I learned to ski -- actually, "learned" is probably too strong a word -- when I was 15. My high school friend Lenny, who knew how to ski, drove a few of us over to Great Gorge, took us to the top of the mountain, and said, "Just do what I do."
So we pointed our skis downhill, pushed off, and hoped for the best. I'm not sure if I ever remember anything as exhilarating as that run -- flying down the slope with teenage bravado but with no idea how to turn or even slow down, and then crumpling in a laughing heap just short of the cyclone fence at the bottom.
I don't enjoy falling quite as much now, with my non-teenage limbs, as I did then, but there's one thing I have to admit: I still love skiing in the fast lane.
In most other arenas, I'm a responsible, law-abiding citizen. I obey the speed limit. Well, "obey" may be too strong a word, but at least I come closer than most. I wait my turn at four-way intersections. But when it comes to skiing, I've always been drawn to the kamikaze school of getting downhill.
One of my favorite outlaw skiers is my young friend Mark. Mark is the son of my old friend Lang. Mark became a fantastic skier early in life and, as a teenager, developed the habit of buzzing by fellow skiers, though never actually running into them, at alarming rates of speed. I was there when he was pulled over by the ski patrol at Bromley and admonished "not to use other skiers as gates." It would have been hard for Lang to reinforce this discipline, since right around the same time Lang was gaining notoriety for skiing down Ridge totally out-of-control and crashing into and breaking the corral fence at the foot of the Stargazer lift.
My youngest son Robby, 20 years Mark's junior, seems to have followed in Mark's renegade footsteps. Last winter at Stratton it was his turn to be stopped by the men in red. "You know, you're skiing extremely fast," he was told.
He shrugged. "How else would you ski?"
And though I was privy to this dialogue, like Lang, I couldn't claim the moral highground since, to this day, I typically use those ridges where they place the SLOW SKIING signs to catch air.
A few years back, we were on a ski vacation out west with our local friends Jeff and Marybeth. I found myself admiring the graceful skiing style of Tom, another Westporter in our group. Tom was fluid and smooth, poetry in motion. What impressed me most was that he always seemed to be in control.
I decided it was time to start skiing like Tom.
On the next run, I skied right behind him, following his line. For about three turns. Then my sons Matt and Greg blew by me. I couldn't let that happen. Later, Tom.
Several times since, I've tried to adopt a more mature, more sane style of skiing but always with the same results. One time last winter I set out with every good intention, but my skiing partners were my son Robby and his friends Nick and Chet, and I succumbed to my warped compulsion to keep up with the young dudes, even if they happen to be college kids one-third my age. (When I ski really fast and out of control, I've noticed my mouth is always wide open, forming a big "O," and my tongue is out -- as if that might slow me up a bit.)
Earlier this year I tried once again to reform, but on that particular day I was skiing with my son Greg's friend John, who'd been a ski racer and captain of the Staples ski team a decade ago. So cautious skiing had to be back-burnered once again.
Which brings us to last weekend in Vermont. I'd been having back spasms all week. I had no one to ski with. It was snowing fairly hard, and visibility wasn't good. The perfect day for me to take it easy, to work on my carving, to exercise control. And I did. For half of one run. But the snow was fantastic.
Hey, it's already March. A little late in the season for me to be changing my ways.
Maybe next year.
"The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures with his dog, Ricky, on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/. To reach Hank, email him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.