Monday, January 16, 2012

Kickin' It Old School on the Slopes

I took the girls to Mel Allen Hill (“Ooooh! That’s gotta hurt!”) this weekend, so they could try out their new sleds.

They are snazzy sleds – bright red surfboards made of some kind of indestructible foam that will likely remain inviolate in a landfill until the sun goes supernova and life on earth no longer has to worry about recycling, and coated with a slick sort of plastic on the bottom that in theory provides a zero-friction surface for you to skim across the snow.

If there is any snow.

We got our first measurable snowfall of the season last week here in Baja Canada – seven inches of fluffy powder – and the pent-up demand for winter sports unleashed itself all over Mel Allen Hill with a white-hot fury, such that by the time Tabitha, Grace and I arrived on Saturday the snow on the top five feet of the hill had been worn down to the grass. When Lauren and I got there on Sunday it was the top fifteen feet and we had to move over to a different area of the hill. Not that this stopped anyone.

As an adult, mostly your job is to stand around at the top of the hill and give pushes to recalcitrant sleds (or, on the other side, put your foot down on overeager sleds so that children actually have a chance to climb on before they go skittering down the hill). It does leave a fair amount of time for conversation and observation.

Ooooh! That’s gotta hurt!

I ended up talking with one particular dad for a while. I never did find out his name, though I now know where he works, where he went to graduate school (same place I did, and at the same time), and a host of other details. Somehow the name never came up. It’s a guy thing.

What started our conversation was the fact that his son had an actual sled. Not a foam surfboard. Not an inflatable life raft. Not a snowboard. A sled, with wooden slats, metal runners and a rudimentary steering mechanism that provides just enough of the illusion of control that you can get yourself into genuinely disastrous situations with confidence and pride.

A real sled, like the ones of my youth.

When I was a kid the neighborhood gang used to drag those sleds about half a mile or so to the park, where we would stare down the enticingly named “Suicide Hill.”

Suicide Hill descended steeply for about forty yards or so before flattening out and then sending you flying across the gap between the two concrete shuffleboard courts that ran perpendicular to your route like a ramp. Once you landed you had about 15 feet where you could either stop or make a hard right turn – continuing in a straight line or turning left dumped you into the creek.

Good times.

You had to know how to make those sleds do what you wanted them to do, or at least think you could. A foam surfboard or inflatable life raft would probably not have worked very well.

The kid yesterday didn’t know how to operate that sled. We oldsters had to show him where to slot the rope so it wouldn’t interfere with the runners, how to use the steering, even how to brake with his toes off the back end. I’ll bet he didn’t even have the runners waxed.

Kids these days.

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