Roger Marolt: Teaching me a lesson
Aspen Skiing Co. used to have a pain-free way for locals to earn a free ski pass compared to boot-packing Highland Bowl. To handle the holiday overflow demand for private ski instructors, they rounded up locals, dressed them in uniforms, and passed off the counterfeit ski pros to unsuspecting guests. We were cheap, part-time instructors at full-time rates. The code name was “PTX”.
A few years before I became a PTX, the ski school put together a video that demonstrated skiing abilities on a scale from 1 to 10. It ran on a continuous loop in the ticket office to help people decide what kind of lesson they should sign up for. If you could identify with the 1, you might not see snow for a week. You first had to learn things like which foot each ski boot went on. The 10 was the Bo Derik of Bell Mountain, basically a dream that might come true after spending tens of thousands of dollars over many winters to come. I dare you to guess who the 10 was.
Now, calm down a second. This is not bragging. I am only telling you this because it is pertinent. If my intent was to boast, I would have gratuitously mentioned my appearance, with a speaking part, in a Warren Miller movie, but I didn’t do that, did I?
Besides, this was in the late 1980s. Everybody had a different style. Creativity was king. If you could link a few turns with a little fluidity and coordination, people would likely judge your ability favorably. It wasn’t like now where there is just one correct way to ski.
I point out the ski school video to demonstrate how a 25-year-old male’s not completely formed frontal lobe function can be influenced by such a thing, especially while wearing a snazzy ski instructor uniform.
I met my private lesson on the first morning of my PTX experience. It was a family of four from New York complete with two teenage boys. We introduced ourselves and made small talk, which I have always been awkward with, when the younger boy said, “You look like the guy in the video,” to which I, with faux mountain man humility, admitted to.
I asked my group what they wanted to learn about skiing. They answered: “How do you ski bumps?” In my inflated sense of self-worth, I translated this in the first-person direct. I was thinking about how I could accommodate this request when a civilian friend (i.e. not a ski instructor) happened by. I waved him over and asked that he lead my group down into Spar Gulch and wait with them at a designated point about halfway down.
Meanwhile, I cut up onto The Face. When I was several hundred vertical feet above them, I whistled down to get their attention. I set off on a spectacular decent, if I do say so myself, careening through the bumps, sending up face shots, and generally putting on a good show. I ended with a sharp hockey stop in front of them, spraying snow onto the cuffs of their ski pants for effect. There could be no question that they now knew how I skied the bumps.
I can still see that mother’s sardonic smile.
“Well, that was very nice,” she smirked. “What we actually meant was that we would like to learn how to ski the bumps.”
This was humility manifest in Ferrari red and not because this woman had exposed me as a shameless showoff. I was still too much into me to pick up on that vibe. What I suddenly realized, however, is that I didn’t actually know how to teach someone to ski. I tried to bluff my way through the situation.
“What specifically would you like to know?” I asked.
“How do you plant your poles?” the father asked.
He may as well have asked me to explain the function of my spleen. I stood there, not able to say when, where, or how to plant a ski pole; the most basic movement in the sport. I moved my hands awkwardly as my brain tried to form pictures of the movement. It was a stunning revelation: Although I could ski, I did not know how to ski.
Other than this, I had a lot of fun with the PTX program. Recognizing my lack of abilities as a teacher, I set my sights on simply taking my groups out for a fun day of skiing they would never forget. My goal was to make sure they were exhausted but smiling at the end of the day. As far as I know, nobody tried to sue Skico.
Roger Marolt still doesn’t know how to ski. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The most scary thing I have seen on my bike rides to and from the Bells are … the buses — closely followed by clueless wildlife.