A Ski Instructor to Die For

It’s Friday morning and the sun is shining. Like you, I’ve got a busy day planned.

The weekend looms. But first, I’ve got something special in mind for you.

Today we have a guest post, but with a bit of a twist.

The writer isn’t a blogger. Yet. (I keep telling her it’s only a matter of time.)

Gry Tina Tinde and I met via Twitter. She’s a Norwegian now in Washington DC, but has lived and worked in a number of countries. We’ve gotten to know each other a bit, and have found much in common: work with peacekeeping and the UN, interest in social issues such as human trafficking and refugees, writing.

I’ve written about her, and the fact that she’s writing a novel set in a peacekeeping mission in Cambodia, in UN Reverie. That post also includes Tina’s interview with Expat Women.

So grab a cup of koffie (or whatever you prefer), sit back and enjoy Tina’s debut.









(At the age of three the author established the killer instinct that prompted her debut and failure as a ski instructor in Montana, USA. Here with her mother Tull Andersen in Norway, 1967.)

A Ski Instructor to Die For

Born and raised in Norway, I take skiing seriously. Combine this with a big mouth and you have a self-appointed skiing expert and wannabe instructor, who literally goes over the top.

In 1986 I was a 22-year-old graduate student in journalism at the University of Montana. Its tranquil home town, Missoula, lay surrounded by Rocky Mountain slopes and summits. Despite the familiar topography I found more differences between the US and Norway than I had time to write home about.

I had grudgingly glanced at fellow students excelling in tennis on the courts in front of my dorm. They were show-offs. When I asked to join something called “rush” that seemed to entertain women on my dorm floor a lot, I was told it was impossible. To this day I don’t know what the rush was all about, but it didn’t strike me as overly academic.

During a homecoming football game I buried myself in books (we were not online in those days), rejecting any acquaintance with such an incomprehensible, ultra-American activity.

As I eyed the little hacky sack that students deftly and playfully kicked around during breaks, I said to myself: Just wait till winter and you will see me in my element. This mountainous state was made for people like me.

Clearly, my alpine leadership and honed skiing style would be indispensable during a day of wintry fun at Snowbowl with the International Student Association. At potlucks there had been Africans and East Asians as far as the eye could see. They would no doubt need skiing guidance.

My most worn outfit in class was my self-knitted “Marius” sweater, akin to the one donned by the Norwegian Olympic gold medal winner in downhill skiing, heartthrob Stein Eriksen. As soon as the skiing season started, I swore I would show everyone the natural connection between Mr. Eriksen and myself, aside from the red, white and blue pullover, of course.

I reminisced about a photo on my parents’ mantelpiece back in Norway of my mother and me, aged three, atop a snow drift with a big grin and wooden skis strapped to my little boots. My heart bled for people who had not had the opportunity to master skiing and enjoy the exhilarating feeling of swooshing down a snowy mountainside.

Heading to the mountains with students as culturally diverse as the UN General Assembly, I looked around the bus for an alpine representative who could join me on the black diamond slopes. Someone from Northern Italy would do, preferably a handsome, outdoorsy type. But the excited faces I saw hailed from Malaysia, Nigeria, Taiwan and a number of other snow-free countries. It seemed I would be the only one to head for the real challenges, but skiing alone did not tempt me, somehow.

My Mexican friend Yolanda had never skied before and I proposed to show her some tricks. She impressed everyone in the group with her tight, shiny one-piece ski suit. The bronze-colored unitard seemed to be made of plastic. These were the 80s.

Maybe Yolanda and some of the other athletic fellow students would join me at the top, so that I could show them how to ski? I asked. Never mind the bunny slope, it’s for kids, I stated, and made no secret of my skiing experience, practically since infancy. In addition to Yolanda, several Africans and Asians seized the opportunity for a free lesson.

Everyone rented skis, and Yolanda and I were the first to approach the lift and climb onto the double chair as it slowed down behind us. Yolanda was in the environmental studies program, had worked as a camp counselor in the Californian desert, and drove a pickup truck. Her professional goal was to become a forest ranger. This was one tough woman.

Even though my experience with beginner skiers was zero, I had no doubt she would take easily to the sport. We joyfully dangled our skis high above the tree tops as the lift took us higher and higher.

Trouble started when the chair reached the summit and we were supposed to slide off. Panic stricken, Yolanda grabbed my arm and declared that she had no idea what to do. So I gave her a bear hug and jumped for both of us. With entangled arms, legs and skis, we fell jointly to the ground like a sack of potatoes. The lift had to stop while we crawled toward the flat area next to the brink of the slope.

Embarrassed to the core from falling off the lift, I stood up and expected Yolanda to do the same. But she remained on the snow, awkwardly wiggling her body and skis and waving her arms, not getting anywhere near an upright position. I discovered that I did not know how to articulate the process of getting up, so I had to bite the dust and lie down again in order to show her.

Yolanda’s legs were trembling from the effort of getting up. But she wanted to learn how to ski. With her fingers clenched around the poles and legs as stiff as tree trunks, she tried to follow my slow, diagonal slide across the steep slope. I could see terror in her eyes as she glanced down the nearly vertical descent.

Not the least jittery myself, I scoffed and continued the instruction. About halfway across, Yolanda’s skis crossed and she tumbled. From then on, things went fast. Her ski suit provided the friction of a bobsled, probably because of the similar material choice.

Not familiar with falling techniques, Yolanda opted to lift her skis and poles up in the air, instead of using them to break the speed. This was one fast bullet, destined for the bottom of the hill. Chasing after her as fast as I could, I admired the black, curly hair flowing in the cloud of snow behind her.

I heard screaming and noticed members of our group riding the lift alongside the slope gesticulating frantically. They probably found Yolanda’s baptism by fire as hilarious as I did, I thought, and laughed and waved back.

The African men on the ski lift who had witnessed Yolanda’s downfall told me afterwards that they had been convinced she would be crushed and die when she reached the bottom of the slope. From their frightened expressions I could tell they were not joking. Refusing to end their young lives, they and my other disheartened students had remained on the chair lift until they reached safety again at the bottom.

As I raced after my projectile friend I had little doubt she would be OK, having noticed the mounds of snow skirting the outstretched landing area. Luckily she did not hit anyone along the way. Baffled, but unhurt, Yolanda joined my ecstatic laughter as I pulled her out of a snow pile. Not a single snowflake adhered to her glistening garb, but skis and poles were still attached.

After turning to the bunny slope for the remainder of the day, she completed her master’s degree and became a Rocky Mountain forest ranger, incidentally without any help from yours truly.


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