Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Aging Skier

I have admiration for “plug-and-play” skiers. The kind who can get out of bed, throw on their winter clothes, grab their skis and boots, head onto the slopes, take run after run with speed and grace, leave the slopes, and then move on to après ski fun.

That is not my process. As an “aging” skier, I have a few extra steps to undertake before I even get to the slopes. Here is how I prepared for a day of skiing when we were in Vermont recently.
Audrey heads down a trail at Mount Snow, Vermont

I got up and began an inventory of muscle and ligament pains. This can be a lengthy inventory some mornings. Then I began a stretching regimen—lift and pump the knees, do some squats, work on the lower back from both standing and lying positions, move to the knees and quads. . . well, you get the point.

Then it was time to begin putting on layers to help deal with temperatures in the single digits and winds in the double digits. Oh my! Base underwear, long wool socks, long underwear, then a turtleneck, ski pants, and a top sweater. Of course, it was at this time that I realized I had forgotten something—a new item often needed by the aging skier, a knee brace. I had added the brace after I began feeling a slight twinge on the outside of my left knee while making right turns on the mountain. Luckily, my brace is a pretty simple one, bought at the local CVS. Audrey, who strained a knee ligament two years ago, wears a much more intricate one that combines fabric, elastic, metal, and Velcro. As you can see, we are the aging ski couple.

So, I began stripping down to my base layer, pulled on the knee brace, and strapped myself in. Then I re-donned the rest of my clothes. Of course, that’s not all us skiers wear. We have boots, different types of warmers for our heads and necks, mittens, a helmet, and some goggles. Wow, no wonder I’m feeling exhausted even before I reach the mountain.

I just laughed as I reread the previous paragraph in which I referred to “us skiers.” Growing up, I never envisioned referring to myself as a skier. I can remember watching Buddy Hackett being interviewed by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show when I was a kid. Hackett was describing skiing in Colorado, and I remember thinking “he’s old and overweight, can he really ski?” And now, sadly, c’est moi.

It is not surprising that I came to skiing late in life. After all, I had never even experienced snow until I went to college in Connecticut at age 18. And I had never even contemplated skiing before Audrey and I spent a weekend at Kutsher’s in the “Borscht Belt” at the ripe old age of 24. Kutsher’s is much better known for its overabundance of food and aging Jewish comedians than for skiing, but that’s where I began.  I tried to make my way down this tiny, snow-covered hill and fell time after time. A young boy, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, followed behind me and kept saying, “Mister, do you need some help.” I growled and tried to trip him with one of my poles, but he easily dodged around me and kicked snow in my face. I guess I deserved that.

Luckily, my skiing has improved over the years. I now consider myself an advanced beginner or a not-so-advanced intermediate skier. I try to stay away from any trail that is labeled with a black diamond or carries a name that includes any of the words death, plummet, daredevil, ripcord, holy shit, or uh-oh. As a result, I am still alive and relatively stable, though I do have this twinge on the outside of my left knee.

It is much easier to be a young skier than an aging one, but I don’t have a choice anymore. And I should be okay for many more years, as long as I remember to stretch and to put on my knee brace, and to watch out for 8-year-olds intent on kicking snow in my face.

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