By Greg Clark, January 16, 1937
“No more fooling,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ve got to take up skiing. It’s the rage.”
“It came,” I regretted, “just ten years too late for us.”
“Nonsense,” cried Jim. “There’s thousands of men our age skiing.”
“They started when they were younger,” I countered.
“It’s as easy as easy,” Jim informed me. There is no trick in it. You keep thinking of skiing as jumping off high ski jumps. That isn’t skiing, any more than high fancy diving is swimming. Skiing is like sailing. Or swimming. Nine-tenths of all skiing is just floating along over lovely levels and slopes, and one-tenth of it is sliding down pleasant hills with a sense of grace and speed that no other sport can give.”
“It looks the clumsiest sport I ever saw,” I protested. “Any I’ve ever seen skiing were either waddling or sprawling. In fact, outside the movies, I may say I have never to my knowledge seen a skier standing up.”
“It goes to show you,” groaned Jim, “just what prejudice can do to a man. We’ve had a couple of unfortunate experiences on skis. That settles it, as far as you are concerned.”
“It sure does,” I confirmed. “I’m not one of those who have to eat a whole egg to know it’s bad. Any game that makes me look and feel like a fool, that bumps me and bruises me and robs me of all my self-control isn’t going to get a second chance at me.”
“I know you are not a bigoted man,” said Jim, “so that is why I now ask you to keep an open mind in this matter and consider a few more points.”
“My mind,” I agreed, “is slightly ajar, but only slightly.”
“Skiing,” said Jim, “has come to stay. It is not a fad. It is as natural born a Canadian sport as it is possible to conceive.”
“It was born in Norway,” I corrected, “as a quick way for coming down a mountain. The Norwegians have never yet invented as quick a way for going back up the mountain.”
“Canadians, you admit,” said Jim, “are an outdoor people. They have more outdoors than most countries. Millions of square miles of Canada are nothing but outdoors. Good for nothing else forever.”
“Hence,” I agreed, “three hundred million dollars’ worth of tourists per annum.”
“Why leave it to the tourists?” asked Jim. “Now, in summer, we all go to summer cottages or camping. We fish and boat and swim. We are an outdoor people. But come winter, we hole up, like bears. Why? Because, except for skating, snowshoeing and tobogganing, there is nothing outdoors in winter to attract us.”
“I like holing up,” I stated. “Beside a bright fire.”
“Skating and tobogganing,” went on Jim, are restricted by the amount of clear ice and the hills available. Snowshoeing is a dreary business of picking them up and setting them down. But now comes skiing.”
“Hooray, slither, thud,” said I.
“Once You Get the Hang of It”
“Skiing, once you get the hang of it,” said Jimmie, “is the most fascinating, alluring, glorious sport there is. Unlike golf and tennis, it can be enjoyed by young and old. You can go as far as you like with it. Like fishing. You can restrict yourself to just floating around near home, enjoying the simple pleasure of sailing over the bright snow, amid the woods and fields. Or you can go as far as you like into the countless intricacies of the sport, learning to go with speed, with ever increasing style, over hills, over jumps, rushing at wind speed through forest aisles, as fully in control of your graceful movements as though you were walking, and all the time in the glorious pure winter air.”
“It costs money,” I pointed out.
“It is one of the few sports,” replied Jim, “that costs no more than the initial outlay. If you play golf, after you’ve bought your golf clubs you have to pay fees forever. If you ski, you just run outside the city and start skiing. It costs no more than walking.”
“There’ll be some catch in it,” I argued. “Or if there isn’t, somebody will soon put one in it.”
“They can’t,” said Jim. “Right now, all around the city for miles and miles there are the loveliest ski trails winding over the countryside, and what do they cost? Nothing. Because they are simply the trails left by others who have gone ahead. You just climb out of your car, find good trail clearly defined where plenty of other skiers have gone, and follow. Where the many have gone is the finest country, the best slopes, the prettiest scenes.”
“It sounds,” I said, “a little too good to be true.”
“All the best things in life do,” said Jim.
Thus, reluctantly, Jim persuaded me to go and shop around the ski stores with him. There were outfits from $8 up. But there were also boots alone that cost $28, and skis alone that went to fifty dollars. And of all the garments, gadgets and accessories to be seen in these ski stores, only a modern motor car emporium could show any greater diversity.
We ended up by buying $10 skis, and $4 poles; boots at $7, and three dollars’ worth of wax, klister, blister and blung or some such names, meaning wax for wet snow, medium snow and dry snow.
One thing about skiing, once you let it take hold of you, even by the tips of your fingers, it gets a grip that is worse than strong drink. Before Jim and I got home, we had bought ski pants and ski spats, ski coats and ski neck scarves, ski belts and ski lunch bags, ski garters and ski socks; ski berets and ski goggles; in fact, both of us had to leave our purchases out in the car in the garage until our families went to the movies after dinner.
To Live Up to Costumes
Part of any sport is the costume. The big thing, with thousands of horse addicts, for example, is the smart riding togs, in which they can drape themselves gracefully around fences and fashionable barnyards. Shooting and fishing call for a certain style, even if it is no style. Skiing certainly has costume. Jim and I dressed up in our new outfits and we visited together. These clothes give you a rugged feeling a sort of wide-legged, heavy-footed, glint-eyed Scandinavian feeling.
