High Season

Matthew Reed

     
   

They come in waves, walking across the parking lot in tennis shoes and jeans, with gloves swinging from their jacket zippers. They arrive in cars with out-of-state license plates and in coach buses with drivers announcing the 4:30 departure time to every third passenger. They bring reluctant families and crying children, and high expectations. They bring sack lunches and stuff tote bags under tables.  They crowd bathrooms. They ask questions—always the same questions: “Where do we go?” “Where do we ski?” And they line up. They line up for lift tickets. They line up for ski rentals and snowboards. They line up for food. They line up for adult lessons and children's lessons. Their lines outgrow the rope mazes and go up the first floor stairs.  Their lines grow so long, they fold back onto themselves and intermingle with other lines. They ask which line is which.

            Then we arrive. We walk down from the employee parking lot. We trudge. We ask why we even bothered going home. We are dehydrated.  We have headaches. We step sideways through the lodge, through the lines. We are annoyed. We find a family who doesn't speak English eating a McDonald’s breakfast at our normal table. We put on our boots standing up.

            When they get outside, they squint. They shuffle in their rental boots. They are surprised that snow is slippery. They carry their skis one in each hand, then go back for their poles. They don't realize the snowboards they've set down are coasting down the hill behind them.

            In lessons, we put them in lines again. We move them from station to station. We forget their names. We don't even ask their names.  We say: “Here, you will learn to walk,” “Here, you will learn to slide,” “Here, you will learn to stop,” “Here, you will learn to turn.” We step out of the way when they fall. We half laugh with them and half laugh at them. Some stay on the flats for the whole lesson, toiling, walking, sliding, stopping, or rough approximations there of.  But some go up—though they don't know where. 

            We know where. We know what lies at the top of the Ponderosa chair. It is two or three football fields worth of nearly flat snow, but beginners are frictionless and so it might as well be vertical. We start off teaching our groups. We say hopeful things like, “Now put it into a rhythm,” and “Do it just like how we practiced at the bottom.” But soon we are herding.  We shout directions like, “Just stay there,” then shriek field commands like, “Stop!” We regret not asking their names. We swear under our breath.  Then we become orderlies, ushering down the tired and wounded. When we are within sight of the lodge, they offer to take off their skis and snowboards, and we beg them not to. We don't tell them there might be a supervisor down there.  We ski down backwards, holding them up one at a time. We smile and tell them they're doing great while their legs noodle under them.

            We repeat this at noon and again at two o'clock.

            At the end of the day, they wander back through the rental shop, depositing skis and snowboards and boots in the reverse order they were issued. They take a moment when they are reunited with their shoes. They are wet and sore and bewildered, maybe slightly disappointed.  “So that's skiing,” they say to themselves. Then they exit through the entrance, with their gloves clipped again to their jacket zippers, having checked off another life experience on their list of life experiences.

            We drag our skis and boards back inside. We haven't seen the top of the mountain today, and probably won't tomorrow.  We leave our gear in piles. We go up to the bar to drink. We tell stories: about the one dressed in the sarong, about the one with the boots on the wrong feet, about the one nailed by the chair. We wonder why anybody would come up this time of year. We wonder if they think this is the real thing.  We count how many days we've worked in a row, how many first timers we've taught, how many days we have to go until the end of Christmas Vacation. It is quantity, not quality, we joke. We are tired. We plan to go to bed early, but we are tired together, so we will spend most of the night propping each other up, telling each other how tired we are.

     
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Matthew Reed lives in Anchorage, Alaska. His stories have appeared in The Nevada Review, Blue Lake Review, Hobo Pancakes, Drunk Monkeys, and Stymie Magazine. He is currently in a race against global warming as he tries to finish a novel set in the ski industry.