On a Sunday afternoon after the first significant snowfall in Fairbanks, the landscape is blanketed smooth and white. The sunlight slants sideways, casting the spruces into a golden glow, a pristine world.
I try to animate my family. “Let’s go for a ski!”
They glance up at me from the couch and armchair where they recline, books in hand. Even though it is noon, they lounge, Helen in pajamas, Nick still unshaven.
“I don’t have any ski pants,” is Helen’s excuse.
“I want to finish the article I’m reading,” Nick comments.
I tell them I would assemble what we need for the excursion. I would find appropriate clothing, apply wax to the cross-country skis, gather poles into the trunk of the car. We are so lucky to live in Alaska, I tell them, where snowfall and skiing are always guaranteed. Even the US National Ski Team takes advantage of this, traveling to Alaska early, where they can begin their training much earlier than anywhere in the lower 48 states. They grunt back at me before they finally concede.
Of course, given the fact that we have not used the equipment since last winter, our preparations take some time. Helen grumbles that the ski pants she borrows from me are too big. Nick’s second pair, which I borrow, in turn, from him, are equally large on me. After we pull tight the drawstrings at our waists, we both look like balloons.
“Never mind,” I tell my fashion-conscious teenager. “There will only be moose out there to see us!”
Nick, when we arrive at the trails, realizes he has left his hat in the garage at home. I produce a bright baby-blue headband from the compartment in the car, which I hand him with grin. He looks at me in dismay but pulls it over his ears anyway.
Finally, even though not exactly trend setting in attire, we are off. Helen chooses the wider trail to skate ski. Nick and I follow each other along a narrower, parallel track which is perfect for classical skiing. Just as I try to tell myself that skiing is like bike riding, once learned. forever engrained, I turn to see Helen, arms flailing, lose her balance. She lands gracefully. I, however, head turned, chuckling, run smack into Nick. He had been plowing ahead steadily, like a tractor in first gear, but had chosen that precise moment to slow down in front of me. I land in the deep snow, from which I try to extract myself, skis crossed, poles jutting. I heave myself back up, dignity bruised, much less elegant in manner.
When we collectively find our ski legs again, the loop trail beckons. The skis hiss as they glide over the packed snow. We lengthen our stride on the gradual decline and feel as though we are flying. We call to each other, laughing, soon drenched in sweat. The air is crisp and invigorating. Who would have thought that moving forward across snow covered terrain purely by the power of our own locomotion could be fun.
Afterwards, we joke about each other. My “clomping” whenever the skis slid out behind me. Nick’s steadfast expression as though he were taking on the next 50 km freestyle race. Helen’s exaggerated panting whenever the slightest uphill presented itself, complaining that, unlike her father and me, it was not her intention to lose ten pounds before the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
We may have been the Flintstone Family on their first ski excursion of the season, but later, rubbing our sore muscles, we all felt there is hope for us yet.