I’m going skiing and want to seem cool. Any advice?

Auntie MJ has been skiing twice, so she is an expert in these matters. Listen to a story…

I grew up surrounded by People Who Skied, but we did not ski. It was just not done by members of our household, despite the fact that my uncle was a ski instructor who offered me free lessons. My mom was constantly coming up with reasons why this was dangerous, crazy, and impossible, and so I never skied as a kid. 

The first time I skied, I was over 30 and had been inculcated with years of both fear-mongering and also with lots of media images of people skiing, and those people always smiled and looked happy, so i figured it must not be too hard. I mean, I roller-skated a lot as a kid, and I’d done a lot of sledding, so I figured it must have been like one of those and no big deal.


I went with a family of skiers to a mountain in what I believe was Maryland. These people all did Black Diamonds, as I believe the hard mountains are called (don’t correct me, I don’t care if I am wrong). I sat in the care, smiling lightly and looking out the window. They kept saying things about how it would be dark and icy but probably less crowded, and I just continued smiling.

They took me to the rental counter and fixed me up with some skis, and I immediately saw that this was not like roller-skating at all. But I still hadn’t given up hope and shuffled out merrily. I thought I would just mostly do that—shuffle around. But instead, they ushered me to the ski lift. Now, here is what I expected a ski lift to do:

1. Arrive

2. Stop

3. Allow you to settle comfortably, put on a seat belt, and when you were ready to go, raise a hand in a royal wave.

I was informed while in line that this is not how it works. Instead, I was told, the ski lift just SNEAKS UP BEHIND YOU and SCOOPS YOU UP and CARRIES YOU OFF whether or not you are ready and you put the bar down yourself and try not to die. This information was delivered just as I felt the device hit the back of my knees and someone started to yell “SIT. SIT. SIT.” And I sat, but my ski caught on something and fell off and then we were IN THE AIR. The person behind us called to us and said, “I HAVE YOUR SKI” and waved it around.

This is when I started to question ski lift part two, because as I thought it stopped to let you on, it be gang to dawn on me that stopping was not part of the plan at all.

"So…how do we get off?" I asked.

"You ski off," was the reply.

"But I don’t ski."

"Well, you kind of ski off. It’s not far."

"But I am missing a ski and don’t ski."

The person I was with went silent and looked away, toward the trees, and I suddenly understood everything the world intended me to know.

A plan would be necessary. I had no idea what it looked like at the top of a ski mountain. I didn’t know if there was a building or a greeting committee or if it was just a TINY, TINY POINT like the tops of mountains in cartoons. I considered just staying on but was informed this was impossible, so there was only one other plan—I would have to throw myself off the lift and roll. I figured that if I was at least SOMEWHAT PREPARED for this it wouldn’t be too bad. And so, that is how I began skiing—by getting to the top of the mountain and THROWING MYSELF OFF THE LIFT WITH A SCREAM and rolling until I hit a sign.


Took place about five years later or so. This time, I went with Oscar, the English person I consort with. Oscar is English, and some of his relatives were, at the time, living in Switzerland. He was going to visit for New Year’s Eve and invited me to come for five days of skiing in the Alps.

Being from A Family That Did Not Ski, spending New Year’s Eve skiing in the Alps sounded about as likely as spending it on the moon, but it was an actual offer and not impossible, and so I went because Life!

My first trip had been with People Who Skied. This trip was with People Who Really, Really Skied. All the people on this trip had started skiing from the time they were small children and now could actually leap out of helicopters and ski away down avalanche-prone mountainsides that they quaintly insisted on calling “off-piste” (which I know is a thing but it was not a thing to ME).

But, if there is one thing about me that I know—I can suppress learning behavior. I smiled and decided that this trip would also be just fine, despite the fact that the Alps are high and cold and this is where skiing was probably born and these were some of the world’s most serious skiers and Oh My God.

