BRECKENRIDGE -- Have you ever snow skied?
It can be a wonderful experience and I've always said that snow skiing is the most fun I've ever had legally. It reminds me of a super-tall roller coaster that goes downhill the whole way.
However, it's a tough sport. There's nothing easy about it and a day on the slopes can be as physically taxing as anything I can think of.
I was introduced to the sport back in the mid 90s when my friends Jerry and Debbie Hightower convinced me to take a weekend trip to West Virginia with them and a group of their friends.
I had done a ton of water skiing in earlier years and felt like I was in pretty good shape, so I agreed to go. I never took a formal lesson, but Jerry gave me a few basic pointers and I was on my way. I must tell you that I spent more time on the ground that first time, but I had found a new sport and I was willing to go again.
Various members of this same group have been coming to Colorado almost every year since. We always come to Breckenridge because there are five peaks and close to 150 trails. After all these years, we sort of know our way around the place and there are no real surprises on the slopes.
It's also interesting to observe other skiers. I saw two couples earlier in the week who had to be in their 70s, but they were out there enjoying the day as much as anyone.
It's also quite amazing to watch the youngest skiers, many who start out as real toddlers. They're about two feet tall and weigh about 30 pounds, but they come cruising down those slopes as fast as anyone and most of them don't use poles. I guess they aren't old enough to know what fear is.
There are some who really fly down the slopes while others take it much slower as they gain experience. And of course, you have the snowboarders who often fly by at speeds much too fast.
Some of the slopes are almost flat and really suited to beginners or others who don't want to physically challenge themselves. Some are almost vertical and the epitome of a test for those who consider themselves experts in the field or more accomplished in their experiences.
The trails are graded by difficulty with greens being the easiest, blues being a bit more difficult and the blacks reserved for the most experienced skiers. Most of the blacks involve moguls, which involve a whole different range of requirements.
I'm not a beginner, but I certainly don't consider myself an expert. I'm not a slow skier, but I'm also not very fast. Let's just say that I think of myself as a half-fast skier.
My last experience here in 2011 was less than pleasant as I fell the first five minutes of the first day before I had even gotten on the first lift. I hit some ice as I was going down toward the lift line and my skis flew out from under me. I landed on my side where the impact of my elbow either broke or severely bruised several ribs.
I still managed to ski about three days that week, but it was painful and not much fun.
About six months ago, I made the decision to come back. I'm not nearly as young as I once was and certainly not in as good shape physically, but I'm a sucker for having fun and I made the commitment to come.
I knew I had to make plans to protect my ribs, so I contacted my buddy Ted Gatewood, the head football coach at East Hamilton. He graciously agreed to let me borrow a device which is sort of like a vest with a six-inch protective pad that wraps around your abdominal region.
I was feeling good, knowing that if and when I fell, my ribs would be adequately protected.
I finally started working out again back on the first of December, but mainly what I was doing was stationary bike workouts five days a week at the downtown YMCA. I started out with 30-minute workouts and eventually worked up to 60 minutes, which I did five days a week for the last three weeks before we headed this way.
This year's group includes the Hightowers, Connie Petty,her son Colton, Shana Rogers and her 14-year-old daughter Kaylyn, who just happens to be a C6-C7 Quadraplegic. Kay-Kay, as she prefers to be called, was involved in a serious car wreck some six years ago and has no use of her legs at all and limited use of her arms.
Bruce Strom, another Paraplegic who is a former Chattanoogan, has been here skiing with us as well as he now lives nearby in Aurora.
Jerry and Debbie are highly involved in SPARC, which stands for Sports, Art and Recreation of Chattanooga. It's a volunteer organization that caters to people with various physical disabilities and they sponsor events like water skiing, snow skiing, cycling, tennis, scuba diving, kayaking and wheelchair basketball among other things.
Shana and Kay-Kay live in Moultrie, Ga., and they met the Hightowers at a snow ski event at Beech Mountain, N.C.
Kay-Kay has made incredible progress this week skiing with the instructors here at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC), which caters to similar people with physical limitations. Kay-Kay has progressed from a bi-ski (two skis that are special made for such skiers) to a mono ski, which is one ski and much harder to master.
Shana has been taking snowboard lessons and doing extremely well too.
