Skiing: I do not participate in any sport with ambulances at the bottom of the hill.
-- Erma Bombeck
The sunlight glinting off the crystalline snow was painfully bright. I traded my rectangular black and red frames for large, round, Audrey Hepburn-esque prescription sunglasses. The four of us stared at the map as though, through the combined powers of telekinesis, we could wish the lodge into the location we had thought it would be. "Are you sure you're going to be okay here?" Sarah's voice was tinged with guilt. The air was so cold I wouldn't have been surprised if her breath, like the caterpillar's smoke in Alice's Wonderland, formed illustrations of the words she spoke.
"I'm fine," I insisted for the third time. "You guys go have fun. Try to find David and Paul while you're up there." The three turned and headed to the ski lifts that would take them the remaining distance to the top. I stayed by the map and watched them walk away, hobbled by the stiff plastic of their ski boots.
I regarded the vision before me -- a smooth, milky-white landscape with similarly frosted pine trees reaching for the azure sky above. With a mixture of awe for the scenery and apprehension for the hours to come, I sighed audibly. "Well, it's not what you thought it would be," I said to myself, ignoring the questioning looks of strangers. "But it is beautiful, and you're going to make the most of it," I continued, making a point to gaze directly into one confused-looking woman's eyes. We shared a lingering, awkward moment, and then, breathing in the clean mountain air, I jammed my hands into the pockets of my black faux-wool coat and trudged purposefully toward the only shelter in sight.
When David and I first accepted the invitation to join friends (Sarah, Paul, Ellen, and Kirby) in Lake Tahoe, I entertained the idea of attempting to ski. But, given months to ponder all the possibilities for serious injury that the sport affords, I had convinced myself that skiing meant certain death.
Fearing his inevitable demise by a ski in the head, or even worse, snapped vertebrae that would paralyze him forever, I used every tactic I could to keep David from the slopes, up to and including "I forbid you!" But, once we arrived and I witnessed for myself that our friends had survived an entire death-defying day with skinny little boards strapped to their feet, I backed off. David promised he'd be careful. I, however, stood my ground and refused to be talked into what was certain to be a suicide mission, despite the temptingly vast potential for accessorizing that skiing offered.
The prospect of skiing (or, as I saw it, throwing myself down the side of a mountain while wearing small sticks on my feet) sounded dreadful, but I was sold on the idea of après-ski . Having never been this close to winter sports, mine was a romanticized concept of post-skiing activities gleaned from movies and books. While the gondola carried me nearly two miles up the gorgeous white and green mountainside overlooking the dark blue body of water below, I fantasized about the day ahead.
I could see myself clearly in my mind's eye: There I am reclining in a plush chaise longue by a fire in a chic lodge. Somewhere out of sight but within sound, a pianist's fingers tickle the ivories of a baby grand. The book on my lap had been open a moment ago; it is now closed because a gorgeous waitress (who happens to be an exchange student from Sweden) has just arrived to deliver a large, ceramic mug filled with steaming hot cocoa and a shot of peppermint schnapps. I look adorable in my rabbit fur hat -- I'm a cute snow bunny, a glamorous diva getting a head start on this relaxing, luxurious après-ski .
The piano music in my head came to a record-scratching halt when we reached the top of the gondola ride only to discover that the famed Lakeview Lodge was miles away.
A young blond woman with a Norwegian accent and a nametag that read "Ingrid" said, "You can ski there," apparently missing the fact that I was ski-less.
I ended up on a barstool inside the Umbrella Bar, a circular counter surrounded by stools and panes of glass, all situated under a large patio umbrella. Snow covered the wooden platform between the floor-to-umbrella panes and the bar. The slippery white stuff gathered in bigger piles near the two entrances that had been cleverly aligned to facilitate the flow of Arctic air directly to the bar's patrons.
I scanned the list of drinks and their prices, scrawled on a blackboard with chalk, and was ecstatic to see "Peppermint Patty."
"Is that what I think it is, Marshall?" Each bartender sported a nametag, and this one -- a tall, dark, and handsome thing in stylish sunglasses -- had gotten to me as fast as he could. He limped, and winced in pain with each step.
"If you think it's hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps in it, then yes," he answered, in a cheerful tone that surprised me. I wondered how one in such obvious pain could maintain a great disposition.
Warmed in body and temperament by my first drink (served in a paper cup rather than a large ceramic mug), I beckoned Marshall with my finger.
"Another?" he asked.
"It's not even noon, and I'm already half-drunk from the altitude. But sure, hit me." As he applied a generous amount of schnapps to my second drink, I said, "So what's with the limp?"
"I got into it with a rock. And the rock won," he said. I knew it , I thought. Skiing is dangerous. Over the course of my second drink, Marshall explained how he used to think he was too tough to ever have to get on "the sled," which I gathered was the mountain version of a stretcher. But after his collision with the rock, he graciously accepted a free ride down the slope, courtesy of the ski patrol.