Thursday, March 13, 2008

mammoth mountain high

saturday: the wiki said it would be like this

The thing that made our trip perfect right from the start was Christine’s mind-boggling organization. As a control freak with OCD tendencies, I am never more grateful than when another OCD sufferer releases me from my duties. All AK and I had to do to prepare for four days in Mammoth was hop on the wiki site Christine built and print out the relevant pages: directions, packing list, map of who’s sleeping where, photos of ski clothes available for borrowing, menu.

“We’re having shrimp and corn chowder tonight,” I informed AK on the drive up.

It was nice taking a road trip that didn’t involve the 5. As we drove past jagged red rocks, tiny ghost towns, spiky Joshua trees and sprawling strip malls, AK said, “I had a college friend who was from Palmdale, and one time another friend and I drove her home. She thought she lived in the most beautiful place in the world and was so excited about the Joshua trees in her back yard. As soon as my other friend and I were alone, we cracked up. We just couldn’t believe someone thought Palmdale was beautiful. But now I get it.”

After the five stops it took for me to pee out the giant Diet Coke I picked up at our first stop in Mojave, we arrived at Krystal Sierra East, the condo complex where Christine, her boyfriend Jody and their friend Alex were staying. The air was fresh and cold and steam was rising off the neon-aqua hot tub. Already the tired, mopey, bicker-y Friday night AK and I had was melting away.

We shelled shrimp and marveled at all the things Christine (who brought one tiny backpack on her trip to Japan with AK) and Jody brought: spare ski clothes, cooking oil and spices, electric toothbrushes, DVDs and books and games, two laptops and four sets of skis.

Later, Jody spilled chowder all over his lap and the couch, and the upstairs toilet overflowed the first time I flushed it. But it was okay. You can’t prepare for everything.

sunday: live like a norwegian

When I told people I was going to Mammoth, I described myself drinking lots of hot chocolate and being very warm. Sure, people kept mentioning this skiing thing, but that was their problem.

Sunday morning, AK and I slept in long after Christine, Jody and Alex hit the slopes. But eventually we decided to mosey over to the cross-country skiing headquarters—cross-country was cheaper than downhill and posed less of a chance of pummeling down a mountain on one’s ass.

Still, we quickly learned that it does actually require some skills. I’m not sure what skills because that day’s beginner lesson was cancelled to make room for a middle school P.E. field trip. The woman at the rental shop gave us a 15-second crash course: “Just step and glide.” As we struggled to do so, 20 junior-high speed demons zoomed past us.

But my roller skating trips with Sara must have instilled something, because soon enough I was stepping and gliding. AK, who despises skating of the roller and ice varieties, spent some quality time seated in the snow as I played de facto ski coach: “Um, try pushing yourself up with your right hand. Then kind of, like, lean into your ankles.”

This did not work. I flagged down the P.E. teacher and asked for tips. She deferred to an 11-year-old who flung herself on the ground and hopped up as if she was made of Slinkies.

AK and I videotaped our trials and triumphs (coming soon if I can figure out how to upload them) and by the end of the day, she was tackling the hill that quite literally kicked her butt earlier, and I was searching out hills where I could fake-downhill ski.

I wouldn’t know it for another four hours or so, but I’d gotten the bug.

After a big dinner of veggie chili and huge slabs of cornbread, AK and I tried to round people up for the Ungame, which new arrival JP had brought. It’s a ‘70s invention with no winners or goals, just cards that ask you to talk about your opinions and feelings, everything from “Tell us about your favorite color” to “Describe your thoughts on suicide.” AK and I love anything chatty and psychology-driven. It was like a Myers-Briggs test with pawns.

It was hard to lure people away from their laptops, though. I realized that this would be a permanent feature of traveling with grownup professionals. People had cases to file and cities to plan and molecules to research and graphics to design. Or something like that. AK and I were determined slackers, although AK did find time to email her office that she was out with the flu.

We managed to generate a little Ungaming: Christine pulled a card that said, “Finish this sentence: I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”

“…a nice roast beef,” she said, looking pointedly at pescatarian Jody, whom she’d already moved back to “Start” during a previous turn.

“I don’t like this game,” said Jody.

AK pouted when she pulled a card that said, “Talk about your favorite day of the week.” “Um, Thursday?” she shrugged.

We spent some time in the hot tub talking to a 20-year-old Norwegian snowboarder with a nose burnt purple-red. Because AK and I aren’t 20-year-old straight girls, this wasn’t as exciting as it sounds. Mostly we talked about work and how Norwegians work no more than 37 ½ hours a week and pay $160 a year for college tuition. And probably don’t have to bring their laptops on vacation, I’m guessing.

monday: the downhill bug

Jody and Christine didn’t have to work very hard to talk me into downhill skiing. AK had had her fill of landing on her ass in the snow, but she said, “Do it—I can tell you want to, and you never indulge yourself.”

So I indulged. And it was amazing. But before the amazing part, there was an adult beginner class on the bunny slope, where JP and I learned how to pretend our skis were a slice of pizza and our boots were full of beer that we wanted to spill onto the pizza by leaning forward. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the adult and kid classes is the beer analogy and the fact that kids learn way, way faster.

