Skiing In The Torture Chamber

Skiing has been a passion of mine for the last 30 years. My wife introduced me to the sport shortly before we were married. On our first trip, we traveled to Beaver Creek in Colorado for a week’s worth of lessons.

As we drove up to the resort, I saw some of the trails from the roadway. I told my wife there was no f—–g way that I was going to ski down those steep runs. She told me that I would be before long.

The trip was a great success because I was immediately smitten by the feelings that I felt. It was a miracle that I was on 2 strips of wood with two poles, and I was able to negotiate all sorts of challenges on the snow. My instructor was a retired businessman who had the patience of Job as I struggled to ski over tiny bumps trying not to lose my balance. I should point out that I played many sports and was determined to become a good skier in a relatively short period of time.

To make a long story short, I began to ski regularly before our children were born with my older son and daughter. Every year, we were in Vail for the holidays in December and March. I was always trying to ski on terrain that was beyond my current level of ability and was subjected to a fair number of injuries. I broke my nose on a bump run (I looked like a raccoon). I broke my ribs on another bump run when I fell on my ski pole. And I tore my rotator cuff, which required surgery, on a business ski trip with my wife. Notwithstanding all these injuries, I continued to push forward and ignored the potential risks of further injuries.

Making my experiences that much more fun were the outstanding skiers who instructed me over the years. Unlike golf, where I took very few lessons over the years and never improved over a life time, I was always with ski instructors every time I hit the slopes. In the beginning, they gave me many lessons on various techniques about how to ski bumps and powder and other conditions that arise during a day on the hill. Later, we were skiing without too much teaching going on and mostly having fun.

I have become very good friends with the men and women who taught us how to ski and improve over the years. Oftentimes we misbehaved but never risking ourselves with improper behavior. Improper being defined as dangerous; it does not include crazy stunts and sophomoric antics.

One of the most outrageous moments took place with all the ski instructors who were teaching my family, which totaled four on this given day. Everybody else in my family decided to call it a day after lunch. My guys and I went out for some fast tracking all around the mountain. For some reason one of the instructors coronated me the King of Sweden. Several other instructors joined the club, and we flew down the trails leaving all other skiers in a cloud of snow dust. While negotiating the hill, they were stopping traffic all along to make way for the King of Sweden, me. I admit I only have been to Sweden once, and it wasn’t in any royal capacity.

One of my ski instructors was a true daredevil who would do the most outrageous things during the course of the day. We ate lunch daily in a restaurant that was on the hill in Vail. During that time, we fed up to 15 people for lunch. Everybody was trying to outdo each other with funny stories and humorous moments on the hill. One day I was looking for my instructor. His name was Mike Janelle.  I wanted to get back on the slopes after lunch, so I went outside of the restaurant and asked where Mike was. Somebody pointed to the roof of the building. Mike was on top of it preparing to ski off the eave and do so without being caught by the restaurant staff. Everyone was dumbfounded watching Mike do his thing. He did do the stunt without injuring himself. It was one of the great moments of our skiing times together.

Over the years, my ski instructors (James, Pete, Jeff and of course Mike) would come up with challenges during the ski day (our other instructors were Kim and Kristen). For instance, we would try to see how many black and double black diamond runs we could ski in one day. Usually this is done with no stopping for hot chocolate or to blow your nose. The only rest was the ski lift, lunch and if nature called. Occasionally, other people would join us for a very hard day on the hill. I began to have T-shirts made with Torture Chamber caricatures logoed on them. These would be given to those that could withstand a full day of balls to the wall skiing. To this day, some of my kids have been clamoring for me to reinstitute the chamber and have some new shirts made to comemorate the event. Mike Janelle and I once skied 24 black runs in one day.

In order to be a good skier you have to be on the slope often. With our twins and my older daughter and my older son, we were in Vail many times during the past 30 years. This enabled my family to really improve and to be safe. I must admit that schlepping all the equipment and all the kids was a daunting task. In the long run, it was worth all the effort because my family members have all become excellent skiers.

It is possible, very possible, that you might enjoy yourself skiing at a well run resort such as Vail (there is territory to ski for everyone). The resort is constantly reminding people that there are dangers because some of the trails are not groomed, and you must be aware of all the skiers around you who unfortunately could put you in jeopardy. As I mentioned before, I was hurt a number of times, but it was all worth it as I look back.

One of the weirdest injuries that happened to me was a hematoma on my upper thigh from a fall on some rocks. The black and blue mark stretched from my buttocks down to my foot. I decided to go to the doctor because I was afraid of blood clots or other kinds of issues. When I pulled my trousers down for the doctor to see the wound, he was taken aback. That made me really creepy. Nevertheless, he said it was harmless and not to worry about it. I spent most of the vacation showing off my hematoma every chance I got.

The other issue is cost. By the time you pay for your lodging, travel, instructors, passes, lunches and dinners, the tab for such a trip is enormous. I decided that everybody should have their own ski instructor which dramatically increased the cost of our trips. My rationale was that everyone’s safety was paramount and it was worth the money.

Unfortunately, my skiing days have ended. As a septuagenarian, I have to be aware of injuring myself and the longer period of time it takes to heal from such injuries. Additionally, I take medication which makes injuries more dangerous. For this reason, I decided to stop hitting the slopes and just accompany my family when they wanted to ski.

All of the good times, the fun dinners, the fun lunches, the holiday memories and the stunts that we pulled off over the years give me great pleasure when I think about them. I’m so happy that my family enjoys skiing and we’ve cemented this tradition by buying a beautiful place in Vail which we use as our home base during the winter season.

There was one very sad moment during the past few years, the passing of Mike Janelle who I mentioned earlier in this essay. Mike was a daredevil. He was one of the best skiers I’ve ever come into contact with. He was a professional off-road bike racer. He was among the funniest people I ever met in my life. I missed him terribly over the last years that I was skiing. It would have been great for him to enjoy watching how I improved since he started working with me. We all miss you, Mike.

Skiing became a very important part of my life and it increased the amount of time I spent with my family, especially during holiday seasons. I recommend the sport to anyone who has a sense of adventure and any amount of athletic ability.

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