Father’s memory helps overcome fear

My father tried so hard to turn me into a snow bunny. When I was 5, he took me to the top of the “green” (easy) trail at Red Jacket Ski Club in Eden.

I peered over the side, and then into his toothy grin. “Remember, it’s just pizza and french fries,” he said. (What he meant was my positioning: “pizza” was pointing the tips of my skis toward one another, resembling a pizza slice; “french fries” was making them parallel to one another.)

And away we went!

I didn’t get five seconds downward until I lost total control and ran straight into the forest – into a tree – that bordered the sides of the hill. I hurt my neck fairly badly and had to be brought down on a red emergency sled the rest of the way.

“Good thing you veered left,” said one of my father’s friends. I was in the lodge, in front of the fireplace, with an ice pack on my neck, and a hot chocolate in my hand. “If you went straight, you would’ve gone right over that waterfall.”

This was that day I learned about the 50-foot waterfall at the bottom of the trail. It was cushioned with a bit of forest. But if a small enough person skied past the trees, s/he could go over the edge. After that, no matter how many pizzas and fries people tried to coax me with, I wouldn’t budge; I was too afraid.

I’ve thought about skiing over the years. Mark, my college boyfriend, tried taking me snowboarding. But I couldn’t get over my fear of heights. What if I lost control? What if I ran into a tree? People die all the time skiing into trees …

Last weekend, one of my close friends Joe (the 24-year-old, Jewish accountant, whom I’ve mentioned in previous columns) took me to Killington, Vt. One of his college buddies has a cabin in the woods and opened it up to friends.

I was reluctant at first. “I may just watch from the lodge,” I said. I told him about my fear.

He was unfazed. “I’ll get you down the hill,” he said.

It was 3 degrees the morning we arrived at the resort. It looked like a trillion glistening diamonds carpeting the ground; the mountain was pure ice.

I fell about 10 times on the bunny hill.

“Remember, pizza!” Joe called each time I tumbled. I was ready to strangle him with my pole. But after five runs, I finally made it down without falling. “You’re ready for a green,” he decided.

My skin went sallow. A green in Eden is quite different than a green in Vermont; the resort on Killington Peak is the largest in the Eastern United States. I told him I wasn’t ready. But my excuses didn’t work. Before I knew it, we were on a lift upward.

When I peered over the edge, familiar emotions twisted my stomach into knots: terror, panic. At the same time, I was in awe – the world looked so beautiful from such great heights: the rippling landscape, the frosted pines, and the cottony clouds. The azure sky reminded me of a photo album my father had shown me when I was little. It was filled solely with cloud photographs. He’d taken them when he was my age, while he was skiing in France.

The memory pushed me over the edge. It picked me up when I fell. It brought me back to the top of the mountain, again and again and again.

Joe stayed with me for eight hours that day. I must have fallen at least fifty times. My muscles were scalding by the time we got back to the cabin that night. There was a plum-colored bruise the size of my hand on my right hip.

“Ready for day two?” Joe asked before bed.

I smiled. “Totally,” I said.

Jan. 11 was my father’s birthday; Jan. 14 was the six-year anniversary of his death. I initially thought that becoming a snow bunny was my gift to him. But really, it was overcoming my fear that I dedicate in his memory.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to

editorial@observertoday.com

or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com