The first time she ever took me skiing I didn't have the heart to tell her how much I despised it. I never told her that the idea of hurling myself down a narrow channel of ice and snow so steep as to look like a whitewashed wall from the lodge inspires not the thought of pleasure, but of ego. Even now, were I to slalom my way down the beginners slopes I could look skillful, perhaps even graceful, but to be eclipsed by tots in helmets, sans poles, whizzing past wrapped in the security blanket of a low center of gravity is too much, even for me.
My second year on the slopes kick-started my love affair with locked knees, a bruised bottom, windburn and rust-colored ice patches good for nothing other than "oh shit" turns that inevitably conclude with my tips pointing toward the sun and powder in my collar. Each new year brought a new triumph, from beginner-intermediate to intermediate to the single expert trail whose siren’s voice called to me from the bottom of the mountain and mocked me when I'd come.
(If this is your first visit, begin on the easiest trail and work your way to the most difficult trail for your skill level.)
It has been more than ten years since that first trip. I still can't stand it but, like a masochistic addiction born out of part adrenaline and part insanity, I don't think I will ever give it up. I have my own skis, blades really, short wedges meant not for speed or excellence on sharp angles, but for jumping and grinding on the rails that every mountain seems to have set up in the past few years. My boots no longer fit so now I rent.
Everything is packed snugly in the trunk, though mamon's beach-emblazoned snowboard is lying prone in its bag across the whole of the backseat. Like years past, a remnant of my life before my license, she drives. I think of things while the car hums past taillights and trees and ice flows, like how easily we are distracted by dynamic people, the horrible sweetness of infinity, how oil is pressed from olives, the way mamon is just a measure too enthusiastic around certain people as if she's trying very hard to be liked and just then, I realize that I am guilty of the same crime: desperation. Needing to feel that I, too, am a dynamic individual. Sometimes she and I talk, especially about sex and music, but mostly it's quiet.
New York City is many miles behind us.
Two friends of mamon, Mr. and Mrs. M, mountain employees, heads of a seriously tricked-out snowboarding family, surrogate parents to a gaggle of scruffy snow bums, artists and strays, are one-and-a-half hours ahead of us. I know they will kiss my mamon hello. On the lips. They will also kiss her goodbye and see-you-later. They own the chalet in which we will sleep. I am uncomfortable, wondering if they want to kiss me, too, and wondering if they're asking themselves if I want to be kissed and so on but they are asleep when we arrive.
(It is your duty to be familiar with the basics of skiing before going up any lifts or to take the appropriate lessons. For the purposes of this brochure, skiing refers to any action taken on skis, snowboards or blades.)
As opposed to that which mamon predicted, our room, furnished with two low and creaking twin beds, is ice cold. Mamon packed only silk pajamas. I have sweats and thick wool socks, but even then can't shake the chill from between the sheets. When I found a second blanket tucked behind a stack of worn throw pillows on a bed masquerading as a couch, I beg her to take it, to relieve some misplaced burden of guilt.
You have to learn to let things go, she says.
I won't be able to sleep knowing you're freezing over there, I answer.
She tells me that I am her offspring, her greatest love, that she would rather know that I was sleeping comfortably than be comfortable herself. She makes a joke about insurance money. I argue that I don't want the second blanket because it’s so damn unfair.
That's silly for both of us to be cold if one of us could be warm, she says.
Like life, I mutter.
I could get into bed with you, she offers. I think about it. I mean I really think about it, weighing the pros and cons, contemplating the strangeness of it versus the problem effectively being solved.
Okay, I say, but you can never tell anyone about this.
I mean it and I suggest we sleep back to back, but she crawls into the bed, placing her front to my spine, her knees behind my knees and her breath on my neck. It feels as weird as I expected but I know she likes it, more so for a chance to cuddle up to the daughter who on any normal day would rather share a firm handshake than a hug, than for the practical aspect of the arrangement. As I'm drifting off, she rests her cheek on my shoulder.
