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Hitting the slopes for an invigorating fun vacation

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By ROBYN E. BLUMNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


ASPEN, Colo. -- I learned to ski this year at Snowmass Village.

Oh, I'd tried skiing once or twice before, when I was in college, on mountains in the frigid Northeast. I remember "friends" who had been skiing since they were zygotes, ushering me to the top of the mountain in Killington, Vt., and launching me in their, this-is-the-only-way-to-learn ski school of hard knocks.

It took me another 20 years to build up the courage to try it again.

But after wonderful friends said they'd lend me their Uber-ski house for a week and my brother, who is an expert sloper (like Sonny Bono when he was alive), agreed to join me, I had to give it a try.

Having lived in Florida for the past 12 years and given away anything without spaghetti straps, I needed a few winter essentials. I soon discovered that skiing attire is no longer a pair of Levi's and a flask of Irish whiskey.

Clothes are now highly specialized for every subset of skiing. Was I planning to snow board or ski? Slalom or two skis? Out West or in the East? The helpful grilling by the salesman at Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure -- the only place in Tampa Bay with an artificial ski slope that allows you to simulate real, fake skiing -- made me feel like someone at a Foot Locker who had come looking for P.F. Flyers. As I answered the "technician," he piled clothes in my arms.

Which brings us to my second discovery: Anywhere in retail where "ski" is used as a prefix, the price automatically jumps a minimum of 75 percent. It's kind of like telling a florist you're buying flower arrangements for a wedding. That magic word sends a $30 bouquet into the $80 stratosphere.

The salesguy assured me that I wasn't being taken for a ride by the outlandish prices for ski pants and a ski jacket. What I was buying, he said, was technology.

Ahh, technology. We Americans are always willing to pay more for clothes with a scientific pedigree. I nodded at the use of the word, as I'm sure all clueless shoppers do.

But when I got to Aspen, all my grumbled doubts about the expense and hassle melted. The place is a winter paradise -- a frozen Camelot.

Everyone I encountered there seemed genuinely happy, almost giddily so.

I couldn't decide whether Aspen reminded me more of John Galt's Atlantis in Atlas Shrugged where all the nation's wealthiest capitalists relocated to a heavenly secret valley society or more like that classic bit on Saturday Night Live when Eddie Murphy dresses undercover as a white person and discovers that when whites are alone they give stuff to one another and engage in non-stop frivolity.

The place seemed to fit both models. The town motto could have been: vigor, health and money. It was one's reward for having spent long years exploiting the proletariat, or being born beautiful.

As for learning to ski, it could just be that in the future I will define my life as B.S. and A.S.: Before Skiing and After Skiing. That's not to say I tore up the slopes, just that it was a tremendously invigorating physical challenge. If you're like me and spend most of your day seated at a computer screen, reading mind-numbing polemic tracts and challenging your brain to the point of blue-screen tilt, it's a rare delight to exhaust yourself through physical exertion.

With a real instructor who spent six hours a day over three days teaching our small group of beginners, I was able to learn the fundamentals without being subjected to that panicked "It's concave! The mountain's concave!" feeling. On each successive run I gained a little more control and confidence. I was working so hard I sweated through my technology, but the cold air kept me going. After a week, I was comfortably sluicing down the easier intermediate slopes.

Life was good.

Of course, by then it was time to return to my ergonomically-correct chair and blue screen, which is where I sit now telling you of my brush with fun.

Civilization and advancement have moved most of us indoors to make a living -- a blessing, certainly. Still, if you saw the utter elation on the faces of the ski instructor corps at Snowmass Village as they prepared to start another day on the job, people who have been teaching skiing for years and can only afford to live in trailers and rented rooms, it just might give you pause. It just might.

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