One of the things that I have most wanted to experience since living in Holland is ‘Wintersport’. The Dutch (and most Europeans, actually) are crazy about skiing and snowboarding. Holland, however, is pretty much devoid of any hills. In fact, most of the place is actually below sea level. That doesn’t make for great ski conditions so the Dutch–whose work to vacation ratio seems close to 1:1–often take about a week off during the winter months and drive anywhere from 8-14 hours to some snow paradise in the mountains of Austria, France or Italy where they ski, drink, eat, and generally lounge around. Obviously, I wanted in on this tradition. And while I do not purport to be an expert snowboarder or even above average, I am confident in my modest boarding skills and was very excited at the chance to test them out in the Austrian Alps.
Excited but realistic, I was also a little nervous to be on a real mountain for the first time. The ski resorts of upstate New York and central Pennsylvania that I learned on max out around 2,000 feet high. A couple weeks ago I rode a chair lift up a mountain to about 6,000 feet. The snowboarding wasn’t much different than what I was used to. The chair lifts were even easier to manage via smaller inclines and a slow down mechanism just before exit. What was NOT easier to manage was the so called, T-bar lift. It is, as the name suggests, shaped like a T but an upside-down one; so more like an anchor, really. If you have ever experienced this particular method of moving from the bottom of a ski slope to the top of it, you know that it requires a certain level of coordination. While this is not a trait that I lack completely, it is probably safe to say that it wouldn’t be in my top 5.
In my defense, these things are pretty tricky for snowboarders. Skiers essentially just sit down on it with their skis pointing up the hill. Easy enough. A snowboarder can’t do this because the board will be perpendicular to the hill and that just won’t work. A boarder has to stand sideways and out of the way, then grab the bar as it’s moving by and thrust it between the legs so that it hooks the front leg and initiates the drag up the hill. Shockingly (or not), I couldn’t really picture this when my friends (both skiers) tried to explain it to me and since it was so late in the season, there weren’t many people around and therefore no snowboarders that I could watch as an example. What I took from the directions was ‘grab it and stick it between your legs’. Hmm…ok, I’ll try that.
So I take my place, off to the side, board pointed up the hill. I brace myself and let two lifts pass in preparation. As ready as I’ll ever be I decide the next one will be mine. It approaches. I grab it. Already something unexpected. These things have a lot of slack when you grab them–something I could have figured out for myself if I had thought this whole thing through. But I didn’t, and it surprised me. More importantly, it threw off my already delicate balance causing me to sort of lunge forward, but not fall. Determined, I hung on and tried to carry out part two of my instructions: stick it between your legs. To do this I had to lean down some and this, combined with my already forward-shifted center of balance, somehow landed me in an awkward, sideways, catcher’s squat desperately clinging to this bar that was now dragging me up a snowy mountain. This position really wasn’t sustainable because there was no way to keep my board pointing straight up the hill in my compromised state. Once my board drifted far enough towards perpendicular, my front edge stuck in the snow causing this whole uncoordinated maneuver to topple over completely. Still I refused to relinquish my grip on the bar and I was now being dragged over the snow face down, board up. At one point I managed to look up the hill and assess how far I had to go and I actually decided “it’s not that far, I’ll just go the rest of the way like this.”
Apparently, God himself was sick of watching this fiasco because a well-placed bump was all it took to finally knock me from this contraption once and for all. I was now sprawled out in the middle of this lift path about equidistant from the bottom and top. I made my way back down and tried the whole thing over again. This time, after a bit more explanation and a quick demo, I managed to ride all the way to the top standing up, and with no incident. The most unfortunate part of this whole thing was that my friends were too shocked and busy with hysterical laughter to dig a camera or phone out of the pocket of their ski jackets. There is, therefore no photographic or video evidence that this ever happened. The experience lives on through the story alone, as verified by The Most Interesting Man in the World aka the Dos Equis guy: