If you are not a skier, and you wish to be a skier, my advice is to pay for lessons. If your friends tell you that they will teach you to ski, and if your friends are anything like my friends, do not believe them. It could turn out quite poorly, especially if those friends are about 12 years old. I speak from experience.

A bunch of kids were going to ski one night at what was then Ward Hill in Shrewsbury (now Ski Ward), and they invited me along. While 12-year old me was delighted to get the invitation (social invitations were a very rare occurrence for me), I was gravely concerned about the fact that I had never been skiing before. After all, skiing involves going downhill at a fast rate of speed and could perhaps be dangerous. Not to worry, I was assured – my friends would take it upon themselves to teach me how to ski. There was nothing to it, they said.

It all sounded pretty good. I had visions of slaloming down mountains and then relaxing with snow bunnies in the lodge by a fire. I counted my birthday money decided to take the plunge.
We got to the ski lodge and I rented equipment. The ski boots pinched my feet, but I was excited and carried my rented gear out to the base of the hill. I attached my boots to my skis and promptly fell over. Ooomph.

It was then that I learned that, when you are out of shape, it’s not very easy to get up from a prone position on flat ground with skis on. I struggled mightily, sweating and grunting, until my friends came to the rescue and restored me to a standing position.

These same friends then invited me to join them on the ski lift. Not to the bunny slope, mind you, but to the top of the hill. These people were supremely confident in their teaching abilities. I shuffled over and got on the lift without incident. It was a nice ride to the top, but I fell getting off of the lift (since you have to be able to ski at least a bit to get off of a ski lift). I was once again propped up, and made my way to the edge.

It was there that I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I may have been only 12, but my sense of fear was fully developed. Ward might only be a hill, but that slope looked very steep, and people were zipping by me and crisscrossing back and forth down the trail at what looked like dangerous speeds. I hesitated while I contemplated months in the hospital, but didn’t want to be labeled a chicken, and besides there did not appear to be an easier way back down the hill. I began my descent.

I promptly fell down. I got up (it’s a bit easier on a slope), started to ski some more, and made myself fall down again when things started going too fast for my brain. My friends weren’t really giving me much advice beyond shouting, “Turn!” and “Keep going!”

On my next fall, which was fairly spectacular, one of my skis escaped its binding and began to slide down the hill. I sat in the snow and helplessly watched that ski go all the way down the hill, past the lodge, and into the parking lot, where it came to rest under a car. These days, skis have little posts that stick out when the ski is detached from the binding that prevent this sort of behavior, but this was several years ago and I don’t think the hill was renting skis with the latest technology.

I sat in the snow and rage began to boil in my belly. I had spent my BIRTHDAY money on this, and it wasn’t even fun. I decided to be done, once and for all, with skiing. I stood up, took off my other ski, and began to walk down the hill. To their credit, my friends went to get the escaped ski and offered to help me to ski with one ski the rest of the way down, but I said no, thank you (it seemed like a great way to break my leg).

Ward Hill may seem small compared to the mountains in the north, but it took me a long time to walk down the side of the trail, using tiny little baby steps so that I wouldn’t slip. My friends gave up and, free of their responsibilities toward me, began actually skiing. They would shout encouragement at me as they swooshed past, but it only made me grit my teeth all the harder.

Finally, when I got down to the bottom of the hill I marched into the lodge and demanded my money back. I made enough of a ruckus that the manager (whom I remember as having a Sonny Bono haircut and mustache) came out to see me. I told him that I had only used his precious lift one time – and it was my birthday money, after all – and that he owed me a refund for my lift ticket.

That manager did his best over the next 10 minutes to keep my money and turn me into a skier (and likely returning customer). He offered me free food (which, given my appearance, was probably a good bet); he offered me free lift tickets for another day; he offered me free lessons (which in retrospect I wish I had taken), but I was having none of it. I was done with skiing forever, and I wanted that money back. I didn’t cry, I didn’t whine, I just set my jaw and continued insisting on a refund.

Finally, the man lost his temper. He turned to his cashier and shouted, “Give this kid his money back and throw him out of here!”

I was on the pay phone, calling my mother for a ride (they didn’t really throw me out) when the manager came back over. He felt badly about yelling, and he bought me a soda to say that he was sorry. Nice of him, I thought.

After that, I should have learned my lesson about friends teaching me to ski, but I didn’t. Nine years later, a different set of friends – people I should never have believed – talked me into a similar situation, except first they said, “Here, drink this.” But that, as they say, is a different story for a different time.