Last Friday I told Sergio that we needed to do something interesting this weekend because I haven’t had anything to write about on the blog. I suppose it’s also important to do things here in Fairbanks that we couldn’t do in Bethel or Fayetteville so that our time here isn’t all devoted to just sitting under electric blankets. We spent some time looking into ice skating, professional hockey games, and cross-country skiing. There have been rumors that downhill skiing is possible in this area. There is, in fact, a visible skiing hill on the army base as you drive into town. It’s not large, and it goes just straight downhill, but it is there.
It finally occurred to me to just type the words “skiing in Fairbanks” into a search bar. It turns out that there is an even bigger hill! It has a chairlift! It is the Farthest North Chairlift in North America! I know that sounds impressive but everything in Fairbanks is considered Farthest North. Rosalind is in the Farthest North Girl Scout troop. The Denny’s is the Farthest North Denny’s. I no longer have any idea if this is really a claim to fame for anything or just a culture/locational indicator. Anyway, a plan was in the works.
First, we had to decide if skiing in Fairbanks even sounded fun. On a daily basis in North Pole we start in the negative temps. Over the weekend we hovered in the -10 range. I have sat on a chairlift at negative five before and ended up crying in the warming station while I regained blood flow to my extremities. I could not imagine it being any colder than that and being any fun. We have long known that Fairbanks is famous for temperature inversion. It is much warmer in the hills than in the valleys. I’m not going to take the time to figure out why. You can let me know. So, despite the fact that it was -13 in North Pole on Sunday, it was a balmy 25 degrees at the top of the chairlift at Skiland. No joke.
With that hurdle so easily overcome we turned our attention to whether our child would be able to ski and enjoy herself. Would we be able to enjoy ourselves? She has been on a ski trip before. She was three. She did not receive any professional ski lessons at that time. She simply flew downhill while Sergio did all the work beside her, and she loved every minute of it. Skiland has some amenities you might not expect for a small ski hill in Alaska, but ski instructors aren’t one of them. Whatever we did, it would be up to us to teach Rolo.
We decided to go for it. The ski day is currently from 10 am to 4 pm. This is determined entirely by the sun. We arrived on the hill at about 10:45. It’s about 45 minutes from our home. It felt crazy going from the valley, which is all I’ve really experienced since we’ve been here, to the hills so quickly. There is a whole other side to this place! Also, we saw the pipeline on the way. So that was new.
We drove up to the two or three little shacky buildings and small parking lot that make up the, for lack of a better term, “lodge” area. This was fully what we expected, so don’t take my description as negative commentary. It was a little nicer than I expected really. What I did not expect was to find ourselves at the top of the hill. Whatever illusions we might have held about being able to ease Rosalind back into skiing on a bunny type hill were quickly dispelled. It was just…down. Out the rental cottage door and don’t lose your footing or it’s see you at the bottom!
All morning I had been equal parts excited and full of anxiety. Both of these emotions were fully realized as the day went on. The hill is great! We can ski within 45 minutes of our house! This is something we’ve always wanted to do. It was a beautiful day and the weather really was as warm as they said. However, my trepidation over skiing with Rosalind grew at the sight of the hill with no practice run. It grew when the rental attendant asked if we were experienced skiers and looked doubtfully at Rolo. It grew when the ski fitting guy asked me if we should put her in shorter than normal skis with loose bindings. (Yes! Absolutely! Of course!)
After we got her into her skis and practiced pizza-ing and french frying on what little strip of parking lot we could find, Sergio said we should go. I turned green and said, “Well, here goes the most tedious hour we will ever spend skiing.”
I was wrong. It took two hours.
The next 45 minutes saw us descend maybe an 8th of the way down the hill. We missed a lucrative place to take flatter terrain, but it wouldn’t have helped much. Rosalind cried. Rosalind asked to go home. Rosalind flopped over every time her skis so much as moved. Tempers flared. Snot flowed. Hands froze. It was as awful as you could have imagined it might have been. There were some parenting moments we soon hope to forget.
I finally plopped over in the snow next to my prone child. I wiped the snot from her nose with my glove. I pulled her goggles up onto her helmet. I told her that all we wanted was her best effort. We didn’t care that she wasn’t good at skiing yet. We wouldn’t let her get hurt. She just had to TRY! We watched an adult woman who had never been skiing work her way down the hill and fall right beside us. Rosalind quit crying. I asked her to make it just to the tree. It took five or more minutes, but she made it sideways across the hill to the tree. She went down to the ground, adjusted her feet, and went back across the hill. Another ten minutes. No crying! Nobody holding onto her. We found a flat path. She loved that part. She pushed herself along with our poles and got used to pizza-ing. As soon as the ground tilted almost imperceptibly down she went to her butt. Her attitude remained positive, though, and so did ours. On each downhill portion she would ski between Sergio’s legs with him holding onto her and providing all the strength. It looked miserable. If it had been left to me, I would have had to let Rosalind go down on her butt the whole way.
Eventually, we made it down the hill. Rosalind was having a blast at this point. The flats allowed her to be successful and the hills with daddy were thrilling. Considering how on fire my legs were from slowly making my way behind them the whole time, I couldn’t imagine how Sergio felt. We got to the ski lift. Something Rosalind has done before and loves.
Except that this ski lift has a bar right down the middle, making it impossible to help lift the person next to you. The seats are divided and very thin. She and Sergio made their way up to the lift (a painful experience in and of itself) and though he fought the good fight, Rosalind merely dangled from the seat next to Sergio. Yup. My kid fell off the ski lift. Not from a great height, they stopped it as soon as she dangled, but still. She thought it was quite fun, but the whole lift experience was entirely mortifying. It’s one thing to be the parents that realize we have gotten in over our heads and then quietly get ourselves out of it. It’s another to involve other people in our mistakes. Rosalind made her way back to me in the chairlift line. Sergio was stuck on the chair. A kind lady behind me took our poles up the lift for me because I had the whole families, and now the charge of my non-skiing child to boot. I let tons of people go ahead of us while Rolo worked her way slowly back to the starting point for the chair. This time the attendant slowed the chair and lifted Rosalind in for me. Relief.
Then I realized that she would also have to get off the lift. I taught her everything I could about how to get off at the top. Toes up. Scoot up but not off. Push off the chair and ski straight. Don’t fall down until you are well beyond the lift. Get out of the way before anyone else comes. These last three instructions were basically impossible for her. She could no more ski straight and wait to fall than I could fly off the chair into the sunset. It went better than I thought it might, but only because she didn’t fall off the lift before we actually arrived at the terminal and tumble head over heels back to the bottom in a broken heap. Otherwise it all went pretty embarrassingly again.
I thought Sergio might ski a run on his own while we rested. Then I might go down alone. Then we might consider taking Rolo down one more time. But when I pulled Rolo up and out of the way of the lift and got to Sergio he simply said, “we’re done.”
That was it. Our first Alaskan ski trip. Rolo remembers the trip as a success. It’s hard to imagine after such a terrible start and end to the day. We, the parental failures, will not soon get over our well-intentioned, but totally misguided, attempt at Alaskan family bonding. Neither emotionally nor physically.
***Don’t worry, she will get a professional ski instructor before we attempt taking her again. ***