Saturday noon, in a keen and platinum-skied weather, we sortied out and joined the northward parade, on all highways, of cars bristling with skis. Less than an hour’s run north, we joined one of the numerous side road processions of cars seeking the white open spaces. And on a hill top, of pine and cedar, dark against the glorious white, we parked in the ditch along with dozens of other cars. And out over the wholesome world, traced with snake fences and etched woods, we could see hundreds of skiers, like dancers on damask….
“To-day,” said Jim. “we’ll try no hills. No fancy steps at all. Nothing but elementary straight sliding on the level.”
“We’ll have to live up to these clothes a bit,” I reminded him.
On the running-board, we sat to adjust the heavy clever harness of the skis.
“Will we be warm enough?” I asked, the keen stinging wind rattling spumey snow against us.
“As soon as we get going, we’ll warm,” said Jim.
And then we stood up, and started with slow, easy skids of the skis, to proceed to the sloping field edge, and enter on that far-flung dance of winter. It was, as Jim said, as easy as easy. No steep slopes, but slow rolling fields, down which it was a curious thrill to propel ourselves with ski poles and up which it was no trick at all to climb.
“It is like sailing,” I shouted to Jim, as we drifted from one fair field to another.
“Wind in the face,” cried Jim, “crisp snow under foot, blood tingling …”
“It’s warm,” I confessed.
“I was just thinking,” admitted Jim, veering nearer me, “we put on a little too much clothing. I often marveled at those ski costumes in the store, so flimsy.”
But we rested frequently and took it easy and cooled off wherever we felt like it. And presently, even the far-off hilltop where we had left our car dropped from sight behind the rolling hills of York county.
On fences, we saw coats and jackets hung. Haversacks and scarves and even caps were suspended from fence posts, such is the comradeship of the ski world, nobody fears to leave their possessions about.
“If I could take off this jacket,” I told Jim. “I could enjoy it a lot better.”
“Me, too,” agreed Jim, sliding for a little piney copse where against the dark green shone the colors of sundry garments where fellow skiers had hung them.
With jackets off, we took a new lease of life. A valley sloped away from the little copse, and into the valley ran a regular highway of ski tracks. Into the valley slid Jim and I, and amongst beautiful trees, we guided our points, slow slopes being followed by short steep climbs, and valleys branching off valleys, and all along the way we found garments and lunch bags suspended from the branches. And the gayer we went, the more we shed, Jim hanging up on one small cedar tree his cap, scarf, mitts and belt, so flushed and tingled were we with this rejoicing little valley.
All Hills Are Up
A little later, at the top of one of the steep short climbs, I shed my outer integuments, and Jim even removed his shirt.
“My underwear is perfectly respectable,” he retorted to my shocked glare. So I took off my shirt, too, and we turned into a more enticing valley than any we had yet seen, while from before and behind came little volleying parties and doubles and singles of skiers, all with such look of pleasure on their bright faces, it was like being a boy again.
But presently, even bereft of all extra garments, we began to tire.
“Jim,” I said, resting against a tree that fortunately presented itself, “we shouldn’t take it too hard or too far the first time. I bet we’ll ache to-morrow.”
“We can turn back any time,” agreed Jim, puffing.
So after a little rest, we turned and headed back through the valleys.
But, imperceptibly to the human eye, especially the human eye on skis, this valley sloped just the least little bit. And by the time we came out into the next valley, we were pretty weary.
“Tchah,” said Jimmie, as we rested.
“Pffffff,” I agreed.
We started up the next valley. It too had a gentle, an almost imperceptible, slope. Valley led into valley, like the joints of a clothes dryer. Sometimes we came to a fork in the valley, but I left the choice of the fork to Jimmie, who is taller and therefore can see farther.
In all the valleys were these glittering trails of ski tracks, and along all the trees were the garments shed.
“Jim,” I said, “we ought to be coming to that little cedar with our shirts on it.”
“Next bend, I think,” said Jim.
“Funny how chilly it is,” I remarked, “when you stop.”
“Funny how much oftener you stop going than coming,” said Jim.
But we did not come to the little cedar tree, and the next bend was a valley full of large gray boulders through which the trail led windingly.
“We certainly,” I declared, “did not come down this valley.”
But rather than go back and correct our bearings, Jim decided it would be easier if we climbed out of the little valley on to the level and struck overland for the right one.
We found one valley, and two valleys, cutting overland, but neither of them did we recognize. We then found a deep valley and then another shallow one. They were full of skiers both coming and going, who could not, even when we halted them, tell us if they had noticed on a small cedar tree a blue shirt and a green shirt and sundry caps, scarves and fancy woollen belts.
But nobody had. So I borrowed a pair of gloves off a tree, but Jimmie wouldn’t. And we went up valleys and across fields and down valleys, asking everybody if they had seen a cedar tree with blue shirts and green shirts on it.
So we abandoned the search and headed over hill and dale for what Jimmie said was the direction of our car. And we came at last to a side road where a skiing party took us into their car and drove us at dark to the highway, where, we were able to hire a taxi cab with blankets and go finding our own car.
“We still have our skis,” said Jim, as deeply wound up in rugs and cloth things Jim found under the back seat, we headed for home.
“And our pants,” I added gratefully.
The first lesson in skiing,” said Jim, don’t wear too much clothing.”
“And the second lesson,” said I, “is, all hills are up.”