Tied tightly to the roof of the 1929 model A Ford coupe was my two-man toboggan that I had spent half of the semester making in my seventh-grade woodshop class.
I was already freezing cold as we started to climb up the San Gabriel Mountains. I pulled my Levi’s over my legs at 4:30 in the morning. I also wore two sweatshirts and a semblance of a windbreaker. I had dipped my 29-cent, wool mittens in melted paraffin to make them waterproof.
On the advice of my woodshop teacher I had spent an extra 25 cents on copper rivets instead of ordinary wood screws to make sure that the toboggan would hold together for a full day of what turned out to be a fun day of frolicking in powder snow.
After an hour or so of digging, we had built a left turn that would bank the toboggan but still maintain most of its speed.
We were sopping when we watched four skiers making turns before stopping to watch us flounder in the deep snow. This was in 1937, the year after the first chairlift in the world was built at Sun Valley, Idaho.
I was born with good luck on my shoulders because a week later a friend of mine named Julius Butler showed me a pair of skis hanging in his garage. They had no metal edges and the bindings were just a simple piece of leather. The ski poles were made of heavy bamboo with baskets on the end the size of dinner plates.
The first day I got to use my brand-new skis: I rode to the end of the road that became the Mount Waterman ski development several years later. I watched my Boy Scout patrol leader traverse across the hill. As my skis traversed across the hill and I attempted to push my heels of the skis apart and keep the tips together, they didn’t work the way I wanted them to. My tips and tails stayed together and the heels of my boots went out to each side and dragged in the snow. When I eventually got to the end of the traverse and turned around, I had come to a stop in the granite gravel on the side of the snowfield and fell right out of the bindings.
When lunchtime came, I traded my patrol leader a peanut butter sandwich and two Fig Newtons for the use of his skis and boots. It was a completely different experience with a pair of skis with real bindings and metal edges and borrowed ski boots than it was with my 3-foot long pine skis without edges.
I wish I could say I completed a turn on these laminated hickory skis with edges, but that was not the case. All I accomplished was getting in a steeper and faster traverse with fear in my heart luckily falling uphill in a long skid.
Over the many years since that first traverse, I have asked lots of people if they can remember their first day on skis.
Undoubtedly I reacted more to that first day on skis than most people do. Over the years, I have tried to figure out why and come up with a realistic answer. It was my first day of total freedom, enough to have that first day of skiing buried in my psyche. I know that in October every year I start getting anxious and twitchy for the first day of winter when I can once again feel that bitter cold wind on my face and the draining of my bank account once again.
Remembering standing at the top after one’s first chairlift ride, you turn on your brain to once again bring up every complex interaction of your body parts in a smooth rhythmic pattern.
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