By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II
Are you old enough to remember the Sears Christmas Wish Book? Well, back in 1973, we lived in Luzerne County, PA (near the I-80 & I-81 intersection). My dad had permission from the neighboring farmer to make a 10-foot opening in the hedgerow behind our place, so we could sled ride down the hill in his cornfield, through the opening, and continue down across an empty lot between our place and the neighbor’s. Dad’s opening doubled the length of our sled runs and eliminated the hazard of stopping your speeding sled before hitting the rocks and trees in the hedgerow. When the annual Sears catalog devoted to toys and potential Christmas gifts arrived in Sep. 1973, I poured through it and became captivated by a pair of skis and poles they offered.
The skis were red with cable bindings, which were common at the time. Lifting the latch would open the bindings and after putting the toe of your boot into the toe piece (special ski boots were not required), you would push the latch down to lock yourself onto your ski. The unique thing was that these bindings could either lock your heel in place for downhill skiing or you could leave the cables free to cross-country ski by lifting your heel. I was blessed to receive the skis from Sears for Christmas 1973 and the Winter of 1973-74, I spent dozens of days after school and on weekends teaching myself the basic skills of both downhill and cross-country skiing.
I think it was primarily the influence of our neighbors, who were skiers; but the next year my parents decided that our entire family would all take up skiing at nearby Eagle Rock Ski Resort, outside Hazleton. I still remember the ski instructors teaching us the Graduated Length Method, where we started on only two-foot skis without poles and each lesson we were given longer skis until we reached the appropriate length for our heights and then incorporated poles. Soon, my sister, brother, and I were downhill skiing with proficiency and fearlessly tackling any slope with confidence. (My parents weren’t inclined to ski with as much reckless abandon.)
My downhill skiing career continued throughout high school, where my sister and I were members of the ski club, and we had the opportunity to ski most of the prominent ski areas in the Poconos and up into Eastern New York. However, downhill skiing went by the wayside when I went to Penn State, since mom and dad were no longer footing the bill for lift tickets and ski equipment, which can add up to quite an expense. An ad on a State College radio station for a complete cross-country ski package for $99.00, got me started on cross-country skiing on Penn State’s Blue & White Golf Courses and that became my newfound passion. In the Army in Alaska from 1985-89, I was assigned the additional duty of Unit Cross-Country Ski Instructor, since we were on skis from Oct. through Apr. For over 30-years, I exclusively cross-country skied when snow conditions permitted, since public lands/trails are abundant in our area.
In Jan. 2018, I had the privilege of meeting my son down at Allegheny County’s Boyce Park Ski Area. I’ve always heard it said, “you never forget how to ride a bike”; well, I experienced the same thing with downhill skiing as it all came back to me very quickly. My son, who was already a proficient cross-country skier, made a smooth transition to downhill after 30-minutes on the slopes. For Christmas, my daughter and son-in-law’s gift to me was a day on the slopes with them at Seven Springs. This past Sat., Feb. 2, Shannon, Michael, and I hit the slopes, along with thousands of other skiers. Michael has been snowboarding since he was 8 and he took on all slopes with speed and agility on his snowboard. Shannon’s fi rst-time on downhill skis was also a smooth, quick transition from cross-country and something she plans on continuing in the future.
Not everything in life is like the movie, “Groundhog Day”, where it repeats itself, but downhill came back to me and you can always try it again too! God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019