How slopes flunkee turned into a ski bum

by Tim Froberg

Why so serious?

I know that’s the Joker’s line, but I can tell by that grim look on your face that you’re not enjoying another Wisconsin winter.

The snow is piling up, the excitement of Christmas has faded and you don’t know what to do with yourself.

Instead of firing up the grill in shorts and flip-flops, you get to bundle up in a heavy parka and shovel snow.

And then you get to shovel more snow.

Trust me, friends. There are ways to avoid cabin fever and get through winter without going all-Jack Nicholson on everyone.

Find a winter hobby, preferably one that connects you to the great outdoors. It could be snowmobiling, skating, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, or in my case, downhill skiing.

I have lived my entire life in the giant refrigerator known as the Midwest. And if I have learned one thing from this frosty existence, it’s this: winter is far more tolerable – and, call me crazy, even fun – if you have a meaningful hobby.

I grew up in the Upper Peninsula – the birthplace of Jack Frost – where no one smiles between January and March.

And man, did I hate winter.

Instead of taking advantage of this winter wonderland, I did nothing but complain about the lousy weather. I dreamed of the day when I’d leave my Sorel boots behind and move to a warmer location.

Eventually, I did relocate … to Wisconsin, which was like moving from Iceland to the North Pole. Good thing I didn’t throw those Sorels away.

Going from a Yooper to a Cheesehead didn’t change my negative attitude about winter until I decided to try downhill skiing. The way I saw it, if I couldn’t handle it, I could always be a lodge guy and quaff cocktails in the warmth of the chalet while others barreled down the hill at breakneck speed.

Unfortunately, my first day on the slopes at Marquette Mountain turned out to be a humbling, painful experience. I discovered I wasn’t nearly as athletic as I thought and had a better chance of climbing Mt. Everest than zooming down a ski hill without incident.

Let’s just say that it wasn’t love at first flight. I took a tumble, or 10. I just couldn’t get the hang of it and fell – early and often.

The skis just seemed so incredibly awkward. It was like trying to navigate a tightrope on the back of a pickup truck moving at 65 mph. I couldn’t find a way to control my speed. I fell on the beginner’s hill. I fell on the bunny hill. I fell in the parking lot. Even getting on a moving chairlift was an adventure. Was this sport actually supposed to be fun? How could it be? Falling on ice is not fun. If my ski debut could have put to music, the soundtrack would’ve consisted of classic rocks hits like “Wipeout,” “Welcome to My NIghtmare” and “Free Falling.”

At the end of the day, my body was badly bruised and so was my ego. I felt like I had just gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson. I limped to my car – yes, I was limping and my shoulder hurt, too – and put those wretched skis away for what I thought would be the rest of my life.

I had tried downhill skiing and it wasn’t for me. Let others bomb the hill like Bode Miller. I’d go back to complaining about the winter and daydreaming about sunny July afternoons in Margaritaville.

And then a funny thing happened. A few months later, a couple of friends talked me into taking a weekend ski trip to Wausau. I told them I’d hang out in the chalet but wouldn’t go skiing because I had already tried that and didn’t feel like adding more bruises to the collection.

The next thing I knew I was standing at the top of Granite Peak with those wooden strips of horror strapped to my feet. With guys being guys, they had shamed me into giving downhill skiing another shot. I nervously looked down the hill, wondering how I’d be able to drive my car home with a cast on my broken leg. Downhill skiing is a dangerous sport, where people have actually died trying to learn it. They don’t tell you that when you take your first ski lesson.

But my trepidation soon gave way to elation. My guardian angel turned out to be a ski bum. I made it down the hill unscathed. Then, I did the same thing over and over again. It was like a switch went off in my body, welcoming me to the full-throttle world of downhill skiing. By the end of the day, I was skiing better than my two buddies, which was a modest accomplishment considering neither of those fellas were athletic marvels.

Somehow, some way, I had turned the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory.

More than 25 years have passed since that lightbulb moment in Wausau, and I have spent a portion of every winter on the slopes. I’ve learned there is an adrenaline junkie inside me, which probably isn’t a good thing for a guy who is already on AARP’s mailing list. Because I have a winter hobby, I no longer hate winter and have learned to embrace it. I actually find myself grumbling in March about the lack of snow, leading my wife to frantically search online for an available psychiatrist for the one person in Wisconsin who actually wants more winter.

The moral of my story? Old Man Winter doesn’t have to be your enemy. Find a winter hobby and you can make it your ally. And take it from me, a second effort with anything never hurts – even if you’re trying to navigate a slippery slope in the fast and furious world of downhill skiing.