Ski Your Fears Away

Every year I ski solo on Easter weekend. Rain, shine, snow or ice, I’m out there; traversing some twisted mogul run, usually one I have no business being on. It’s usually very quiet, there are no lift lines, and the snow stays groomed well into the evening. On beautiful days, especially this past weekend, the mountains are my haven for a spiritual reawakening. Perched high above evergreens dripping with snow the lift sweeps me into the heavens. A few years ago, a man on the chair ahead of me played Amazing Grace on his harmonica. Blissful, tranquil, and admittedly a powerful moment.

Some will argue that skiing is too much hassle, too much money to be worth it. Usually, they’re right on both counts but not today – not on a 45 degree day at 4000 feet. As I was leaving for the Adirondacks, I got a call from some of my closest tv friends. They had flown up from Atlanta the day before and insisted that I ski the Catskills instead. Oh no – not Hunter Mountain, I thought to myself.

There’s a legend that the Catskills were actually made by the Devil; that he was flying around with a big bag of rocks on his back when the bag ripped open and the rocks fell to form the Catskills. The Devil, it is said, was often seen in these parts. In fact, as I approached Hunter Mountain that day, driving south along Route 214, the face of the Devil was visible in the stone cliff. Not a good omen for an Easter weekend!

The owner and founder, Orville Slutzky, is 88 yrs. young and a wonderful friend. He treats the media like family – extending free tickets and meals with no guarantee of return coverage. I worked on a tv special here a few years ago and the Hunter crew were especially accommodating. Orville insists that I park my NYP car in a specially designated area and who am I to deny better parking with 30 pounds of ski equipment? Even at 88, Orville is still the Pope of the place or so I thought. 10 minutes later my licence plate is recorded and a stern police towing warning is broadcasted over the PA. I rush out in time to sweet-talk an officer who doesn’t so much believe nor care that I know the Pope.

My friends finally show up an hour late. It’s understandable considering their extended Irish family is made up of 6 brothers and sisters, 10 sons and daughters, a couple dozen nieces, nephews, cousins, oh, and 1 dog. I know I’m probably missing a few more. Not all came that day but enough to divide the lot into 3 vehicles.

The near-perfect conditions had my confidence swelling and I stupidly ignored “You Must Be An Expert” sign and dared the double diamond runs. “If my friends can do it so can I!” was the deciding mantra.

“The Catskill Devil himself must have carved these things out”, I cursed, as I began the rough descend. Moguls the size of tsuanami tidewaves came tearing at my left, collapsing at my right, tossing and turning me over like a beach pebble. Something inside me was burning – could it be my legs were on fire? Removing my skis would prove risky but worse than that, humiliating. Who did I think I was trying to emulate my friends expert skiing techniques? My foolish pride will be the end of me today. I begged the Devil for mercy. Reciting every prayer I knew – the bottom was drawing closer. My friends waited patiently and praised my efforts when I finally made it in. Whew, they didn’t see the panic and pain I was experiencing! The only lines I could utter in return were “Well, I was definitely out of my comfort zone there…but, let’s do another!”

Fear has no place in short-term memory, especially mine, and following that run I did another and another – terrifying, exhilarating, mortifying, and humbling. I even managed to forget to get off the lift and dumped out a little late, smashing my head on a pillar and taking out a couple cones. My right ski came off and a pole went flying but to my dismay the lift kept circling above me, nearly decapitating me as I struggled for position. Could the lift operator be the Devil in disguise? Black and blue and bruised all over, I called it a day. My friends rewarded me later with a homecooked family dinner. Thank you to all, but please, lets make it the Adirondacks next time!

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Sonja Stark

The only thing domestic about me is that I was born in this country. Now, lets TRAVEL!

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