Jerry may be the most experienced skier and most senior member of the group. He's spent most of his time skiing with Colton, who is certainly the most energetic and daring member of our clan. Colton is a senior at McCallie who will celebrate his 18th birthday on April 22. He's been a regular on the slopes for the past 15 years.
He's so in love with snow skiing that he's planning to attend the University of Denver in the fall where he plans to major in biochemistry with hopes of one day becoming a doctor.
Jerry and Colton go to the top of the peaks where there are no trees and where you have to hike to get to the top in most places. The elevation at the summit of the lowest peak is 12,573 feet, so those hikes are a hard for the most fit people here.
There are lots and lots of lifts across these five peaks, but they only go so high. Those who want the maximum experience have to be willing to work for it.
It interesting to watch these folks in action as you can see them as you go up the lifts. They look like tiny ants on the side of these huge peaks as they navigate their way back down to where the rest of us are doing our thing.
Debbie is an experienced skier as well, but she prefers more relaxing runs and doesn't do any of the tougher and more challenging trails. She may be the smartest member of the group.
Connie is probably the most fit member of the group. She, like Debbie, is a Physical Therapist and works out daily for at least 90 minutes.
Connie has been a wonderful and caring friend to me this week as she has skied with me, despite going much slower and taking chunks of time while she waits for me at the bottom. I normally don't ski the whole day, so she goes off and does her thing after I come back to the condo.
Now I'm going to tell you about my experiences this week, the most of which are quite positive.
As you might expect, I was quite apprehensive when we went out on Sunday morning for our first day of activity. My confidence level was extremely low as I wasn't really sure that I was capable of handling the incredible challenge that stood before me.
The first day wasn't bad as I survived without any falls or any other incidents that might cause concern. Those stationary bike workouts must have done wonders as my legs didn't hurt nearly as much as they have in years past.
As the second and third days came and went, I got stronger and more confident. At the same time, I was careful to not get cocky and overconfident as that just leads to embarrassing falls.
I did have my first fall on Tuesday afternoon. Our definition of a fall means that you lose part of your equipment, like a ski or two comes off, so I qualified since I lost both of my skis.
I really can't tell you what happened as it took place in the blink of an eye. I just know that I was feeling good one minute and going way too fast the next. Before I could slow down and regain control, I hit the deck. Luckily, I didn't get hurt.
We had agreed to meet at one of the restaurants around 11:30 on Tuesday where Jerry could take a group picture. Let me go on record as one who sometimes gets lost. Not really lost, just misplaced.
I must have made the wrong turn on our way down a run on Peak 7, so I lost contact with Connie. I eventually made it back to where I was supposed to be, but I was about 35 minutes late, so I missed the group picture. I think the others were just happy that I was stlll alive and kicking.
I had planned to take Wednesday as a day off for rest and that's exactly what I did as I just sat around the condo and read a good book while the others were out skiing.
It had been sunny and clear for the first part of the week, but the weather changed Wednesday night as we got about five inches of new snow. It really makes the place look like a winter wonderland, but unless you're an experienced skier, skiing in powder can be a tough challenge.
My experience today wasn't nearly as good as the previous three days. It was still snowing like crazy, so the visibility at times was almost zero. And I didn't have much luck skiing through the powder. After falling four time on the same run, including three times in about a 50-yard stretch, I finally reached the bottom where Connie was faithfully waiting for me.
I thanked her for her patience, but told her that I wanted her to go on and do her thing while I made my way back down to easier slopes.
I finally made it back down and did a few more runs, but since my confidence level had been shattered once again, I decided to call it a day just before noon after a little more than three hours on the slopes.
We still have one more day before we pack our bags and head back to Chattanooga on Saturday. Will I ski on Friday as we wrap up a great week of outdoor activity amongst the beauty of the Colorado Rockies?
The jury is still out as I haven't made up my mind. Chances are good that I'll go back out for one more day before we head home, but even if I make the decision to stay in, it's been a great week of snow skiing for this old guy.
So do you think you want want to really challenge yourself? If so, snow skiing is the way to go. It's a great form of exercise and it's a nice way to meet lots of new friends, but there's nothing easy about it.
Just make sure if you go that you don't break any ribs. It's a lot more fun to ski when you don't.
(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)