucky for me that there has been a fantastic amount of expensive technology in ski design, boot construction and warmer clothes during those 70 years. That’s because the good old days were when I used melted paraffin on my cotton gloves and finally tried to stand up on my toboggan and pretend I was skiing. I wore safety-hiking boots that came almost up to my knees and one of them had a pocket on the side for a knife that I could use in case of a snakebite.