Braving The Rocket  on a quest for a new view

A reader describes her journey to a mountain’s highest peak and what she got out of the long trip to the top

Over the past six years since I have resumed skiing after a 37-year gap, I have discovered that at Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride being older is no excuse for refusing to take on new challenges. Each year, I somehow find myself in situations where I begin to feel, and in many cases behave, like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

The Cowardly Lion: “All right, I’ll go in there….I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”

The Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow: “What’s that?”

The Cowardly Lion: “Talk me out of it!”

Today I once again found myself in this position. I woke up and decided I wanted to order a new muscular-skeletal system on which to hang my skin. My hip hurt, the foot that had not been in my orthopedic boot for three weeks hurt, and my spine felt as if it should have someone unfurl it like a flag. But undeterred, and despite the lack of sun and the very cold temperatures, I knew I needed to get outdoors and get some fresh air and exercise ­— and what better place to do both than at Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride?

So my husband and I packed up our gear, put on warm ski wear, and headed up to our favorite mountain. We schlepped on into the lodge, got our tickets, and began the process of putting on our boots. Now for those of you who don’t know me, although I’m pretty active, I’m not exactly reed thin anymore nor am I a fitness fanatic. My motto is: If it’s not fun — “it” being exercise — I’m not going to do it. As a result, I have a few extra pounds which refuse to budge despite eating less and being more active than I was in my prime. Therefore putting on my boots tends to be more difficult as the years go by and should be counted as aerobic exercise for folks like me.

Undeterred after that strenuous task was completed, it was time to leave the lobby and head for the slopes. I was within moments of a clean escape, when Cathy, both a friend, neighbor, and employee of Crotched Mountain, asked, “Deb, have you done Jupiter’s Storm yet?” To which I replied, “Nope, I haven’t even been on The Rocket.” Cathy found my reply quite amusing and always gives me credit for far more courage and ability than I have — and I love that about Cathy; but in this case I began to go into my Cowardly Lion mode. You know the part — where I wanted her to talk me out of going to the summit on this new high speed lift. Cathy was not about to let me get away with the multitude of excuses spewing out of my mouth. I heard how wonderful the conditions were, how The Rocket slowed at the top and would gently push me if I was a bit slow moving out of the way. When I half kiddingly asked Cathy if she had ski patrol duty today should I need assistance, I was told not to worry as another wonderful Francestown resident had my back should I, like the Cowardly Lion, “not come out alive.”

I realize that as Bette Davis said, “Old Age is not for sissies.” And, as I’m sure you have guessed by now, I had really hoped that I might avoid The Rocket for the entire season because I am a big sissy despite my advanced age. But, it wasn’t meant to be. On the ride up the slopes on the chairlift on the West side of the mountain, I made the decision to screw up my courage and ski on over to The Rocket. Once there it was either exhaust myself trying to schuss my way back over to Super Nova or bite the bullet and overcome my aversion to this new lift by taking it up to the summit. Before I started over analyzing my options, I plunked on the chair and poof I was up, up, up and away to the summit and off the lift before I even knew what hit me.

As most of you true skiers know, once dumped off The Rocket, there are a variety of trails from which to choose to get to the bottom. But because I had been so focused on my ride on The Rocket, it had completely overshadowed the part about how to get back down to the base. I had no clue who I might ask to help me solve this conundrum — until, like angels from heaven, I heard the wonderful voices of the rest of my Crotched Mountain Family sing out my name. Right there on the summit stood John, Rose, Carol, and Chris — all my most excellent ski buddies who have helped me increase my skills and overcome my fears of each new challenge as I’ve learned to ski our crotchety old mountain. I was so happy, my autonomic nervous system began to work again and the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding released; and I began to exhale, if only for a short while because I still had to take the plunge. After a quick conference, my ski buddies chose a strategy to help me do just that. And you know what, they succeeded and as a result so did I.

On my first trip down from the summit, my form wasn’t pretty but I lived. On my four successive runs, I not only mastered The Rocket but my fear of the new summit. And when I went back into the Lodge beaming, and told my favorite employees at Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride what I did, they were as happy for me as I was for myself.

What is the moral of this story and what did I learn from this new experience? That sometimes it’s better to have friends who are as wonderful as Christopher Robin was to Pooh when he told that pudgy teddy bear, “Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Which, if you think about it, is pretty darn good advice no matter what your age!

Deb McGrath lives in Francestown.

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