Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ultimate Trouble - Story #5

Oak Mountain

            I couldn’t sleep trying to imagine what it would be like, a real ski resort, with real ski runs and real ski lifts.  I was only eleven years old, and though an accomplished downhill skier, I had never been to a ski resort.  My friends and I were extreme skiers, hiking to the top of different foothills in the Adirondack Mountains with our Frankenstein-like ski boots and our skis over our shoulders, and then racing each other to the bottom.  Often the ungroomed, unchartered trails were treacherous, filled with every natural obstacle conceivable such as tree trunks, hidden rocks and thorny bushes that would rip our clothing or dig into any exposed flesh with one swipe.  But we were never deterred, even though we usually had the physical and mental stamina for only one such run a day. 
            Being carried to the top of a mountain by a machine called a “T-Bar” was unheard of in my little circle.  Trails without natural barriers seemed even more absurd.  But tomorrow the mystery would be over, my sixth grade class was taking a school trip to Oak Mountain, a small ski resort in Wells, NY.
            There were about thirty young boys and girls who loaded into the yellow and black bus that would take us on our class trip.  Mr. Stafford, an athletic coach and history teacher, was our chaperon.   He barked out orders like a drill sergeant, “Place all your equipment in a pile behind the bus….if anyone misbehaves on the ride to Oak Mountain, they will not be allowed to ski….Skip, if I see you grabbing Jennifer one more time, I’m going to call your mother to come and get you….Once we arrive, we will pile your equipment outside the bus; you should find your own equipment and wait for the group.  We will all enter the resort together…” the ordering and barking went on and on.
            Everyone was so excited about the trip that we were all on our best behavior, everyone except Skip Johnson, who continued to grab at and irritate Jennifer Lawson.
            When we arrived, I couldn’t believe the sheer size and majesty of Oak Mountain.  The runs were clearly cut through the woods and looked like white ribbons on the head of a beautiful girl.  The peak was so high that it was not visible through the clouds.  Giant machines were twirling, taking people two at a time up the various ski runs.  I couldn’t wait!  I had to go to the top of Oak Mountain!
            Unfortunately, I had to wait.
            The first run of the day was down the smallest of the ski runs.  Coach Stafford wanted to see our ability, before he released us to the main portion of the mountain.  So, one at a time, all thirty of us grabbed the “rope tow” and proceeded to the top of the “bunny hill”.  It took Skip Johnson, Charley Legero and me about fifteen seconds to conquer this little hill, and Coach Stafford gave us the green light to proceed to Oak Mountain Run, an intermediate level run that was the most popular ski trail at the resort.  Initially our biggest problem was mastering the “T-Bar” that would take us to the top.  The “T-Bar” was a piece of wood shaped like a “T” that was connected to a wire that extended and retracted out of a large lanyard.  The lanyard was connected to a huge metal cable.  When it was our turn, two of us would scurry into position and the attendant would grab hold of the bar, pull enough wire out of the lanyard, so that the two portions of the “T” would go behind our two little butts.  The “T-bar” would then drag us up the mountain.  It all seemed very simple.  However, it took us four or five tries to make it up the mountain. We would either tip over with the initial jerk when the cable started to pull, or we would lose concentration somewhere along the way to the top and cross our own skis, get our skis tangled with each other, or simply lose our balance and fall off.  This proved quite humiliating, especially because there were always classmates coming behind us, with brutal comments. 
I still remember Buddy Brown yelling, “Hey Johnson, you sissy, why are you getting off here, all the girls are on the top of the mountain?”
Skip retaliated by taking a large dead tree limb and throwing it across Buddy’s path. This caused not only Buddy but the next eight “T-Bar” riders to go down.  It became a multi-skier pile-up that was so severe that the attendant had to shut down the whole lift for about twenty minutes. Skip hid in the bushes and snuck unseen through the woods.  Fortunately, they never found out who had thrown the branch or we would have probably been thrown out of the resort. 
It took us most of the morning, but soon we mastered the “T-Bar.”
            Once on top of the mountain, we were on top of the world.  We looked down and saw the scores of skiers zig-zagging effortlessly down the slope. 
This was different from what we had experienced.  We only knew one way of skiing, full speed.
