Trials and tribulations of a 4th-grade chaperone on a near-epic powder day
April 13, 2003
My son’s fourth-grade class ski trip recently coincided with a 10-inch powder day at Snowmass. Chaperones were needed and free lift tickets from a fellow parent sweetened the pot. I envisioned myself laying down fresh tracks in a euphoria of crystalline alpine bliss.
This is where greed and disillusion ended and grim reality set in. Could I have anticipated the raucous bus ride and the crazed logistics required for a gaggle of fourth-graders? Should I have stayed at home to toil as a productive member of my household? Naaaaaa! I’m a fool!
The class gathered in the fourth-grade room where their teacher led them in their morning ritual. Then he tossed me the key to the school bus. “You’re driving,” he said, implying that he would do damage control. Five minutes later we were motoring up Highway 82 toward Snowmass.
By El Jebel, the singing commenced. “Rollin’ down the highway/doin’ ninety-four, can’t get to the bathroom.” “A hundred bottles of beer on the wall, a hundred bottles of beer …” “Aggravation, dreadful aggravation,” “Will the real Slim Shady please stand up, please stand up …” I wondered if I was driving a bus for the pure and innocent Waldorf School or for inmates at a reformatory?
At the parking lot we piled out of the bus and paired up equipment in what seemed like an impromptu ski swap. At the base area we were issued our lift tickets and loaded helter-skelter onto the Fanny Hill quad. At the top of the lift, one boy realized he had no gloves. Back to the base area for a loan from the lost and found.
Glancing toward the cloud-covered top of the mountain, I fumed because precious time was being wasted. Up there in those clouds tourists from Kansas were cutting virgin powder into teeny-tiny pieces. A pair of gloves was finally found and we were off to the top of the Big Burn where the snow was light, creamy and deep.
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I generously volunteered to ski sweep and as the group took off, I noticed one girl fiddling with her snowboard binding. She looked up at me with exasperation. “It won’t clip.” In the ensuing 10 minutes I used every non-expletive in my vocabulary working barehanded with a plastic strap and spring-loaded clip that refused to function.
I was about to download the girl on the quad when the binding miraculously held. Off we went! In 30 yards, she did a face plant, then another and another and another. I lamely cheered her on as she face-packed the entire run. “You”re doing great! Smell those burgers? See that roof? That’s the warming house. You’re almost there!”
I sent the face planter into the warming house just as three old friends happened to show up with self-satisfied grins plastered on their smug faces. “Hey, Paul, we just skied the Cirque and it was really good. Join us for a run.” One of them patted his jacket pocket. “We’ve got something to ease your pain. C’mon.”
I explained that at the moment I was learning the patience of Job and that I must wait for the rest of the fourth-grade class and that the Cirque might as well be in Canada because I was tied up with my son’s class – and “See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya,” they chorused and skied off to the lift.
Then it was lunchtime. We commandeered a table and the kids hit the food line. Two of the boys challenged the cashier with math problems as they attempted to calculate two trays bulging with food against a $20 bill. “How much is it with this?” asked one boy, holding a brownie. “How much is it with this?” asked the other, displaying a fully smothered chili dog.
The cashier finally relented, took the twenty and the brownie and waved the boys on. They came away with a can of “Monster” ginseng energy drink, which they took turns guzzling on empty stomachs. Then came the Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde act.
One boy, his eyes glazed, began swinging his head around in circles, chanting, “It’s taking effect. It’s taking effect.” In fine print on the label was a warning: “Not recommended for children due to high caffeine content.”
We escaped the restaurant with minimal damage and I was elected to chaperone the two “Monsters” and my son. We set off down Sheer Bliss and the fully caffeinated juveniles began screaming their heads off in full-decibel youth. I thought about discreetly shoving them off the lip of KT Gully but realized there could be criminal charges.
As the powder thickened with our descent into warmer air, the boys had a few tumbles, which sobered them up. Their eyeballs were no longer spinning and we enjoyed relative peace and serenity with a dozen or so good turns thrown in. I was just getting into the rhythm when time was up and we needed to return to the bus.
The drive back to school was a Ralph Cramden nightmare as a mini snowball fight erupted from the slush accumulated on somebody’s snowboard. Competing songs and chants pitted the boys against the girls, and fourth-graders did what fourth-graders do best – they had an absolute ball being as silly as is humanly possible.
Paul Andersen will think twice the next time free skiing is offered. His column appears on Mondays.
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