But JP and I were pretty good for adults, if I do say so myself, which I can because none of the other people in our class read Bread and Bread. We were better than Tina from Texas, who had to say something self-deprecating every time she tried anything new, and better than her husband Minh, who got into trouble for skiing ahead before he’d successfully learned how to turn and slow down.

“I’m worried he’ll get hurt if he tries to go on the chairlift and go down one of the bigger hills after this,” our instructor told Tina as they studied the tiny dot in the distance that was Minh.

“Oh, he must’ve just misunderstood,” said Tina. “He’s not willful like that. He’s so superfriendly!” she squealed, and I decided they must be newlyweds.

Our instructor gave JP and I the go-ahead to hit the green-diamond hills at the end of the day. JP’s boots were biting into her cyclist calves, so she took a break after one run on Schoolyard Express (which I wished had a slightly more badass-sounding name). So it was just me, the mountain and my skinny couch-potato calves.

Reader, I kicked ass.

I swooped down that schoolyard, leaning into the curves, my muscles recalling something ancient and wonderful: the feeling of flying, learning, being good at something, aching to be even better. I did gymnastics for 10 years as a kid, but I long ago resigned myself to being a cerebral adult who occasionally makes it to the gym. Suddenly I remembered that using your muscles doesn’t have to be a chore. Suddenly I wasn’t watching the clock to see when I’d be able to get off the elliptical, but to see how many more runs I could get in before they closed the chairlift.

tuesday: maybe more like a guitar hero than a war hero

I was excited when AK decided to join us for a final morning of skiing, and Jody, Christine, and Kyle decided to skip the double black diamonds and spend the day on the beginner slopes with us. I was excited to hang out with my girlfriend and friends, yes, but I was also excited because another long-dormant feeling had risen within me: the deep, intense desire to show off.

While Jody gave AK a private lesson, I followed Christine down the green-diamond hills, marveling at how her skis made a completely different noise than mine did: a slick swip-swip instead of a low prssh-prssh. She made it look so effortless that she appeared to be modeling her way down the hill more than skiing down it.

I, of course, wanted to know how to do all these things immediately, but I contented myself with tips (“You want to sort of bounce in your skis, like posting on a horse,” said Christine) and complements (“You’re the fastest second-day skier I’ve seen,” said Kyle). I was the fastest second-day skier someone had seen! In my mind, I was one lesson away from doing jumps. If I met the right ramp-like bump, I might even do it, who knows, I thought. I might just sprout wings and fly.

Then I found myself accidentally (but not totally accidentally) on a blue-diamond hill after Christine and I made a wrong turn at a chairlift called Rollercoaster.

“Rollercoaster” has different implications than “Schoolyard Express,” and suddenly the image of a short yellow bus chugging down a flat road sounded extremely comforting.

But my adrenaline was pumping faster than my worries, so I skied carefully in Christine’s tracks as skiers and boarders whizzed by us at speeds faster than I’ve attempted by car.

Then I began to ski less carefully and I quickly slammed into the ground as my ski popped into the air.

Christine spent the next 45 minutes (well, eight minutes of regular time; 45 minutes of side-of-a-mountain time) gently coaching me back into my ski. A minute ago, I had been an Olympian, but now I was more or less someone who could not put her shoe on. My legs shook as I slipped and slid. All that kept me calm was a desire to not freak out and embarrass myself.

Never underestimate the power of not wanting to embarrass yourself: Determined not to be driven out on some angry employee’s snowmobile, I made it down the mountain, falling three more times but also doing a lot of actual in-control skiing, thank you very much.

Back on flat ground, I thunked up to our group’s lunch table feeling like a war hero. I’d learned a skill and broken rules—not exactly things I do every day. Reluctantly, AK and I said goodbye to our friends and drove back down the mountain, the hills still in us like waves after a day at the beach.

When we stopped in Mojave again, we played the same video game at the same pizza parlor we’d stopped at on the way out. It involved driving a speedboat through the Greek Isles, and I swear, we were better now.


Unknown said...

YES. downhill skiing is far superior to cross country; you have to generate all of your momentum cross country and that is too much work. too much like walking or running. that's not the point of skiing. i'm glad you had so much fun, and, the ungame sounds awesome. also, thursday IS the best day of the week, because it's named after thor, the god of thunder. well done ak, 10 points to you.

Anonymous said...

My only downhill skiing experience was when I was a sophomore in college. It was also the first time small children called me a grownup.

As in, "What's that grownup doing on the bunny slope?" Followed by much derisive laughter.

I love snowshoeing.

Cheryl said...

V: We decided not to snowshoe for that same reason. We were like, "Wait, they're trying to trick us into thinking that walking in snow is some kind of special sport!"

Thanks for holding down Fort Gato while we were gone!

B52: Children are cruel.

Laura and the family said...

When the weather isn't cold, why don't you guys try out for Biking up in a mountain, then riding down the hill at Big Bear? I did that. WHHOOOO, what an experience! It feels like you are expert than you do in skiing, but lots of freaking it out.

Cheryl said...

AK is quite the biker, so we'll have to give it a try. Thanks for the suggestion!