Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’ Palate
Ryan Summerlin December 27, 2012
Hey, Aspen. Don’t be jealous. While y’all were enjoying your little powdery Christmas, I was at Buck Hill in Burnsville, Minn., testing my limits snow tubing.
When we woke up on Christmas morning, it was, like, 6 degrees out.
“We’re not going tubing in 6 degrees,” I said, thinking that was quite rational.
You should have heard the chorus of moans and groans, seen the eyeball rolling and hand flapping that went on as my entire family of in-laws ganged up on me with silent gesturing.
“Oh, just bundle up. You’ll be fine,” my mother-in-law said.
“It’s 6 degrees, and the sun is out,” my father-in-law said. “Warm enough to sunbathe for us Minnesotans!”
“But even having your cheeks exposed at that temperature, why, you are at risk of getting frostbite!” I said.
I had decided, at least in my mind, that we would spend the day in a cozy movie theater watching “Les Miserables” with a big bucket of hot, buttery popcorn. It would be a lazy, quiet day of lounging inside.
It didn’t take long before I realized I was fighting a losing battle, not wanting to be outside in subzero weather. The first thing I did was put on every layer I could find that would still allow me to zip up my coat and button the waist of my mother-in-law’s snow pants. Then I asked Ryan’s dad to fill up his flask with something that would burn when it went down my throat.
Buck Hill is a ski area just south of Minneapolis in Burnsville, the suburb where Ryan’s brother Aaron lives. It has a vertical rise of almost 300 feet, offers night skiing and is right off the 35W freeway.
I was thinking this was going to be a fun little thing, like going to the playground and swinging on the swings or climbing the jungle gym or shooing down the slide.
We got our lift tickets, the old-school kind that are like giant stickers that fold over wire hangers you put through your zipper. There was a covered conveyor belt that took us up the hill, so it wasn’t that cold. The tubes were just these inflated rubber-tire things with two little handles on them. There were eight lanes across, and you had to wait for the attendants to signal you to go.
Before I could even get situated in my tube, someone yelled, “Ready, go!” I was like a turtle on its back, my legs flailing wildly about because they didn’t reach the ground, so I couldn’t propel myself forward.
“Need a push?” a voice behind me asked.
“No, I’m just … ”
Before I had a chance to get my bearings, a large foot literally shoved me off the ledge and into the abyss, where I went careening down what I suddenly realized was a steep chute made of solid ice. The tube started to spin, so I was completely disoriented as gravity pulled me ever forward at increasing speed, and all I could see were the icy walls of my lane just threatening to amputate one of my exposed limbs.
Soon my screams were silenced by my collapsing lungs, which could no longer take in air because at some point I stopped breathing altogether. I tried to crank my head downhill to get myself oriented before I smashed into someone at the bottom, where the lanes disappeared and flattened out and it sort of became this bumper-car free-for-all. Just as I had my head turned at 180 degrees, my husband came bashing into me, cackling like a madman as I started to calculate the chiropractor bill. I should probably thank him. At least he helped me to finally come to a stop.
“That was terrifying,” I announced, half in shock and half laughing at myself for how scared I was.
An attendant at the bottom who overheard me said, “There are 5-year-olds who are doing it.”
I know what you’re thinking. “But you and Ryan hiked the Bowl on New Year’s Eve when it was 15 below!” and “But you’re supposed to be this bad-ass snowboarder chick.”
But in the words of my father-in-law, I am what is known around these parts as a “mamby pamby.” I mean, hello, it was a balmy 6 degrees out. People actually want the ice that turns that innocent little hill into a rock-hard death slide. They can’t get enough of it.
I took that flask and garnered whatever liquid courage I could find to try again. I did it at least 10 more times, thinking I’d get used to it, but I never really did. It did get funnier and funnier with each run as my screams echoed through the city so loudly that people driving down the highway with their windows closed could probably have heard it.
“You scared that little boy,” my mother-in-law said. “He heard your screams and said, ‘What is that?’ and I told him, ‘Oh, it’s just my daughter-in-law. She always does that.”
The last time she’d heard me scream was on the four-story indoor pool slide at Shoreview Recreation Center in Mounds View. The thing was pitch black inside and so twisty and turny that I literally was spun upside down and was totally disoriented.
It actually explains a lot about Minnesota people. Now I understand why Ryan and Brad want to go sledding in the middle of the night and never think it’s cold and don’t mind fishing in the rain or skiing on the coldest day of the year.
As I sat over my extra-tall beer at TGI Fridays, where we had Christmas dinner (cheese dip and barbecue-chicken flatbread and dumplings and fries), my cheeks burning from all that exposure to the cold and wind, I realized people in Aspen have it all wrong.
It’s not about money or designer this or powder that. Joy is what simple is.