Sunday, February 07, 2010

En Eric Progressed

Wherein I shamelessly rip off Brit.

As recently discussed, boys are different than girls. In case that isn't already too great a leap into the screamingly obvious, I am going to go out on another speak-truth-to-academics limb:

Sons are different than daughters.

Different in the sense that boys are to paper airplanes as girls are to the Space Shuttle.

Different in the sense that, unlike the father-daughter relationship, fathers and sons are bound, to some degree, to be competitive. Sons inevitably compare their strength and agility against their dads', a comparison that goes both ways, and shifts inexorably in one direction.

Skiing is, despite the best efforts of parasitic lawyers, one of the last widespread activities that carries largely unmitigated risk. Yes, bindings are better; yes, more people wear helmets. But the signs at lift ticket windows are unambiguous: this activity is inherently risky, and if you get carried off the hill, no matter your state of disrepair, it is all on you.

I suppose I am a better skier than most, but not nearly as good as many. So as Eric (aka Man Child) first started skiing a couple winters ago, I had no trouble staying just ahead of him. Particularly after his fourth time out, when, given his singular lack of inadequate self esteem, he, without warning, pointed his skis straight down a double-diamond run, plummeting towards a knobbish rise a hundred yards down, which served as a satisfactory launching ramp.

Over which he flew, then behind which he disappeared. Old and wise enough to avoid participating, I stood and watched all this, with two thoughts evenly wrestling for prominence: "I hope he is alright." "His mom is going to kill me."

It took me a good five minutes to edge my way down to where I could see the end of his plummet. In the crash he had shed everything save his last name. Much to my relief, there was a thumbs up and a muffled "I'm good, Dad" from the heap of snow just past the trail made up of every bit of skiing paraphernalia he owned. From that experience he ratcheted his estimation of his skiing skills down a couple largish notches, taking to heart my suggestion that to ski in control is the most important thing. Thereafter, I was easily — while being careful to avoid making it too obvious — able to beat him to the bottom of a run.

Not a month later, I took MC and several of his friends skiing. After a couple warm-up runs on the lower mountain, we went to the top. We were in cloud the last half of the ride up, and on arrival learned we were the last ones, because they were closing the upper mountain due to deteriorating weather.

There we stood, in cloud and driving snow, alone. As mentioned, I am a better than average skier, but singularly inexperienced in the art of powder skiing. The boys were at least as impoverished in this regard.

I expect most girls would have gone right back to the lift and cadged a ride back to the bottom. Not only would it have occurred to them in the first place, the lack of manliness in the second would simply not register.

Instead, off we went, promptly fell, and just as promptly discovered how incredibly difficult it is to stand up again when your arm goes in the snow up to your shoulder without meeting anything more substantial than a wish to push off of.

And once you do stand up, you promptly fall over again because we were in a whiteout.

I have heard the term, but words can scarcely suffice. Everything is exactly the same color; there is no telling ground from sky. Visibility was down to 30 feet. The reason standing was so quickly followed by falling was the combination of slope we couldn't see and even less hint of a horizon made it impossible to ascertain vertical. It is a very odd combination of having all the coordination of a staggering drunk while being completely lucid. If we went too far to the right side of the run — a matter of fifty yards in spots, we could topple over an edge we couldn't see before knowing it was there. With the ends of the known world less than a dozen yards away, we could easily become separated.

Of such circumstances headlines are sometimes made.

From such circumstances, boys learn valuable lessons. Forming a plan. Another huge chunk of mountain was on the left side of the run, so we would bear left until we felt a ridge we could not see, and then follow the base of the ridge line to the bottom. Working as a team. Getting up again in deep snow is much easier with someone else. How important it is to have some general sense of direction. Staying calm under pressure.

Which was certainly much easier for them as teenage boys, who are primarily ABDANF*, with their sense of mortality attenuated to invisibility, than for me.

Took just over an hour to negotiate what we would have done in about three minutes otherwise.

On our third time out this season we decided to go night skiing, the first time for both of us. Our ski resort, Alyeska, is pretty small-time: the entire population within reasonable driving distance scarcely exceeds 250,000. The lift up to the top of the night runs is a rickety appearing thing: two seats, no restraining bar, with occasionally attention grabbing gaps to terra firma. The ride up was otherworldly. A just rising half moon and a spray of stars overhead, mountains as ghostly arena in purest black and white, and the moon-silvered Pacific Ocean off our right shoulder. Between lift towers the ride is silent and smooth, making it seem almost as if we were floating up.

Over the last year, Eric has grown six inches and gained a voice almost impossibly deep. In an evolution fueled by vanished carloads of food, he is not quite a man, and certainly no longer a child.

On our first run, I let him open a lead of 50 or so yards, expecting to close the gap at will. That way I can ski as fast as I want, without making too much of the fact.

Not this time. I found I had nothing for it. Going right to the limits of control, and even a couple times slightly beyond, the gap only increased.

When we got to the bottom, I slid to a stop next to him, and stuck out my hand. "Congratulations, son."

He was puzzled. "What for?"

"For well and truly beating me. This is the first time. It won't be the last."



My wife's term for masculinity in all its risk taking glory: All B@lls, D!ck and No Forehead


Blogger erp said...

Isn't it a great feeling!

February 07, 2010 6:07 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Great post, Skip (though not sure in what sense you ripped me off?). But it's a sad day when you can beat your Dad at things.

Consolingly, I still can't beat mine at chess.

February 08, 2010 4:52 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Yes, it is.


I ripped off A Charlotte's Progress; both the title and the central idea.

I saw it as a bittersweet day. Clearly, no Dad wants a son so weak or inept that he can't beat Dad in his dotage. Conversely, while I knew (as we all do) this day would come, passing the mantle gave me real pause.

As for chess, I can't beat my dog.

February 08, 2010 5:04 AM  
Blogger Gaw said...

Simply wonderful. Being a Dad of two boys a few years younger than your own I found it quite moving and, in a way, exciting too.

February 08, 2010 6:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home