            “Let’s start the first heat,” said Skip, “The person with the most victories at the end of the day will be the Oak Mountain champion.”
            Charley and I nodded in agreement.
            There was also another incentive for being the first two down the hill.  Third place had to ride the “T-Bar” with a stranger and this proved quite difficult when the stranger was an adult because their butt was so much higher than ours, placing us at even more risk of falling off the “T-Bar.”
            “Three, two, one…go!” yelled Skip.
            We all dug our poles into the hard packed snow, assumed our downhill racing “tuck” and proceeded straight down the mountain.  The snow was hard packed and icy in places, much different and much faster than the thick powder we were used to.  Our skis rattled on the ground.  Soon we picked up an incredible amount of speed.  I would guess that we were going somewhere between forty and fifty miles per hour and climbing.  Our steering ability was crude and barely existent.  Like arrows shot through a crowded street, we flew past the other skiers, with several near collisions.
            Charley won the first heat, Skip came in second and I was third.  We decided that after lunch, it would be time to impress the girls. 
By 11:15 I was absolutely starving and couldn’t wait to eat lunch.  I had gotten up early and made myself a fried egg sandwich, grabbed a bag of chips and an apple.  Unfortunately I had left my little brown bag on the bus, and had to get Mr. Stafford to help me retrieve it.
            “Ha, ha,” I thought as I watched my friends open up their typical bologna and peanut butter sandwiches, “Wait until they see what I have.”  I pulled it out of the sack, unfolded the wax paper and took a big bite….or tried to take a big bite.  It was frozen solid!  I rapped it on the cafeteria table and it made a loud knock, completely inedible.  I tossed it on the floor and we kicked it around like a hockey puck, until Mr. Stafford yelled at us and I threw it away.  I ended up having to use two of my hard earned dollars to buy a hot dog and some fries.
            It was time for the afternoon festivities.  Skip had gotten three girls to agree to race us down the hill.  The only stipulation was that they would start at the halfway point and we would start at the top.  It would be difficult to win, but not impossible.  We would have to go faster than ever before.  They agreed to wait seven minutes from the time they exited the “T-Bar” to give us the opportunity to make it to the top.  We scooted immediately from the “T-Bar” into full racing mode.  I got the best jump and was in the lead.  Faster, faster, faster I went.  I could feel the wind pull at my cheeks and my eyes tear.  I could see the girls up ahead.  I was going to catch them….until….a middle aged man turned directly into my path.  There was no way that I could get around him, so I buried my chin into my chest and braced myself for a nasty collision.  The top of my head hit him in the middle of his left thigh, and my momentum picked him right up off from the ground.  For a few seconds, I was carrying this two hundred pound man on the top of my head.  It was an amazing feat of physics. The collision and weight of the man altered my course and forced me towards the woods, through several patches of thorny bushes, and a bunch of dead trees.  This was much more like the skiing I was used to.  A small forest of pine trees finally stopped the man and me. 
I looked him in the eye and could see only terror and pain. He was gasping for breath.
            “Sorry, mister,” I said picking myself up and making my way back to the trail.  I felt bad that I had maimed this man, but realized that I had lost valuable seconds and had to get back into the race quickly if I had any possibility of winning.  I stumbled through several pieces of his equipment as I followed the tracks back out to the main trail.
            Once on the trail I resumed my racing form, but finished dead last in the race.  Apparently the crash took more time than I thought.  Skip, Charley and the girls waited at the bottom to mock me.  I did much better in the next race.
About twenty minutes later the ski patrol came down the mountain pulling someone on a toboggan.  I recognized the man I had crashed into.
            “I always wanted to ride in one of those things,” said Skip.
            “Me too,” I repeated.
            The rest of the day was spent exploring all the different trails at Oak Mountain.  We even started turning a little, using the snowplow. 
On the way home Mr. Stafford complimented us on our good behavior.
            “Thank-you,” he said, “for being a proud representation of Mayfield Elementary School.”
            “You’re very welcome,” repeated Skip, Charley and I, together with the rest of my sixth grade class.    It felt very good to be included, for once, with the good kids.

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