This past summer marked my 50th high school reunion from the Juneau Douglas High School. One of the subjects that came up was skiing in ‘the old days’ in Juneau. Here is my attempt to capture some of those memories.
Mostly cold and wet. That’s the first feeling that comes to mind. A scrawny, seven-year-old, when my dad first coaxed and cajoled me up the mile-long trail to a beat-up shelter called “second cabin.” He graciously carried my skis for part of the hike, which kept me from giving up.
I still love the smell of steamy wet wool. After thawing my frozen toes over the wood fired stove, and waiting for my soggy wool socks and mittens to dry, I pulled on the layers all over again. By the time I had laced my old leather ski boots, zipped my jacket, and pulled my wool hat down over my eyebrows, I was no longer even a little bit cold. I was hot enough to explode.
Outside, wet, heavy snow stung my eyes. Cradling my skis, I lumbered over to the start of a rope tow powered by a dodge truck engine purchased in Seward in 1945 for fifty bucks. Since it was designed for big people, it yanked my puny four-foot frame several feet off the snow where I dangled momentarily, hanging on like a crab on the side of a net trying to keep from being shook into the boiling pot. Back on the snow I struggled to maintain control as the rope slipped through my once again wet-mitten grip. Eventually, I bounced, slipped and slid the 600 feet to the very top.
From there it was….yes! All downhill on heavy wooden skis more than a foot taller than I, teetering over bumps and careening around straggly spruce trees, to the start of the rope tow to begin the whole thing over. And over, and over again. Those early days of skiing grew on me like an irritating little sister that you can’t help but love.
Turns out, at the age of 12, I was that irritating little sister. My big sis’ Barb, let me run with her high school ski team buddies, the ‘Big Kids’. Two years later, no longer a tag-along-little sister, I officially joined the high school ski team and experienced real pre-season training – miles of running up and down mountains, kicking a soccer ball back and forth in the pouring rain on a mud-soaked field in the evergreen bowl, and matching push-ups and sit-ups with the boys. I loved it. I was now officially committed to spending every weekend and holiday doing what most people do at ski areas but maybe a little more rustic: No chair lifts. No kitschy little snack bar, not even a road. Like it or not, my relationship with skiing was on its way to becoming a life-long love affair.