facing the slope

photo (14)
“Ames,” says my brother Danny, somewhere near the windy top of Killington. “I want you to ski this black diamond with moguls. I’ll show you how to do it. You’ll be fine.”

You want to me to ski a black diamond with moguls, I repeat back. You’ll show me how to do it. I’ll be fine.

“You’ll be fine.”


It’s around 3:30 Saturday afternoon, we’ve been skiing all day on sucky icy lumpy conditions, and I’m wrecked. Every joint and muscle and piece of bone in my body hurts, including the tips of my pinkies. A few hours earlier I wiped out trying to turn on a lump of wet, ungroomed crap passing for snow, so I’m not in the best shape for any kind of black diamond, be it accessorized with moguls or not.

But Danny’s insistent. And he’s smiling. And he’s my brother. And I haven’t died so far today, so I’m on a streak of good fortune.

“I’m telling you. I’ll show you how to ski the moguls. You’ll be fine.”

Oh, what the hell. My kids have done it, right? Right. And I’m here to ski, right? Right. And every other time I’ve skied with Danny, I’ve ended the day more skilled and confident than I began, right? Right.

And so he leads me over to the moguly black-diamondy thingy, which, it turns out, is a viciously steep sheet of ice dotted with exactly the sort of wet crap piles that caused me to wipe out earlier in the day. Only there are more of them. And the ice between them is wider. And the daylight is fading. And the wind is blasting. And the “trail,” by which I mean “pathway of frozen misery and death,” is pitched at what appears to be an 80-fooking-degree angle.

But Danny says I’ll be fine. I believe him. Sort of.

Here’s what you need to know about Danny:

1. He’s 9 feet tall and weighs 350 pounds of solid muscle. Or else he’s 6’1 and weighs 220, I forget which. Either way. He’s big.

2. He taught me everything I know about juggling oranges and almost everything I know about throwing a frisbee, including such techniques as the forehand, the overhand and the thumber, and yes, there is a toss called the thumber, although he did not actually teach me the name. I had to look it up on Wikipedia.

3. Despite being 11 feet tall and 470 pounds of solid muscle, there’s nothing scary about him, except when he’s doing handstand push-ups in his gym shorts in the dining room, and even then he’s only scary if you get too close and worry he might fall on you and splat you into the floorboards like a moth.

Here’s what you need to know about me and downhill skiing:

1. Chris got me and the kids started seven years ago, and I love everything about it, absolutely everything. It’s totally exhilarating and addictive, and I can’t think of any human activity involving high speeds and long awkward potentially lethal plank-shaped footwear that I love more.

2. Except for the parts of skiing that I hate, which are A) really fooking big patches of ice; B) really fooking steep trails; and C) moguls.

So here I am, staring down this steep, icy, mogul-strewn black diamond. Danny explains to me the trick to traversing the moguls with step-turns, and I observe him. I can do that. And for the first minute and a half, I do that. Then I hit a spot that’s pitched at an especially steep angle with especially bad ice, and I go into immediate lockdown.

I CAN’T DO THIS, my mind asserts.

I CAN’T DO THIS, my body agrees.

I CAN’T DO THIS, my mouth chimes in.

“Ames, you can do this.”

No, I repeat, and once again my mind, body and mouth are in perfect accord. No. No, I can’t.

“You can.”

I turn into a stubborn bitch.

No. I can’t, I tell him. And it’s okay that I can’t! So you can just go down the mountain, and I’ll slide down on my butt. Really. I can’t. I can’t. I just can’t. Please. Go! Go! Just go!

He doesn’t go. He’s my brother. He won’t. He talked me into skiing this trail, and he’s not going to leave me.

Please, I say. I’m embarrassed. I’ll get down on my own. Just let me slide down on my ass alone. Please.

What I don’t say aloud but scream maniacally in the chasmal recess of my brain is: I NEED TO FIGURE THIS SHIT OUT ALONE! I CAN’T BE A WEAK WITTLE WIDOW! I CAN’T RELY ON MY BIG-ASS BROTHER WITH HIS BIG-ASS MUSCLES TO SAVE ME!

Danny, having known me since I was 13 and he was 14 — and having helped me maneuver past many precipitous bluffs in my life — knows exactly what to do. He shushes several feet downhill from me and stands there quietly as I gather up my scattered wits and quash my fears, or at least ignore them rudely.

And because I really am a stubborn bitch, and can’t let the slope win out, I step-turn into a scrape of snow and traverse across the mogul, then step-turn and traverse again across another, and another, and another, and another, until I find myself — somehow, not sure how — at the bottom of the mountain.

My brother hugs me, smiling. “You were awesome, babe.”

Awesome? Not awesome. Bitchy and quaking with fear, more like it. But I guess I figured it out. I kept going. I got down.

He gives me another hug — a crushing one backed by 13 feet and 695 pounds of solid muscle. And I’m not scared at all.

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