January 2009 Column Winner

Oh say can you ski?
By Jeff Mullin, Enid News & Eagle
At first glance, it is pretty hilarious, the fate that recently befell a 48-year-old man spending the day skiing in Vail, Colo.
The man boarded a ski lift at Vail’s Blue Sky Basin Jan. 1, but the lift’s fold-down seat apparently wasn’t in its proper position.
So as the lift took off, the man fell through the seat. His right ski hung up, leaving him dangling from the lift head down.
That was bad enough, but what made it worse was the fact his ski pants apparently got hung up on the lift seat, and yanked them down, er, up, leaving him not only dangling in the cold breeze high above the snowy slope, but doing so with his bare derriere hanging out for all to see.
He wasn’t hurt, thank goodness, at least not physically. Having his goods hanging out in public must have been a blow to the man’s ego, not to mention all the photos and video cropping up all over the Web.
I feel the man’s pain. I, too, once fell from a ski lift. Fortunately, there was no Internet when I did it, no cell phone cameras. Back then cameras had film and phones had cords. It was in the age of disco, platform shoes, plaid bell-bottom pants, flaring sideburns and hairstyles that just wouldn’t quit — the late 1970s.
My wife and I rode a bus all night with our church’s youth group, serving as sponsors for a weekend ski trip to Red River, N.M.
The next morning, sleep-deprived and slightly disoriented, we were fitted for skis, boots and poles, and sent off to ski school.
I had never skied before, despite having spent my formative years in snowy Michigan, and my wife had two strikes against her — she hates cold weather and she hates heights.
Despite my limitations, I had visions of schussing down the slopes with the wind blowing through my hair (yes, I had hair then) much like Jean- Claude Killy, star of the 1968 Winter Olympics.
In truth, I looked more like Jacques Cousteau, since I was underwater, or at least lying face-down in the snow, more than I was upright.
When I strapped on the skis and stepped gingerly onto the snow, it was as if my legs had never met. The right one went one way, the left one another and I wound up in a wet, cold, uncomfortable heap.
The instructor was patient, teaching us to ski in the classic snowplow position, in which the skier goes down the hill with his skis forming a V. I managed form an X, a Y and even a Z, but never a V.
While my classmates were mastering the snowplow with varying degrees of alacrity, I fell, I got up, I fell, I got up. I was beginning to lose sight of the sport’s appeal.
Finally I began to get the hang of it. I actually managed to slide four or five feet at a time before falling. The instructor, with no small amount of relief, said I had successfully completed the course.
So I set off to tackle the mountain. I got as far as the bunny slope.
The whole experience left me with a newfound respect for bunnies. Those fuzzy, cute little creatures must be tougher than they look. I found the bunny slope a horrifying experience. I hurtled down a near vertical, icy slope at roughly the speed of a bullet, my heart in my throat and my ski poles flailing through the frosty air.
I thought I saw my life pass before my eyes, but in reality it was the small children who kept zooming past me like I was standing still. Really small children.
Actually, after two or three times down the hill, I thought I had the hang of it. The first couple of times I used the rope lift to return me to the top. That was easy enough, just point your skis up the hill, grab the rope and hang on.
After a while I decided to try the chair lift. Other than being whacked in the back of the legs by the seat the first time I tried to get on and not getting out of the way fast enough when I tried to get off, I had no trouble with the lift.
Until, that is, about my seventh or eighth time on the chair. By then I had figured out that if you pushed off as the chair reached the end of the line, you could more easily clear the lift and get back onto the hill.
To that end, as the chair approached the end of the line I scooted up onto the edge of the seat. I was pumped, I was confident, I was ... suddenly airborne.
As was not uncommon on the bunny hill, the operators had abruptly stopped the lift. Some poor soul had apparently fallen trying to get on.
In the meantime, I fell trying to get off.
I only dropped a few feet before my skis hit the snow on the opposite side of the slight slope that provided a run-out area for the lift. I plunged backward down a steep slope and landed in a large snowbank, pitching face-first into a snow fence.
The kid running the ski lift saw me fall and began laughing so hard he could neither come to my aid nor call for help. My skis were stuck in the deep snow and the metal clip on one of my ski gloves was caught in the webbing of the fence.
I managed to first extricate my glove, then to separate the boots from the bindings. I then gathered my skis, poles and the small shred of dignity I had left and climbed up out of the snowy hole.
The ski lift kid, with tears running down his face, managed to stop laughing long enough to ask if I was OK, then immediately burst into a hail of guffaws without waiting for my answer.
So I feel for you, Mr. Dangling By One Leg With His Bare Butt hanging out. I assure you, the emotional pain of such humiliation will fade, in time.