For five weeks every winter I teach in our city parks and rec department’s Alpine ski program. Every winter, Como Park’s golf course is turned into a winter wonderland with cross country skiers and sledders occupying the lowland and skiers and snowboarders claiming 90 vertical feet of the steepest hill. We run a rope tow up both sides of it and run two snowmaking fans to keep it padded and a piston bully to groom it into shape. Each season we see hundreds of students come through our program, all ages. Mount Como is perfect for beginners and we see many families, many children in the four- to twelve-year-old age range.
Our three children learned to ski and board there and this winter I have the unique pleasure of teaching on Mount Como with two of them, all grown up and expert skiers. It’s a rare chance to be a colleague with my own kids and to share a supportive and fun work/social situation.
We all work hard, physically and mentally. We prop up the tearful and fearful and share the huge smiles that come with first Schusses. We also instruct the wild and daring to take on the hill with control and consideration. We wrap kids in our arms and ferry them up the rope tow, we catch errant five year olds who sail down the hill with abandon, we stand and lecture students while standing in skis at a 45 degree angle on the hill and yes we fall. We all fall. First lessons and every lesson thereafter on the hill include how to get up when you fall down, dust yourself off and try again.
Yesterday the weather was the star variable of the day. The morning snow was warm and slow, which is great for instructing beginners, the speed is about right for practicing turns and stops. After lunch, the temps dropped from the easy breezy thirties to close to zero with winds that picked up and swept across the open golf course at about 50 mph. Once the weather changed, the snow quickly got as icy and fast as ice cross downhill. The wind was strong enough to push some of our youngest kids over. It was difficult to shout over its roar and many of our youngest children were weepy and too cold to have fun.
We had four accidents on the hill that included one ambulance run (dislocated shoulder) and one probable concussion (helmet on)–both, instructors. The other two injuries were minor bumps and bruises. Instructors are required to have First Aid and CPR certification and yesterday I noted that everyone on staff reacted quickly and knew what to do.
All in all, one of the longest, toughest days on the hill. The sense of camaraderie and shared hardship on staff gets us through. We all pitch in, we back each other up, share a crock-pot-luck feast at lunch and, after all, slap a round of high fives filled with that sense of joy over simply making it through a tough day.
One of my favorite moments on the hill is when we gather between classes in the tiny trailer at the top. It’s filled with cones, gates, bumpers and things we use to teach. Somehow, especially on cold days like yesterday, we can cram over 20 people in for some well deserved warmth and rest between classes. The sun was setting as we prepared for the final lesson of the afternoon (from 4 to 5 p.m.) and we were weary but laughing. We had to make it through one more lesson.
By the time I hobbled off the hill and unbuckled my boots they had been on for nine ankle-bruising hours. As I pulled them off and rubbed my feet back to life, I smiled.