After a long first day in which one very patient member of the party attempted to teach me to ski, it was decided that it would be of maximum benefit to get me a professional instructor. We were about to move on from the town we were in to the town of Les Diablerets, which was entirely comprised of cable cars that took you to higher and higher peaks until you finally just got hit in the face with an airplane.

It was there that I was matched up with the last English-speaking instructor. I do speak some French, but my French is poor and  did not include any skiing terms outside of Le Ski and Le Fall Down, the second of which is not technically French.

My instructor’s name was Jean-Claude. He was about sixty and ruggedly handsome and white-haired. I introduced myself and asked if he specialized in beginners, and Jean-Claude informed me that he was once a trainer for the French Olympic downhill racing team. To my credit, I did not run away, but this was ONLY because I’d already been put in a pair of skis and abandoned on the top of a hill and I couldn’t actually make it back to the cable car by myself.

"Come on!’ he said, in his rugged French accent. "Come, Maureen. Allez. We go up."


See, I thought i had gone up. I was on the top of the mountain, I thought. But no. Jean-Claude wanted to go HIGHER. So he shoved me at a t-bar, which is another terrible device, but not as terrible as the scoopy chair. The t-bar goes between your legs and drags you up the hill like a sack of flour. You can’t ride the t-bar back because it floats away high in the air and there is nothing to sit on. I guess you could cling to it with your hands, but you would probably die.

So there I was again, on the top of a mountain, with—I would soon discover—a madman. Because the first thing Jean-Claude did was knock me over. Literally, and on purpose. He knocked me over into the snow on my side.


JEAN-CLAUDE: Maureen, you fall. You must learn to get up.

ME: *scrabbles in snow like lost crab in snow*

JEAN-CLAUDE: Allez, Maureen. You get up.

ME: *scrabbles*

JEAN-CLAUDE: *pointless instruction*

ME: *scrabbles*

JEAN-CLAUDE: *just pulls up* 

JEAN-CLAUDE: *knocks over again*


ME: *scrabbles like lost crab*

JEAN-CLAUDE: Allez, Maureen. You must learn.

This went on for something like a half an hour. I’d get up, and Jean-Claude would knock me over sideways again. I got very used to the words “Allez, Maureen.” Let me translate that for you. It means: “I’m going to knock you over as soon as you get up.” Later, it would mean, “I just found a new way to kill you. Follow me.”

I spent two days with Jean-Claude, during which, apparently, I learned how to ski. I don’t remember much in detail, until the last hour.

The last hour, there was a blizzard at the top of the mountain. Everyone started to leave, but Jena-Claude got ALL EXCITED.

"More space for us. Allez, Maureen."

And up we went, into nothing. I have never seen anything like it. I’d heard of whiteouts, but I didn’t know what they were actually like. Everything is white. Everything. You can’t see more than a few feet in front of you, and literally EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME. The ground. The sky. You can’t tell up from down. I only knew I was going up because I knew that’s where the t-bar was taking me, but I couldn’t see up. 

We were alone at the top, and I knew I had to be looking down, but down looked the same as everything else. The only thing I COULD see was Jean-Claude. And that wasn’t even for long, because he then said, “Now, Maureen, you ski.” AND THEN HE TOOK OFF DOWN THE MOUNTAIN AND LEFT ME. “FOLLOW ME!” he yelled.

And then he was a red dot in the snow, ever decreasing in size.

I was too stunned to even know what to do fro a moment, but then, after  saying a lot of unprintable things, I pushed off and followed up.

Oscar was at the bottom of this slope and saw me come down. I only have his report about what happened next. Apparently, I was skiing beautifully, and very, very quickly, curving and swaying and doing all the things you are supposed to do and really FLYING ALONG.

Here is what I remember:

1. Screaming.

2. While I knew I had to be going down, I couldn’t see down, so it didn’t bother me.

3. Because I couldn’t see anything whipping by, I also had no idea about my speed.

So it turns out when you have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING, you can do things very well. This is the lesson I took from skiing and I have applied it to every day of my life since.

I hope this has been helpful. Allez!

*pushes over*