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Learning to ski

December 21, 2018
The youth ski package we bought several years ago, left, and the last ski package I bought for myself.

If I remember correctly, I was about 9 years old when I saw my mother’s old skis at my grandfather Andersen’s house in Blackfoot and took them home to learn to ski. A pair of bamboo poles came with the skis, and I didn’t have to buy ski boots because the toe straps that were nailed across the width of each ski would allow me to simply slip my cowboy boots between the skis and the straps, which held the skis to each boot.

The skis were completely wood with no metal edges attached to help with carving turns. Like most people who learned to ski in the early and mid-1950s, I was taught by my mother to use a snow plow configuration with the skis and simply put more weight on one ski or the other when I wanted to turn. Turning was surprisingly easy if there was a lot of snow, but if the snow was packed and smooth, the lack of metal edges made it so that when I tried to turn I found myself sliding sideways down the hill and gaining speed. The leather straps holding my boots to the skis would allow my feet to twist a little before the skis would react to the pressure, so I often found myself not only going sideways down the hill, but I was also twisted at an angle in my skis so that I couldn’t see the direction I was going because I wasn’t facing the direction I was going once I tried to slow down by turning. I sometimes think it was a miracle I survived when first learning to ski on those old wooden skis.

By the time I was 12 years old, I had skiing pretty well figured out and decided I needed skis with metal edges and bindings that would keep my boots from twisting from side to side and would hold my boots straight on the skis.

My father felt that it was time to upgrade and took me to a ski shop to get fitted with a new pair of boots, bindings and skis with metal edges. First we looked at skis, and then the salesman at the shop had me raise my hand as high as I could and found out what length of ski would reach my wrist. That seemed awfully long to me, but the salesman insisted that the skis had to be a little longer than I was tall. Next we tried on some ski boots until we found a pair of Kastle boots that fit and held me pretty snug while coming up over the ankle. Next, the salesman sold us a pair of Cubco bindings, telling my father that they were safety bindings and would release during falls before my ankles and knees were injured. The Cubco bindings also had a cord that tied around the skiers boots and clipped into the bindings so the skis wouldn’t go on down the hill during a fall.

Thinking I was all set to conquer the hill, I headed up to Skyline Ski Area (now called Pebble Creek) and took the rope tow to the top of the Aspen run to try out my new ski equipment. I started down the hill and everything was going fine, so I decided to practice parallel turning to check speed, and my left Cubco binding released. As I was trying to ski on one ski with the detached ski on a cord pounding my feet, my right Cubco binding released and I went down and got pummeled by my skis that were hooked by cords to my boots until I came to a stop.

I never could get those Cubco bindings to hold on to my boots in a turn and took some of the most spectacular falls at Skyline that winter. At the end of the ski season, my legs were pretty scarred from the beating they took whenever I tried to turn and my skis, that now had metal edges, beat up my shins until I stopped falling.

The next season, I had marker bindings on my skis. The marker bindings were great. I could turn at reasonably high speed and jump and land without the bindings even coming close to releasing. I became a much better skier that season because my skis would stay with me unless I took a really severe fall where the bindings would release before I injured an ankle or knee.

In the years since, I have gone through various skis made by Hart, Head, Vokel and now Atomic Metrons with Neox bindings. The technology being used to make skis and bindings now is really much more advanced than what we had available when I started skiing, and bindings today are designed to stop the skis from continuing down the hill if not attached to the skier’s boots.

Prices for skis and ski equipment have gone through the roof. We are often spending almost $1,000 or more for skis and several hundred dollars for bindings. Most of us are now wearing protective head gear or helmets. Sometimes retailers offer ski packages that can save one some money when buying skis, boots, bindings and sometimes helmets in a package deal. I bought my last skis and bindings as a package and saved a couple hundred dollars over buying them separately. I particularly like some of the youth ski package deals I have seen. We bought a youth ski package including skis, boots, bindings and ski poles a few years ago for one of our grandsons. He is too big for it now, but it has been passed down to his brothers as they have taken up skiing. That youth ski package has been worth every cent we paid for it and is still in good enough shape to be used again when the next grandchild needs it.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

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