Opinion | Biff America: Lasting impressions

1974 – When I saw the “Out of Business” sign at that Boston ski shop, I knew I was going to get a good deal.

The salesman was sitting on a chair smoking a cigarette and did not stop when I entered. It wasn’t until I told him I was moving to Colorado and knew nothing about ski equipment that he caught me off guard.

He took out the boots that hurt my feet. He said they will drill in a few days from the slopes. This was back in the 1970s when a guy my size used to ski around 190-plus centimeters. The salesman pulled up his pants and said that all the sneakers are getting smaller this year, and I was lucky because the only pair he had was 170 centimeters.

Just before I went out with my new skis, poles, boots and bindings, he asked me if I had my ski clothes. “Those jeans and a leather jacket won’t cut it. People will think you are a tourist.” She grabbed one of the several jackets hanging on the rack and handed me a peach green parka that reached my knees and a matching hat with a pompom the size of a cantaloupe on top.

I had only seen skiing a few times on TV. Luckily, my best friend and friend Keith had been on a ski trip with his church. Keith was raised Lutheran, a faith that allowed parishioners to have fun and clergy to marry. I was born a Catholic. When I had fun, I was told it was a sin and it could damage my eyes.

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Keith assured me that once we got to Breckenridge we could get my boots and my short skis would be ready to learn on. He kindly said nothing about my new hat and jacket. We got to Breckenridge right before the elevator could run. With much excitement and fake IDs, we entered a local bar on our first night on the town. Keith suggested I leave my new peach green jacket at home. “Put on your leather jacket, it won’t get stained.”

Fortunately, I was much more comfortable in the bathrooms than on the ski slopes, so we had made friends after a week or two.

In those days the ski season ran – if the weather cooperated – from Thanksgiving to Easter. Finding myself in the local pub, my next concern was not to make a fool of myself on the mountain. The town was very small at the time, and I was told that many residents would come out on that opening day. I knew I wouldn’t be any good having never skied before, but I didn’t want to be so bad that I would ruin my chances of possibly meeting the future Miss, or at least Mrs. Currently.

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Keith thought it would be a good idea for me to learn at least the basics of skiing before the lifts ran. We met a guy named Torpedo on our first day in town who, like Keith, had been skiing before. Starting the week before Thanksgiving, we hiked up Peak 9, which allowed me to improve my skiing skills. After a few tips, I would pull away and they would slide up behind me, shouting advice.

Now that Keith has become an accomplished skier, he said riding my first chair would be my next big challenge. This was before collapsible seats, so the seat would come closer. Torpedo warned me that the lift lines would be full of locals and falling off while on the rise would haunt me well into my 30s.

As usual, Keith had a plan. We visited the local gym and lift station to practice. Keith ordered. “The chair will come closer,” he said, “the rider will grab it and slow it down. I’ll grab it too and slow it down even more. You just have to to make sure you’re ready to go in. Everyone will be watching, so don’t let us down.”

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Thanksgiving morning found nearly the entire town in line for the elevator. As we got confused, Keith said, “Are you ready?” I wore words that offended me but he said, “Yes.”

The chair came closer. But before it got close enough for Keith or the elevator to pick it up, I went back and stuck the best spot in the middle of the two-person seat. When my friend tried to enter, there was no place for him and he fell face first into the snow. The crowd roared with derision.

The chair was set up, and I sat about 5 feet off the floor facing backwards. Keith looked down and waved. I know it sounds bad, but my first thought was, “You’re better than me.”


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