Morning. The car is stuck. Mrs. M helps us out, our two cars nose-to-nose rocking back and forth like lovers.
Mr. M finds us half-clad surrounded by the rest of our downy layers, breakfasting in the lodge and staring up at the mountain. Meet me at the top, he says, the Wipeout is a perfect after-breakfast run. We nod, my insides turn to putty and I think about my blades, designed for relatively flat straight ways like the few green-circled beginner trails that lick the mountains outer edges.
While I am still staring at what seems to be a one-way ticket down to death and thinking about the irony of an icy demise when I do so hate the cold, mamon has already taken off in the wake of Mr. M's wide swooping hyperbola. Her confidence is remarkable, bolstered, I know, by his being on front of her and my being behind. Far behind, still at the top, hesitating too long, each second letting my will to turn drain away. The instant I shift my weight, I am certain I will cut through the powder and go flying uncontrolled
(If you find yourself unable to find your way down the mountain, contact a lift operator or an employee who will radio for help. It is your duty to only ski those trails appropriate to your skill level. You must be able to stop, start and turn.)
I pretend I am resting, tipping my head at those braver than I. Scanning the terrain. Measuring the wind. Taking a breather. Resting my legs. Secretly, those legs are two shafts of iron, the only thing between gravity and myself. Nevertheless, I am slipping slowly, my edges grating on ice and crushing mounds of snow, already heading toward the unavoidable, so I tense and I turn in shallow, ultra-controlled arcs that bring me ever so slowly to where mamon and Mr. M are sitting, waiting.
The first and most surprising fact is that I do not die, nor do I fall, trip or skid. The second is the whirlwind of fat and perfect swirling snowflakes funneling out of a pale gray sky to take over my upper atmosphere, completely overshadowing the tiny artificial nuggets blasting outward in every direction from the snowmakers. Skiing is fun; skiing through a gentle snow shower that cold kisses the gap between goggles and scarf is better.
I leave them and shortly thereafter they leave each other: Mr. M obligated to give an afternoon boarding lesson and mamon no longer able to resist the draw of the halfpipe. Before I left for this weekend, a friend said, So your mother is cooler than you. I answered that I couldn't remember a time that I’d ever been cool and the sentiment is still the perfect way to describe my mellow descent and ungainly lift departures and dismounts. No one is looking at me anyway; they are watching the dirty snow of the closed trails pass by two stories down or the children in spandex who look like they were born with skis on their feet.
It is the thought of them that sends me repeatedly up long lifts alone to stare downward and shudder before falling down and down, upright but still falling like a satellite forever going down on its own axis. For hours, I try to figure out how to make my blades go faster and I can't, realizing that perhaps I am have reached the limits of what I can teach myself.
(It is our pleasure to provide some of the best skiing in New York State.)
Mrs. M slips and falls outside of the gourmet grocery where we are buying prosciutto, chicken breasts, fresh mozzarella, hearts of palm, avocado, olives stuffed with fresh garlic and champagne. We send a pizza to the emergency room in Albany but it never arrives and Mr. and Mrs. M come home happy to report that nothing is broken or even sprained. There are petit fours and delicate cookies.
It's midnight and an urgent pressure in my bladder rips me from a dream in which I am buying a house. I stumble through the ice-cold basement and up the stairs only to be greeted through my eyes' multiple layers of crusty sleep by mamon, naked and wet, wrapping herself in a towel while Mr. M sidesteps gracefully into the bathroom and closes himself in. The sliding glass doors are painted with the tiny particles of ice thrown off by the hot tub like dragon's breath. I imagine their words freezing in mid sentence and lingering until morning on the patio long after the world has fallen sleep. She turns, this mother who is also a woman. We startle each other.
Hours later I am woken by the muted scraping of wood on stiff carpet. Mamon is drunk and topples noisily into the bed whereupon I have laid the second comforter. Before falling back into sleep, I stare into the blackness and worry the worry of the people everywhere who can't stop thinking while I wait for her noises of content to subside into silence.