It’s time to rescue skiing from the rich

It took an inheritance. That’s about what it costs to go skiing these days. When Sharon’s father passed away she donated her small cash…

It took an inheritance. That’s about what it costs to go skiing these days. When Sharon’s father passed away she donated her small cash inheritance to a ski vacation for our entire family.

Whistler was out of the question. This once magnificent ski-hill is now reserved for the very, very rich, and even they complain about the cheesy, gouging atmosphere.

We compromised on the ‘working-class’ slopes of Mount Washington on Vancouver Island. The lift tickets are a lot less than Whistler’s $70 a day.

Still, add on a place to stay, parking, travel, meals, and gear rental costs for the children; then multiply that by the two of us, our two children, one still with a spouse, and their two children each, and you’re suddenly into thousands of dollars.

Skiing is not for the faint of heart.

After only a few minutes at the lodge, I realized I was walking among unimaginable sums of money.

What a rich, fat culture we are, I thought as a laughing, raven-haired beauty slid by, wearing megabucks worth of gear and clothing.

The money at this place could rebuild Afghanistan.

Due to a knee replacement I no longer downhill, so sighing and remembering past glories I repaired to the cross-country lodge.

We had a good run on a blue trail. Between my bad legs, poor health and weight, I’m no wonder on skis. Never was, although I’ve thumped my way around the slopes for more than 30 years.

When we racked our skis for lunch break I noticed we were the only three-pin skis at the lodge, and I suddenly decided, after all these years, “maybe I should take a lesson.”

Mostly because they had a special on lessons and ski rentals with the new-style boots and bindings, which cost only a little more than the criminally expensive $18.75 (plus taxes) pass to use the trails.

I soon found the vivacious instructor, who gaped contemptuously at my low-cut leather boots and pin bindings as if I’d just stepped in a cow paddy.

It seems I shouldn’t even be using them on the trails any more because they’re wider than the new-style tracks laid down.

After that lecture, she asked whether I was interested in classic, skating, or back-country skiing.

I thought I’d been doing all three for the last 35 years.

“You can’t do that!” She exclaimed, before delivering a crash course on gear and skiing techniques.

Apparently, I needed a minimum $1,500 worth of skis and bindings for entry level gear to all three variations.

I told her this would have been news to a Norwegian potato farmer named Sondre Norheim.

Norheim was a lousy farmer but a great skier, and along with his fellow fun-loving farmers of the Telemark region in the mid-1800s, took skiing to a new level, creating both slalom-style downhilling with Christiania turns and Telemark-style Nordic ski racing.

He once skied for three days to Christiana (as Oslo was then called), won the local race, blowing everyone away on the hill, and then skied home.

He did it all on hand-whittled wooden skis with leather bindings.

In fact, skiing was mostly accomplished with whittled wood and leather for close to 5,000 years according to cave paintings and carbon datings.

In the early days, it must have been something else.

Nowadays, we might smile at the ancient, broad, wooden skis with cable bindings on ski-lodge walls, but those skis were good enough for the legendary Norwegian ski patrols of the Second World War.

These rebel “insurgents” would ski through the coldest winters and suddenly swoop out of the mountains on moonless nights and blow up trains or ambush Nazi patrols on roads.

If chased, they’d disappear, or lead the hapless Nazis soldiers far back into the hills, where they’d suddenly turn on their pursuers and slaughter the exhausted troops.

Like I said, I’m a hardcore amateur, but I’ve skied the sheer ice of Thunder Bay, and come away with a merely dislocated shoulder, dined out on stories of sharing a trail with a cow moose at Watson Lake, traversed almost all the great ski hills of the west coast, and skied my farm after every snow.

I loved skiing at night in Whitehorse where a librarian friend drove me to the slopes after work.

She would disappear like a bat out of hell up the tough runs while I slugged along the less terrifying trails.

Every once in a while she’d come back to make sure I hadn’t died from a stroke or exhaustion.

I’d sweat so much my hair turned into Rastafarian icicles in the sub-zero cold, and I tinkled as I skied.

I remember the homemade toboggans and sleds of my childhood. What a lot of work they were, making them, dragging them up the hills, and then nearly killing ourselves on the way down.

It was a riot.

Perhaps my greatest ‘sledding moment’ occurred in my 30s.

After an ice storm I couldn’t walk down the steep hill to my home.

Frustrated, I ripped off the plastic bag holding the record I’d bought earlier, and with record cradled in my lap went screaming at about 110 kilometres and hour down the road past all the shocked kids with their fancy sleds, and floated right into my driveway.

Nowadays, people pay to sit in an inner tube, clip onto pulleys, and are dragged up the hill, where they’re positioned by a guide above a run with ‘safety-banked’ sides and scattered hay to slow the tube at the bottom.

The first couple of tubes were fun, but it soon grew boring. It was just safe, patterned technology, a way to squander money on a fake thrill.

You know, I might take a pass on those three expensive varieties of cross-country skis, and stick with my old, clunky boards and sneaker-style boots.

Hell, I might even whittle myself a pair of wooden skis this winter, and adventure out into the real world of the slopes.

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