The Sporting Life
I’ve never been a big fan of skiing. Now, it’s not because I have an aversion to all things physical. I’m sure most people will look at me and say, “Oh, of course he doesn’t like skiing! Look at him!” Most will equate a lack of a sporting life with a fear of trying new things. Now, it’s not that I’ve never tried skiing. I have gone skiing. It was a very popular pastime in my hometown. Every winter, there’d be at least two or three class trips to the local ski hill, Lake Eden. Most of my classmates regarded Warren Miller with the same kind of reverence I have for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Naturally, I’d go along on these class trips, take a few skiing lessons, and do a few runs on the bunny hill. Every time, I’d walk away from the ski hill saying, “Know what? I really don’t care for this.” For me, not skiing isn’t a fear to try new things. It’s just simply acknowledging what I don’t like. So, when a few coworkers asked me if I wanted to go skiing with them, I naturally said, “Of course!”
I should clarify that my coworkers weren’t going skiing. They were going snowboarding. I don’t know why, but it seems that a rivalry has developed in recent years between skiers and snowboarders. I still remember when snowboarding was regarded as quite a new novelty. Hell, that was just 10 years ago or so. I remember my brother coming back from Lake Eden one day and telling me, “Wow, we saw snowboarders on the slopes today! Snowboarders!” What a difference 10 years makes! I recently read the statistic that only 20% of the world’s ski resorts still enforce a ban on snowboarding. At most ski slopes today, snowboard rentals and ski rentals are side-by-side, and I’m guessing snowboards make more money. But I digress.
For me, going snowboarding with them meant a trip out into the mountains, and I’m always up for a getaway into those snowy peaks. The Gala Ski Resort was nestled in the heart of the Japanese Alps, and one hour away by the fabled shinkansen. In fact, the ski resort itself was at the end of the line. You step off the train and boom! You’re in the lobby. You’re faced with a line of clerks selling you your lift tickets, and, around the corner, you have your boot, ski, and snowboard rentals. Everything about the rental area was so shiny and new. The counters for each rental station were polished and gleaming below the skylights. Young, clean-cut workers stood behind each one, ready to take your size and get you the proper equipment from the back room. It was a far cry from the musty concrete bunker that was Lake Eden’s rental shop. Once my coworkers had their equipment and headed off to the snowy slopes, I went off to the swimming pool!
Now, swimming is a sport I have always enjoyed, despite not being very good at it. I took the Red Cross swimming lessons when I was a kid, and it’s one of the true blemishes on my academic record. I had to take Orange (the second grade) three times before passing, I had to take Red (the third grade) three times before passing, and when I failed Maroon (the fourth grade) for the fourth time, I said, “Screw this!” and gave up. For a while there, I was going with my mother and baby sister to “Mommy and Me” classes at the pool, and while my Mom and sister would do the Mom and Tot stuff, the swimming teacher would tutor me. But then, word got out that I was going to Mommy and Me swimming classes with my Mommy, and I stopped doing that when the public ridicule got to be too much. It only became embarrassing in junior high, when my class would walk down to the swimming pool for Phys Ed class, and, by now, it was assumed that everyone had passed White (the eighth and final grade). My Phys Ed teacher would say, “OK, now for a warm up, tread water for 5 minutes!” I’d just raise my hand and go, “Uhh, how do I do that?” But, when there’s no psycho Phys Ed teacher getting mad with me because I can’t tread water; when there’s no one around laughing at me for my constant failure of swimming lessons, I can just swim. And I love it.
The swimming pool at Gala was more of a recreational pool than a big, deep-diving, swimming-50-laps kind of pool. It was a uniform chest-depth. It had an odd shape, with corners set aside for water-massage stations and kid toys and stuff like that. This being Japan, there was a sign that I’d never seen before. An onsen (Japanese hot spring) was also part of this complex, so there were signs posted reminding the visitors that a swimsuit must be worn in the pool. I briefly flirted with the idea of using my gaijin-innocence to “accidentally” walk into the women’s onsen, but then noticed that all of the signs were in English as well, so gaijin-innocence wouldn’t be much of an alibi.
After I had changed into my swim trunks and left my glasses in my locker, I headed out to the pool. Now, from when I checked out the pool beforehand, I knew that there was a glass door sealing off the change rooms from the pool. Just as I started to wonder where the glass doors were, I ran into them, with an embarrassing “thud.” Curse my poor eyesight! Rubbing my bruised nose, I opened the doors and stepped into the pool. The first thing I did, as soon as it was deep enough, was dive underwater.
My favourite thing to do was always go underwater. There was always a bucket of hockey pucks at the Entwistle pool, and people were always free to chuck them into the deep end and then go diving for them. I would spend hours collecting hockey pucks. Going underwater also seems to be one of the earliest physical endurance tests we can subject ourselves to. As soon as we get brave enough to do it, we find ourselves daring our friends, “How long can you hold your breath?” As I began warming up to the pool, it wasn’t long before I was attempting to swim the entire length underwater.
This was the first time in years I had actually gone swimming. The Entwistle pool had long since filled in its pool to waist-depth when they realized that most of their customers 8-year olds. Yeah, I’d been to the World Waterpark at West Edmonton Mall a few times, but their crashing wave pool really isn’t designed for the kind of swimming I like to do. I was back in the water, and loving every minute of it. But soon, it was time to go meet the snowboarders for lunch. With a heavy heart, I left the pool, and headed out to the snowy slopes.
I bundled out and headed out to the tramway terminal. The whole onsen/swimming pool area was at the base of the mountain, with the ski resort proper higher up. I climbed into a tram with a couple of skiers and we were on our way up the mountain. I’m sure it would have been a lovely view, but the clouds were rolling in and it was starting to snow pretty heavily. I had ran into another guy in the pool who told me that he had given up on skiing because it was getting too cold and too snowy. I arrived at the upper terminal and walked out into the winter wonderland.
I stood out there for a moment and watched all of the skiers and snowboarders. I studied the snowboarders for a moment. I think, maybe, I should give it a try. Whenever I went skiing, I refused to use poles, for I found, more often than not, and even after lessons, I was always tripping over them. Snowboarding seems to be more in tune with the pole-less style I always attempted. For a moment, I briefly regretted not joining my friends on the slope that day. It’s skiing I don’t like, not snowboarding. But, on that day, as the clouds rolled in and the snowstorms began, I remembered that I don’t like being outside in snowstorms. I’m not afraid to try new things. But I’m fanatical about trying them. Maybe I will hit the slopes on a snowboard, someday, and finally join all the folks at Lake Eden. But not today.
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© Mark Sladen Cappis, 2003