Addiction begins at the first turn | VailDaily.com
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Addiction begins at the first turn

Bernie Grauer

The snow farmers of North America are once again sweating it out. Thanksgiving has come and gone andnow the worry is, will enough snow come by Christmas? Fortunately, the major destination ski resorts have covered their mountains with snowmaking machines and high-speed quads to tire you out with only a few hours of skiing per day. The villages are full of shops that can turn a fistful of credit cards into a burning pile of plastic in less than an afternoon.No doubt about it, it’s a booming industry. But it’s an industry that was born out of something much smaller the desire to turn a pair of skis down a hill. Each year, as I anxiously await the snow, I remember when I first became to this sport. In 1937, when the air of Southern California was as clear as it is in Montana today, I could look to the east and see the San Bernardino Mountains. When there was snow on them, my Boy Scout troop trekked to the mountains armed with toboggans and sleds and wearing our soak-up-the-melted-snow clothes.One day, around noon, we were digging a banked turn so that we could do something besides go straight down the hill on our toboggans, when I saw four skiers snowplow to a stop next to us.Those skiers were dry, looked toasty warm, and they could turn wherever they wanted to. This chance meeting became the biggest turning point in my life.Those skiers knew something I didn’t know about how tohave a good time on top of the snow instead of muckingaround in it, as I was, up to the knees of my wet Levis.There were four skiers, two men and two women. I still find it strange that I can remember everything about that day 65 years ago. Over the years, I have asked a lot of people about their first ski experience. If your first experience was after the age of five, you can probably remember every detail about that first time: the clothes you wore, how you got there, what you had for lunch, the lifts you rode or the hill you climbed.Why can you remember something so long ago when youCan’t even remember what you had for dinner last Thursday night or which movie you saw three weeks ago?When I ask people that first-day-on-skis question, they get a smile on their face and a glazed look in their eyes. I believe they remember everything about it because it was their first taste of total freedom.You went across the hill at whatever speed your adrenaline would let you go. Then, the first time you completed your first turn through the fall line, it was as though the entire world had opened up and was now yours.I can easily remember my first trip to the snow with skis. It was two weeks after that toboggan trip. I had found a pair of $2 skis in a garage near where I lived in Hollywood. They were Spalding pine skis, with a mortised slot under the toe that had a leather strap through it that buckled up over the toe of my hiking boots. My hiking boots went almost to my knees, and the right one had a pocket on the side of it for a knife in case a snake bit me.My red-topped wool socks were turned down over the top of the boots and my Levis were tucked into them. I wore a hooded sweatshirt over my pajamas, and my 35-cent cotton gloves had been dipped in melted paraffin the night before to make them waterproof and keep my hands warm.My Boy Scout patrol leader was rich enough to have a $50 Model A Ford that transported us up to the snow. Johnny had an Otto Lang ski technique book that we sat and read before we hiked up in the corn snow. When I got up high enough to where I was scared (about 50 vertical feet higher), I slid my boots into the toe straps and pushed off across the hill. When I tried to go into a snowplow so I could turn according to the technique outlined in the book, my boots hung out over the outside of the skis while the skis continued to go straight. Before the day was over, however, I was finally able to complete about 62 percent of one turn before I once again crashed.After my fourth peanut butter sandwich break a couple dozen climbs up the small hill, I made up my mind that I would somehow finish a turn and head back in the other direction. I tightened the toe straps as tight as my bony hands and arms would let me. While traversing, I tried to shove the skis out into a snowplow position, when I heard a loud splintering. I still had the leather toe strap and part of my right ski attached to my boot, but the rest of the ski was heading on down the hill.My skiing was over for that first day in 1937.Sixty-five years later, I look forward to my first day on skis this winter with the same anticipation that I had while I was climbing up for my first traverse on snow on Mt. Waterman, 47 miles east of Los Angeles.What was your first day on skis or a snowboard like?


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