My superstitious traditions didn’t protect me when I went skiing with my brother last week. I know, I know, superstitions are ridiculous. I’ve stepped on a lot of cracks and never broke my mother’s back. But still…
On Thursday my brother and I headed to the mountain. I like skiing with him because he’s as bad a skier as I am. On the hour and a half ride to get to Timberline, there are two things we always do because, I don’t know about him but for me, I think if I don’t do them something unfortunate might happen on the slopes.
If you’ve never skied, let me assure you, it’s dangerous. You’re going way too fast on snow and ice with your feet strapped to two boards that could turn on you at any minute. One board could go into a track left by a previous skier and follow that line, or you can “catch an edge,” while the other board keeps going straight. You’ve probably seen it happen in cartoons. Usually you can force the wayward ski to behave, but if it won’t, you fall. Which can hurt, but mostly it’s just a LOT of work. Picture a walrus in the Arctic trying to get up on an ice floe, grunting and swaying and bellowing. That’s like one of us struggling back up from a fall, covered in snow like a powdered donut – well, not really, because a walrus is more graceful. Also you can get hit by a beginning snowboarder who’s going too fast and hasn’t learned how to stop yet except to ram into you and flatten you like a steamroller.
That’s the reason traditions/superstitions come into play. We want all the help we can get. The first thing we do, on the way up to the mountain just past the town of Sandy, is salute a metal sculpture. My son started that one when he was just a toddler. On a road trip going toward Mt. Hood he spotted a metal sculpture of a skeleton riding a Harley in someone’s side yard. He shouted, “Skelekos Rider!” because that’s the best he could do at such a tender age. So every time we go on Hwy. 26 and we pass that sculpture, we raise one fist in the air like the man on the Harley and say, “Skelekos Rider!”
The second tradition is driving past Silent Rock. It’s right before the big curve with a bottomless drop-off you see on the right side of the road ahead. If a car slides on the snow and ice and plunges through the guardrail, it’s a goner. When I used to ride the bus up to the mountain with my son’s snowboard team, right before we got to Silent Rock, forty-five shouting, laughing, rowdy high school kids became immediately quiet – no one said a word or made a sound. If a movie was playing, the bus driver paused it. All we heard was the engine and the clack-clack-clack of the bus’s chains on the icy pavement. One time a new snowboard team member kept talking – he didn’t know, but ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to Silent Rock. We knew it would be bad, and sure enough, after his first few runs he broke his ankle. Coincidence? Maybe. I’ve talked to old skiers who’ve been quiet going past Silent Rock for decades. It’s best not to take chances.
On Thursday I had observed these traditions as I faithfully do, and expected a good day on the slopes. All was well until we got to the Jeff Flood lift. We saw a stack of white balls on top of a bucket. “Are those tennis balls?” my brother asked. “Snowballs,” the lift operator said. He had a gadget, like a big melon-baller, that he used to scoop up snow and make snowballs to pass the time. He’d stacked them beside the place where we got on the chairlift to take us up the mountain.
“Nothing good can come of those snowballs,” I said to my brother. And I was right.
We skied down on the nice, easy run under the chair not paying any attention to the people dangling above us, riding up on the lift. And then – ouch! – I felt a painful impact on my thigh, and I knew, I KNEW what it was. I yelled up at the three twenty-somethings on the chair, “DON’T THROW SNOWBALLS AT ME I’M AN OLD WOMAN!”
They needed to know that I wasn’t some cute little hottie – I’m old and arthritic and vulnerable and could be somebody’s grandmother. We all look alike bundled up in our ski gear, and because of the pandemic we have to wear masks on our faces and I wear a helmet. No one can see my wrinkles and white hair.
“That’s pretty funny,” my brother said. “You bellowing at the top of your lungs that you’re an old woman.”
“They need to know,” I said. I told the lift operator when we got to the bottom that someone hit me with one of his snowballs. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’ll move them so people can’t take them on the chair.”
Yeah, right. The very next run I felt a big impact, luckily on my helmet and not in the face. Again I screamed, “DON’T THROW SNOWBALLS AT ME I’M AN OLD WOMAN!”
From then on we didn’t ski under the chairlift. Those snowballs were packed hard as a rock, if I wasn’t wearing a helmet I’d have been knocked cold. I can see it all over social media, me sprawled in the snow, glazed eyes, the ski patrol rescue guy holding up two fingers and me saying, “Four.”
Driving home we got quiet at Silent Rock. Near Sandy we held our fists up and said, “Skelekos Rider!” We know what we have to do. Traditions are important. Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Even though we won’t have a large gathering, we’ll still savor the traditional fare of chips and dips and cheeses and every kind of salty, fatty, sweet, and unhealthy food while we sit like over-stuffed zombies for four hours and hope there’s a good halftime show and some funny commercials. Later, groaning like a fat walrus, I’ll hate myself for over-indulging and pray that when I go skiing next time, I can still get my ski pants zipped up.
I hope your team wins today, especially if it’s Tampa Bay. I’m rooting for the older guy.