The Miami Herald

I slalomly swear

(This Dave Barry column was originally published February 5, 1989)

If you're looking for a vacation concept that combines the element of outdoor fun with the element of potentially knocking down a tree with your face, you can't do better than skiing. My family just got back from a ski trip to Vermont ("The Wind Chill Factor State"), and it was an adventure that I'm sure we will remember fondly for many years while our various body parts heal.

The key to a successful ski trip, of course, is planning, by which I mean: money. For openers, you have to buy a special outfit that meets the strict requirements of the Ski Fashion Institute, namely: (1) It must cost as much as a medium wedding reception; (2) it must make you look like the Giant Radioactive Easter Bunny From Space; and (3) it must be made of a mutant fiber with a name that sounds like the villain on a Saturday- morning cartoon show, such as "Gore-Tex, " so as to provide the necessary resistance to moisture, which trust me, will be gushing violently from all of your major armpits once you start lunging down the mountain.

You also have to buy ski goggles costing upwards of $50 per eyeball that are specially designed not to not fog up under any circumstances except when you put them on, at which time they become approximately as transparent as the Los Angeles telephone directory, which is why veteran skiers recommend that you do not pull them down over your eyes until just before you make contact with the tree. And you'll need ski boots, which are made from melted bowling balls and which protect your feet by preventing your blood, which could contain dangerous germs, from traveling below your shins.

As for the actual skis, you should rent them because of the feeling of confidence you get from reading the fine print on the lengthy legal document that the rental personnel make you sign, which states:

"The undersigned agrees that skiing is an INSANELY DANGEROUS ACTIVITY, and that the rental personnel were just sitting around minding their OWN BUSINESS when the undersigned, who agrees that he or she is a RAVING LOON, came BARGING IN UNINVITED, waving a LOADED REVOLVER and demanding that he or she be given some rental skis for the express purpose of suffering SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH, leaving the rental personnel with NO CHOICE but to . . . , " etc.

OK! Now you're ready to "hit the slopes." Ski experts recommend that you start by taking a group lesson because otherwise they would have to get real jobs. To start the lesson your instructor, who is always a smiling 19-year-old named "Chip, " will take you to the top of the mountain and explain basic ski safety procedures until he feels that the cold has killed enough of your brain cells that you will cheerfully follow whatever lunatic command he gives you. Then he'll ski a short distance down the mountain, just to the point where it gets very steep, and swoosh to a graceful stop, making it look absurdly easy. It IS absurdly easy for Chip, because underneath his outfit he's wearing an antigravity device. All the expert skiers wear them. You don't actually believe that "ski jumpers" can leap off those ridiculously high ramps and just float to the ground unassisted without breaking into walnut-sized pieces, do you? Like Tinkerbell or something? Don't be a cretin.

After Chip stops he turns to the group, his skis hovering as much as three inches above the snow, and orders the first student to copy what he did. This is the fun part. Woodland creatures often wake up from hibernation just to watch this part because even they understand that the laws of physics, which are strictly enforced on ski slopes, do not permit a person to simply stop on the side of a snow-covered mountain if his feet are encased in bowling balls attached to what are essentially large pieces of Teflon. So they greatly enjoy watching as the first student cautiously pushes himself forward and almost instantly achieves Warp Speed, becoming an almost-invisible blur as he passes Chip and proceeds on into the woods, flailing his arms like a volunteer in a nerve-gas experiment.

"That was good!" shouts Chip, grateful that he is wearing waterproof fibers inasmuch as he will be wetting his pants repeatedly during the course of the lesson. Then he turns to the rest of the group and says: "Next!"

The group's only rational response, of course, would be to lie down in the snow and demand a rescue helicopter. But these are not rational beings; these are ski students. And so one by one they, too, ski into the woods, then stagger out, sometimes with branches sticking out, antlerlike, from their foreheads, and do it again. "Bend your knees this time!" advises Chip, knowing that this will actually make them go faster. He loves his work.

Eventually, of course, you get better at it. If you stick with your lessons, you'll become an "intermediate" skier, meaning you'll learn to fall before you reach the woods. That's the level I'm on now, in stark contrast to my 8-year-old son, who has not yet studied gravity in school and therefore became an expert in a matter of hours. Watching him flash effortlessly down the slope, I found myself experiencing both pride and hope; pride in his accomplishment, and hope that someday, somehow, he'll ski near enough to where I'm lying that I'll be able to trip him with my poles.

(c) Dave Barry
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