By: Nan McKenzie, November 23, 2015
Downstairs in the Summit House, where the chair lift takes you on Big Mountain, there are pictures of early Whitefish. My eight-year-old self is featured in one, me in a long heavy coat, reaching for the rope tow on the bunny slope. The picture was taken in 1950, and I wanted to be like my older sister, who was on the ski team for Whitefish High School. She was wonderful, tall and athletic, and would compete in races with skiers from all over. Well, until she broke her leg and ended a promising career.
My mother had very little money in those days, and it was difficult for her to come up with $2.50 for me, $2 to ski, $.50 for the bus to and fro. I had to carry my own lunch, squashed-up peanut butter sandwiches. My skis were way too big for my height, heavy wooden things that were meant for a strong man. They had an evil mind of their own, going lots of places I never intended. The only poles I had were borrowed, and my ski gloves were Dad’s old work gloves that wore out quickly on the rope tow. My floppy galoshes didn’t grasp the binders too well, and sometimes they came off, leaving me staggering down the hill in my socks.
I can still feel the grab of the rushing tow, pulling myself up to ride next to the rope, my skis dancing in snow ruts made by the many skiers before me. I had no idea how to ski, just pointed downhill and hoped I could stop. The easiest way to stop was to sit down and slide, snow bunching up under my long heavy coat, and trying to ignore people laughing at me.
I taught myself to snow plow by watching others do it, but it was not always successful, with lots of face plants, and cold snow pushing into my sleeves. The exhilaration of flying downhill was worth the cold, the snow covering my clothes, the runny nose.
Each November, I still get antsy, wanting to buy some skis, some boots, try my legs again. I had taken up skiing again in the seventies, traveling to Bozeman and Big Sky and other more obscure hills. I was never very good, but managed to keep from injuring myself and still loved flying downhill. The time is past for me to get out on the slopes, though I do miss it.