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Being Schooled

Fall Line
posted: 08/30/2002

"You're a brave man," a friend told me when I agreed to take on the challenge. "Them's steep and slippery slopes." No, I wasn't signing up to hurl myself off a snowy cliff, nor ski down a terrorist-infested mountain in Afghanistan. I was taking an even greater personal risk: I was attempting to teach my fiancée how to ski. Such an endeavor, colleagues and ski buddies warned me, is a recipe for disaster. They recounted black episodes of romantic anguish: hurtful arguments, broken bones...even divorce! You may have the best of intentions, they said, but eventually you'll blow up at her. And she'll grow to hate you for it. She'll call off the wedding before you're married.

Put her in lessons, they pleaded. Splurge on a private instructor. Even hook her up with another beginner. Just don't try to teach her yourself.I didn't take this advice lightly. Holly isn't the mountain-girl type. She has spent most of her 33 years living at sea level in New Orleans. Her idea of a workout: bar-hopping.

My first inkling of trouble came at the fall ski swap. I presented her with a Helly Hansen outfit. She emerged from the fitting room on the verge of tears. "Shouldn't this be a little more fitted?" she asked anxiously. "I feel like I'm wearing a garbage bag."

Her outlook worsened with the first snowfall, a foot-deep dump that left everyone but Holly giddy. "I can't drive in that," she said as she watched snow fall for the first time in her life.

"I don't think I can even walk in it."

Her growing panic portended a crucial insight as I prepared for our first lesson. It fast became obvious that if we were going to make it as a couple, I'd have to abandon any hope of turning her, Pygmalion-style, into a mogul-hopping ski goddess by mid-season.

I began to understand one of the maxims of marriage: acceptance. I drastically downscaled my goals for her: a safe lift ride and a bruise-less schuss down the bunny slope.

We started our quest at Arrowhead, a small nearby ski area that had yet to open. She donned skis for the first time and I pushed her around the flats. I offered advice on how to sidestep up a gentle grade and slide back down. The next time, we added the pizza wedge until she learned to stop under her own power.

After a few weekends of lift-less lessons, it was time to face the big challenge: the chairlift. All of Holly's fears reemerged as we approached the lift. But with several sessions of "skiing" behind her, she'd begun to learn another marriage maxim: trust.

Though her first ride began with hyperventilation, she unloaded with ease. We slowly made our way down. And then, to my astonishment, Holly began to ski. She moved at caterpillar-speed, but fast enough to pressure her skis and begin to turn. It took a half-hour to reach the bottom. And when we got there-she wanted to go again.

Weeks of bunny slopes later, Holly rode to the summit. I now feel smug, vindicated by transforming Holly into a beginner skier-without her calling off the engagement. My goal this ski season: getting Holly to the intermediate level...in a ski school. Marriage maxim #33: Don't push your luck.

Holly and Alex Markels were married last April. They live in Minturn, Colo., where Holly will sharpen her skiing this season.

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