Friday, January 27, 2012

Ski lifts

A newspaper article this month about a young girl falling off a ski lift brought back a vivid memory of my first-ever chair lift ride. My parents had taken me to a commercial ski place somewhere in Maine.  They were skiing with me and they assured me that the chair-lift was safe, but I wasn't convinced. I was quite reluctant to get on that open seat that would carry me high in the air.  It looked scary.  Actually the chairs didn't go very high (compared to other chairlifts I'd ride in later years).  The snow below was so close that Daddy cautioned me to keep the tips of my skis up.  He was riding in a chair behind me; my mother was behind him; I was in a single chair in front of them, feeling very vulnerable and uncertain.  (How will I get off this thing?).  Ahead of me were some teenagers. One fellow was swinging his skis rather recklessly. That jiggled the whole cable and bounced our chairs, scaring me even more.  Daddy said these chairs were well attached to the cable and safe; nothing to worry about.  Suddenly the boy's ski tip caught in a snowdrift below and flipped him out of his chair, right down into the snow!  His empty chair bounced wildly about three times and then detached from the cable and fell into the snow below.  I sat frozen in fear for the rest of the ride, hardly daring to breathe.  This was NOT a good introduction to chair lifts!  I was much relieved to get off at the end, and I wished to return home to the more familiar rope tows.

In Danvers I grew up with rope tows. My father designed and built several ski-tows. Some were portable; some were fixed in place. The first one I remember was at the top of the hill at Locust Lawn, powered by an old Model T Ford. Daddy sometimes had to use a hand crank to get that engine turning. A long loop of ski-tow rope ran from the Ford all the way down the slope of the cow-pasture hill and back up again. The rope moved continuously, pulled forward by the rotation of the Ford's rear wheels.  Pulleys tied to trees or poles high in the air guided the rope down the slope; the return part of the loop slid back uphill on the snow surface.

Learning to grab that slippery moving rope for a ride uphill was tricky at first.  I recall awkward early attempts.  If I grabbed the rope too suddenly, I'd be jerked forward and thrown off balance, falling forward in the snow.  If my skis weren't straight in the track, I'd be pulled sideways and fall over.  If I didn't squeeze the rope tightly enough with my little mittens, the rope just slid through my hands and I didn't move forward at all.  It took practice and patience to learn the art of holding that rope with just the right pressure to move forward gracefully.

When I was very young, Daddy just did the work for me, skiing with his long legs and arms around mine and holding onto the rope tow in front of me.  That was easy and fun!   I didn't have to worry about holding onto that rope. Daddy's grip carried us both uphill.

As I grew older and gained confidence as a skier, using the rope-tow became second nature.  I'd ski quickly down the slope, turn, slide right up beside the moving tow, grab it and go right up the hill without any conscious effort.  Up and down, up and down for hours of skiing on this local Danvers hill.  We rarely skied anywhere else.  If there was snow in Danvers, we skied at Locust Lawn.

It was rare to go "upcountry" to ski at a real ski resort.  I did eventually overcome my fear of chairlifts and enjoy skiing on some bigger mountains.  But I still have wonderful memories of skiing in Danvers with local friends and that comfortable old rope tow.