The Last Page

Up the Downhill

By Lynda Deming Parker '65

At age forty-five I decided menopause was overratedand started living life backward like Merlin. I shortened my skirts, joined a gym, and made the gray go away. It helped that the kids went away, too, the youngest to the University of Colorado, giving my husband and me a great excuse to visit. Nearby we discovered an early retirement heaven, in Winter Park-Life in the clouds, athletic, rejuvenating, and upstream from 98 percent of the world's pollutants.

In any ski town a major priority is creative acquisition of a free ski pass. Anyone can sell tickets or swab lunch tables. Lift department "butt tuckers" suffer recurrent frostbite. Reservationists and accountants require long hours on phones or computers. We wanted action, and we had qualifications. After twenty years as volunteers on the National Ski Patrol, we were experts with splints, backboards, and BandAids. The only drawback: oxygen consumption and thigh burn in Colorado's monster moguls.

So we tried ski school. Housing in ski resorts is scarce and exorbitant for transients. Since we had a roof, we were accepted. Something about supply and demand, Economics 101. Thus, we became uniformed ski instructors!

Major high!

On a snowy Thanksgiving weekend I faced six screaming three-year-olds who wanted Mommy, and I was an unacceptable substitute. I could relate to the sacrificial turkey. For this I went to Vassar? A Vassar diploma imparts confidence and opens doors, but can it defy gravity and separation anxiety? Is a Vassar education relevant to a neophyte ski instructor?

Undoubtedly a Physics lab could have illustrated forces created by bodies accelerating in a downhill arc on a flexed steel edge. Inclination vs. angulation, retraction vs. extension, up unweighting vs. down unweighting. The vocabulary of skiing approaches rocket science.

Why didn't I take Psychology? Because my roommate made me pick up bobby pins with tweezers for two long minutes while she verbally abused my manual dexterity. This classic psychology experiment proved that praise gets better results than criticism. I apply that lesson to reluctant five-year-olds. "Nice try, Bobby! Maybe next time."

Child Development is critical for any sports coach. Unfortunately, I only glimpsed that building at Vassar while racing to the gym. A three-year-old is head-heavy compared to a ten-year-old. This affects his stance and balance on skis. But what's inside the three-year-old's heavy head?

Educational psychologist Maslow says humans must feel safe before they can learn and achieve self-fulfillment. Ski school research shows it takes three-point-two hours to restore security to a four-year-old suffering vacation dislocation that dumps him in the moody (uncooperative) "No" zone. That leaves one productive hour of the ski lesson for sliding on snow, after lunch and potty stops.

Hormonal preteens are "too cool for ski school," so an instructor must strike a balance between hot super hero and cool social arbiter. Enthusiasm tempered with tact. Safety spiced with Danger. "Don't lose 'em, bruise 'em, or confuse 'em." What Vassar department covers this?

Anatomy/Physiology might have illustrated the "Q angle" between a woman's pelvis and femur, but not how it affects her ability to edge her skis. I am expected to recognize and recommend remedial canting for our guests who lack the proper leg alignment to balance over a flat ski. So we measure bared legs to discover degrees of deviation between knee cap and center of boot. Compensating shims in the boot or under the binding restore perfectly centered balance.

Who knew in 1965 that Spanish should be the foreign language of choice? At Winter Park we need Spanish speakers to instruct the influx of South and Central American kids over Carnival and Easter. I learned the hard way that despacio was not a cold veggie soup. So, we organized a summer Spanish class taught on mountain bikes careening down trails named Chainsaw and Widowmaker to practice specific ski commands: Left, Right, Caution, Stop, Sit before you Hit, and Ayyy Carumba!

Alas, while psych, physics, biology were all available at Vassar, I pursued none of them. Nonetheless, a liberal arts education supplemented with a year of study abroad has proven invaluable. It taught me how to learn, what questions to ask, and where to go for answers. Don't trust the facile response; seek validation; celebrate individuality; find leavening humor anywhere.

At our twenty-fifth reunion in 1990, our class spoke at length about second careers. My choice carries neither prestige nor pricey compensation, but you can't beat the working conditions. At dawn, when the thermometer hits minus- forty, the trees sparkle in their crystalline overcoats, rainbows glitter as tentative sunlight filters through incandescent snowflakes, and I can swim through untracked powder fields in sheltering aspen groves.

But kids are my first love for all their diversity and in-your-face spontaneity. Recently one ten-year-old Bubba joined my class after a discouraging demotion. His optimistic father had enrolled him in the advanced Bump Busters class, but his tenuous speed control disappeared on steeps. In my lower-level class we practiced parallel edging and weight transfer so he could "hunker down on them rims." I overheard his synopsis of the day's lesson to his father: "Well, they kicked me out of the advanced class and dumped me with this old lady. She looked pretty lame and I'd about decided to split, but, you know what, Dad? The old lady ripped!"

Does Vassar offer a degree in Ripping?