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How The World Wags

"Winter sports? Snow way!"
By Dave Kiffer

January 15, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - I must finally be an "adult."

When the skies cloud over and the soft white flakes begin to float down, all I can think of is what a pain in the "tookus" snow is!

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My mother has been at this stage for far longer. When I was kid I would get excited about snowfall and she would just grumble about how hard it was to get around in the white stuff.

Fair enough. I am watching the snow plows go up and down the steep hills and I am wondering how I will entertain our uber-toddler since we won't be driving off to our usual distractions this weekend.

Sure, you're saying that with all this snow, it is easy to entertain children. Just break out the sled and let them coast up and down the hill a few times. That works for a few minutes until toes and fingers get a little wet and the nose gets a little cold. Then it's time to head back inside for a warm up, then outside, then inside, then outside... oh, what fun it is sing a "sledding" song tonight!.

Besides, since he's my child, there's a chance he won't take to winter recreation anymore than I did. I was never that big on winter sports (unless you count enjoying watching downhill skiers blast down the slopes or figure skaters complete triple Salchows........on TV).

As funny as it sounds, I am an Alaskan native who doesn't know how to either ski or ice skate. The lack of ice skating skills is really odd considering my parents met while ice skating at Ward Lake in the last Millennium. Unfortunately my formative years (those wacky mid to late 1960s) coincided with a period of localized global warming and the lakes were rarely frozen over. I went skating a couple of times but it just never took hold. I just remember being really cold and nervous about falling down. Since I was nervous about falling, I did. That - of course - made me more nervous.

My wife loves to skate. She tried to teach me one cold winter a few years ago. I nearly fell down (actually I did fall down, but I managed to make it look like I was taking a break to tighten my laces). End of story. She suggested we go to Prince Rupert so I could learn on the indoor rink there. There were about a hundred toddler "Wayne Gretskys" blasting back and forth across the ice. Not a good time to be a wobbly 40 year old.

Skiing didn't come naturally either. When I was in grade school, I found a pair of my sister's old skis in the basement rafters. My friends Bruce and George and I went out and tried to turn Jefferson into a downhill course one winter. Unfortunately, the snow plows kept scraping the road way down to ice, so we had to use the snow covered sidewalk. About half way down the block between Second and First avenues there was a telephone pole in the middle of the sidewalk. Try as I might (and I tried three times), I couldn't slalom around it. Ouch, ouch and more ouch.

The closest I ever came to skiing down Jefferson was several years later when I was riding my Honda 125 to Kayhi every day. Between first period and sixth period, it snowed about five inches. The smart thing to do would have been to leave the bike and school and walk home, but I was not prone to "good decision making" at that point in my life.

I started to coast down from Fourth Avenue and I just barely touched the brakes, the bike skidded and I tipped over. The bike and I slid down to Third Avenue. We repeated the action and slid down to Second Avenue. Finally, I decided to not touch the breaks going down to First. I was sliding (although still upright on the bike) at around 30 mph when I reached First. I managed to slalom around a fire hydrant and careen into our front yard, ending up in a large snowbank. I was not injured but the motorcycle had a bent handlebar and went straight into the basement until Spring.

Later that same winter (obviously an unusually snowy one), I joined a group of other fearless outdoor adventurers for a hike up Deer Mountain for the purpose of "skiing" on the saddle next to the peak. Some people brought skies, some brought inner tubes and some just brought pieces of plastic visqueen (yes, boys and girls there was a time in prehistory before snow boards had been invented).

The saddle area was pretty steep, but there were some great gullies that carried you all the way down into the tree line and there were lots of jumps that sent you flying so far out you thought you were going to come down in Ketchikan Lakes.

I had a great time, especially when I fell of the plastic and slid face down for about 50 yards. Well, it was fun until I realized my fly had come open and my pants had filled up with snow.

One of the other adventurers was lot less lucky. He went off a jump and skied down into the tree line at a high rate of speed. They had to extricate him with a helicopter.

With my love of motorcycles, one would think that snow mobiles would have been a good option. But once again, you really need snow and we didn't have enough of it back then to justify the cost. Fortunately none of my snowmobiling friends came up with the bright idea of trying to "skip" a snowmobile across the harbor (and sinking it in the process). That would have been a "really bad choice" waiting to happen.

I did show an aptitude for snowshoeing. I could go for hours without getting particularly tired. But that was too much like hunting or checking traps with my father. He certainly considered that activity " fun", but I was not convinced.

Still, you have to give me points for trying. One winter, I went temporarily insane with interest about the primarily Canadian sport of curling. I even tried - unsuccessfully - to enlist my Houghtaling chums to try it (with real rocks) on a frozen creek that used to run behind the high school.

I would sit mesmerized before the TV as the skip would slide down the rink, let the shot rock curl out of his hand and watch as it slid down toward the "take out." Even the frantic broom sweeping at the other end couldn't distract me from the ultimate zen feel of the act of "shooting the rock." It looked so calm and the position was as near to prone as any I'd ever seen in any sport. It was a position that someone could fall asleep in.

Even at a young age, I recognized the importance of napping. Especially during the comfy, snowy embrace of winter. Too bad that life is just a little too busy right now. Maybe I can catch a few winks while the uber-toddler is pulling his sled back up the hill.

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Dave Kiffer ©2004

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