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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz

Last Run

Updated: May 20

I’ll just say it up front. I am not a downhill skier. I have a white-knuckle fear of descending from heights at high speeds.

My kids, Bryan and Karla, loved skiing from a young age. Their Aunt Bertie gave them skis for Christmas. She took them to a bunny hill in Michigan and taught them the basics. Over the years, they joined the high school ski club and skied mountain slopes with their dad. They made downhill skiing look so easy.

My friends and family were always urging me to try it. I was running out of excuses. It wasn't that I lacked coordination for the sport. A lot of non-athletic people enjoy skiing. Maybe I lacked the gene that makes people want to conquer a mountain just because it is there. Back then, my fear of skiing was not fully conscious. At least not to the point of admitting it to anyone.

So, I went along with family and friends to Timber Ridge Ski Resort on a pleasantly warm, slushy day in early March. Not the best ski conditions, but typical for that time of year, I was told. “The slopes will be slow,” I heard someone complain. That news comforted me. They recommended I sign up for the ski lesson and join them afterward.

As far as I was concerned, the first technique I learned in my class was sufficient. It was the snowplow. (This technique is equivalent to keeping your foot jammed on the brake the entire way down a steep road.) At the end of my hour the instructor must have thought I wouldn’t do too much damage in that unremitting position. He passed me. What could go wrong?

My companions and I agreed to ski at different paces. I had my technique for getting down the hill, and they had theirs. I didn’t mind the solitude of my slow descent. Sometimes I saw them whizz by. I was determined to get better each time I came down, and I’d have to say by late afternoon I had dang-near perfected the snowplow. I was tired and delighted when we all congregated at the bottom of the hill just as the sun dropped below the tree line. Looking back, I knew I should have taken off my skis and called it a day. But they all wanted to do one last run. Reluctantly, I let "group think" overrule my intuition.

While we rode the chair lift the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping. It was beautiful. I commented on the stunning contrast of the shiny strip of snow down the center of the hill next to the brown earth of the spring thaw along each side. A forest of dark evergreens framed the picture. The snow seemed to be glass, sparkling pink in the setting sun.

As I paused at the top to gather my courage, I noticed there really was a new glaze on the surface of the slope. The others swooshed ahead while I pulled the tips of my skis together and began my laborious descent. It was icier than I had thought. And I started picking up speed, despite my efforts to slow down.

When I got halfway down the hill, I was aghast to learn that my skis had a mind of their own. Without warning, they began veering to the left. I had not known that such a turn was even possible. My mind did the geometry of the new course they were taking, and to my horror I realized I was headed directly toward a big mud pit beyond the snow. I tried to will them back to my original course, but it had no effect. Whatsoever. One must understand that while my brain seemed to have an inexplicable slow-motion clarity, in real time this was all happening faster than the speed of sound. I don’t think my scream ever caught up to my ears.

Only one solution flashed through my mind. That was to sit. It had always stopped me in my tracks before. But this time it did not. The fabric of my snow suit was designed to repel ice, and I skidded on my back with alarming momentum. When I hit the mire beyond the snow corridor, the impact sent mud up the insides of my pant legs and even under my ski jacket.

I didn’t say a word. With the scant dignity of a defeated mud wrestler, I picked myself up, tucked my skis under my arm, and stomped down the hillside in my big, clumsy, rented boots. A collective gasp followed me as I made my way through the group at the bottom of the slope.

That was the last time I ever attached downhill skis to my feet. I’d come to my senses about that sport and maybe even learned something about listening to my own intuition. The last run gifted me with a metaphor about life. It is often in the mud pit where consciousness comes.

~K L Kurtz

Timber Ridge Ski Resort in Gobles, MI


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