So refreshing to be outside in the snow!

So refreshing to be outside in the snow!

            Growing up, my family would go on an annual spring ski vacation. It was the pretty standard variety: each year we would choose a resort and pack into a condo for a week of skiing and kvetching (my brother and I would usually spend most of the time beating the crap out of each other. And there was one time I nearly drowned in a hotel pool. But I digress). When I was 10 years old, we made a trip to Whistler/Blackcomb in March. This trip stands out for many reasons–it was my first time skiing in Canada–but also because my aunt Martha and uncle Robert (we call him Bob) came along…

          As east coast skiers who spend most of our time sliding around the icy slopes of Vermont and New Hampshire, we were unaccustomed to Whistler’s vast treeless terrain. But Bob embraced the wide open spaces. As a time-strapped architect who traveled around the world for work, Bob had few opportunities to practice his ski technique. But that didn’t mean he was cautious. The minute he hit the slopes, he charged. Maybe it’s something about being at high altitude, as Bill Murray puts it in Ground Hog Day.  

           As for altitude, Whistler, as most avid skiers know, has the most vertical of any resort in North America. It’s more than 5,000′ between the base and the summit. In spring, as we learned, the conditions can vary drastically, from 60s in the valley to sub-zero temps at the summit. Figuring out how to dress appropriately presented its challenges (as we would soon learn)…

          On the third morning of our trip, we awoke to a particularly balmy spring day. It was already in the low 40s and they forecasted temperatures to keep rising. My brother and I headed up on the gandola for the morning, intent to make some speed runs on the groomers that had frozen solid overnight. We bombed around until lunch, before we had to meet up with my folks and Martha and Bob. It was one of those bright spring afternoons. Everyone was out on the deck at the mid-mountain lodge soaking up the rays. Our plan was to take a leisurely lunch, and then make a few runs off the top before heading back to the condo. At this point, the temperature had to be pushing 50 degrees, and the snow took on the consistancy of cement. Bob stripped down to just an orange fleece and his black nylon snow ski pants, which I notice are a well-worn pair of Nevica bibs circa 1982 (Gore-Tex was definitely not an option back then). His pants had definitely seen better days.

          Bob was not one for ski fashion. As he waited in the lift line after lunch, he stood out amongst the perma-tanned women in Bogner jackets and Euro guys in neon green one-pieces. We all hopped on the lift and made our way to Whistler peak. The chairlift was one of those old doubles, and it bisected the run allowing people riding the rickety chair to watch the skiers noodling their way down through the late-season slush. Wipeouts elicited raucous cheers from the people on the lift. You could always tell the severity of the faceplant by the decibels of the cheers. 

           I have to say I was a slightly nervous to ski down that run, having visions of being the unfortunate soul who catches an edge and cartwheels spectacularly in front of the hundreds of skiers on the lift. But my brother plunged in first, and I pointed my skis and followed suit. We made it half way down the main face of the bowl and turned around to wait for the others. My mom and dad slowly edged their way down the hill and joined us. From a distance, we saw Bob begin his run. His ski technique resembled some sort of prehistoric bird about to take flight, legs glued together, ass out, arms wide like a teradactyl. What he lacked in style, though, Bob made up in grit. About a third of the way down the piste, he hit a mogul. His knees buckled sending him veering to his right before he pancaked onto the snow. The lift gallery broke out in wild applause. Ooooooh!! Yeeaaaah! It was hard to quite make out what had happened to Bob, but we could see him sliding on his side until he came to rest on top of another large mogul. 

            Bob got up and dusted himself off. Oh good, at least he didn’t hurt himself, we thought. I turned around and my dad began discussing our planned route to the bottom as we waited for Bob to join us. But then, we heard a roar coming from the lift. It was low at first, but then grew louder and louder still. The wall of sound crescendoed into a clamor so intense that it was as if a Boeing 747 was coming down the mountain. What was that noise for? 

           I turned and faced up the hill, and then I saw it. Bob was making his way towards us in skintight red underwear. When he fell, his Nevica pants had shredded into tatters, and now fluttered in the breeze like a Tibetan prayer flag wrapped around his waist. Bob was perhaps the only person who doesn’t wear long underwear under his bibs even in spring conditions. Now that he lost his ski pants, he was left with nothing but cherry red Fruit-of-the-Looms and his rear-entry Nordica ski boots. Wooooo hooooo! Yeeeeeehhhhaaaw! 

           What does one do when confronted with such a turn of events? There is my preferred approach: cower and pretend it’s all a terrible nightmare (if you deny something long enough, did it really happen anways? Who’s to say, right?). But Bob is never one to back down. He embraced his sartorial minimalism, flying down the bowl like the world cup racers who strip down to skin suits for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. “Hey big boy!” shouted a blond girl in a canary yellow one-piece. I shuddered. 

           But Bob soaked up the attention. He was slaloming now. I had never seen him ski with such aplomb, it was like he had transformed into some alpine superhero. Bob made his way down to us. And we all cracked up wildly. He was flushed, but there was determination in his steely eyes. He seemed to be thinking, “Just because I’m sporting red tighties doesn’t mean I’m not gonna enjoy some late season turns.”

           It was a good thing Bob wasn’t upset by his wardrobe malfunction. We still had close to 4,000 feet of vertical to cover to get back to the lodge. Bob hit the cat road and got into a tuck position. It took us probably 20 minutes to ski all the way down. Most people would have had enough at that point and made a beeline for the condo. But this was only our third day, and we still had a weekend of skiing left. Uncle Bob needed to replace his pants. He was in luck, the base lodge had a ski shop, but it was conveniently located at the rear of the main floor, past the bar. I last saw Bob that afternoon strutting his stuff through a bar full of Canadians sauced up on their eighth Molson. He was a brave man.

— Anonymous in New York, No Stranger to the Spectacular Liftline Faceplant Himself.

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Comments ( 2 )

Uncle Bob is the man. Great story!

[Reply]

Lisa Richardson added these pithy words on Feb 20 09 at 5:50 pm

I always joke that everyone our age has an Uncle Bob, but I doubt many of our Uncle Bob’s would ski shamelessly in red tighties. The sign of a great man!

[Reply]

lori u. added these pithy words on Feb 26 09 at 1:38 pm

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