I was 10 years old my first day of skiing and it was on Rainbow Mountain, a rinky-dink little outfit about 4km north of Whistler, site of the 2010 Olympics.
It was a horrible place. After bumping along in the yellow school bus for a good hour and a half they’d dump us in the parking lot and have us line up in the rain and cold to get our skis. The skis were the really old kind, little more than wooden slats with screwed-on metal edges – and the bindings!
This was 1970 and the tail-end of the era of cable bindings, the kind that wound around your heel and didn’t release when you took a dive. If you fell the wrong way, what did release was more likely to be a joint or leg bone. The boots were leather lace-ups and freezing cold from the sweatsocks of the rental the day before, the poles bamboo with baskets of leather and a metal ring.
The lifts were even worse. No chairlifts here, just a thin metal cable with D-Bars every few feet. Those things either send you flying to the ground or pull your arms out of their sockets if you don’t do it right, and the cable shreds your gloves to rat shit if you do.
Because Rainbow was at the same level as the bottom of Whistler – around 820 metres – it was subject to constantly changing temperatures and a variety of weather. Our second time out we must have arrived after a week of rain followed by night-time freezing, because the snow was bullet-proof. We didn’t ski so much as slip sideways in an awkward snowplow- if we managed to get up on our feet at all.
Lunchtime was spent in an overcrowded little diner that reeked of charred burger and old grease. Smeared french fries were ground into the wet concrete floor as shrieking, unruly kids spilled them under the hard metal tables. I was miserably wet and cold, unable to even peer out the fogged-up windows. The ride back was spent just wishing we’d finally get home.
We were supposed to go once a week for three weeks but after two sessions of this so-called fun, exhilarating sport I told my teacher and school principal Mr. Cope you couldn’t drag me up there a third time. I held off telling my parents for a couple of days, but when I did, they managed to convince me to give it just one more try.
Mr. Cope, who had a knack for humiliating kids in front of others, seized the opportunity once he heard my change of heart.
To peals of laughter in front of 150 kids lined up to go back into school after recess, he brayed:
What’s this Ian, you want to go skiing now? I thought you said you didn’t want to go! Make up your mind! You’re worse than an old woman!