Skiing: Forever Reborn

By John Fry

A skiing friend of many years recently died, and I found myself traveling to talk at his memorial service. It was not, and he was not, religious. The afternoon memorial took place in an art gallery in Woodstock, on the eastern edge of New York’s Catskill Mountains. Most of my skiing with my friend had been here, in the Catskills, forty and more years ago.

Before I set out on the drive north, I noticed that snow was forecast, so I stuck my ski gear in the car, just in case. . .

 For those who think that life’s end should be a solemn affair, the idea of planning a combined funeral and ski trip may seem frivolous, or outright disrespectful. But why should it be?

Following the memorial service I spent the night in a motel in the village of Fleischmann, not far from the home of Mitch Cubberly, inventor of the revolutionary Cubco binding 65 years ago, and of Highmount, a lost ski area. Both gone.    

In the morning I drove the dozen miles to the base of Belleayre Mountain. Six inches of fresh powder had fallen overnight. I was among the first lift riders. Like most skiers over the years, I can’t find words to describe what happened next . . . two hours of ineffable, raw pleasure, cruising in snow lying light as feathers on a groomed base. Turns came effortlessly, the skis silent as they sliced the down-like snow.

It wasn’t the day’s only satisfaction. I caught a chair ride with an eight-year-old girl, geared for a giant slalom race. On the slope under the lift, blue and red poles were set. Volunteer gatekeepers were in position.

“What’s the race?” I asked. “A mini-World Cup.” she murmured. Dreams of Michaela Schiffren danced under the little helmet. But this petite racer had another concern. Her bib number was ‘7’, and already bib number 1 was on the course. “When we unload,” I urged her, “head straight for the starting gate. Don’t worry. You’ll make it!” She did.

That Sunday I found myself celebrating my friend’s life more than mourning his death. I watched as parents herded their kids, issuing the ages-old warning not to speed out of control. On stubby skis and snowboards they struggled or soared. All over the mountain children and parents exulted in the brilliance of sunlight and pristine whiteness. Their shouts of happiness rang across the slopes.

Skiing was alive and well, recycling its history, the conqueror of time otherwise wasted.

My friend had died. The sport, which he loved, lives on. . . and on.

-- John Fry


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