To My Ski Hill

To my ski hill.
The Pinnacle 1/31/15, by Jolene McGowan

If you didn’t have leather gloves you got very good at grabbing the rope tow without letting it slip through your woolen mittens so as not to shred them on the first run. If it was cold enough and you had taken a few wipe-outs, your mittens would be covered with ice and snow adding another layer of protection against the flying rope.

If you were lucky enough to own a pair of leather gloves you would sometimes let the rope run against your protected palms creating a zinging sound that signaled the older kids in line behind you of your self-assurance and superiority: “I’ve done this a thousand times. I will grab this rope tow with one hand. I will then, casually, ever so coolly, reach behind my back and grab it with my other hand, or not.”

“This is my hill,” you thought.

The Pinnacle is a one-hundred-foot high ski slope located in my home-town. Established in 1954, it continues to operate today as an all-volunteer-run non-profit.

There was, and still is, a main slope with a 600-foot rope tow. A young skier would make his or her way up the hill in stages marked by trees as their skills improved. The first tree as a beginner, the second tree as an intermediate and the top as an expert.

When he or she arrived at the top of the Pinnacle a decision had to be made to either step off the towline to the right to ski down the main slope or duck under the rope to ski “The Bowl:” a basin carved out of the hill.

I generally made that decision based on who was looking.

Skill and finesse were required to avoid catching the rope around my neck or hood or anything else I hadn’t bothered to tuck in. If I was feeling frisky, I would keep going to the far left to reach the “Suicide Trail” which led to the “Headwall:” a yard wide, 90 degree drop straight off the side of the hill.

Impressing an older boy or girl generally delivered the courage for me to point my skis downhill, tuck my body and prey for a safe landing. My sister, unfortunately, broke her leg on the “Headwall” leaving her slightly bowlegged to this day.

All of these steps, minus the broken leg, could be completed in less than ten minutes, allowing for hundreds—well maybe not hundreds—of runs in one day.

Repetition builds mastery. The Pinnacle, a miniature mountain in “Pittsfield, America,” produced some of the best skiers in the State of Maine. (This is a claim I am not prepared to back up—you’ll just have to trust me.)

The place was run by adults, but we skied by our own rules. No “bucking” meant no skipping ahead of anyone in front of you to get to the rope tow faster. You waited your turn and that was that. If someone fell off the towline it was stopped until he or she was clear of the rope and safely back on two skis. If a younger skier fell and couldn’t get up, you helped.

Night skiing, still available at the Pinnacle, was where we wanted to be every Friday night. Twenty-five cents to ski under the Friday night-lights was the best gig in town.

A trail through the woods that looped around the back of the hill was for kids only or, at least, that’s what we believed. No one owned cross-country skis so we loosened our boots and hiked the back trail around to the top of the hill where we would then ski down to the bottom and start the cycle again.

Parents volunteered to do everything including organizing a season-long race program. Anyone who wanted to race, regardless of skill level or ability to pay, was welcome.

Ski equipment appeared as needed.

An annual ski sale funded the majority of the budget and the rest was made up in family and individual membership fees. In the mid-60s a family membership was $10. A move to raise it to $15 was rejected in the name of keeping it affordable for everyone. Today an annual family membership is $60.

In between the five boring days of school there was a place to be. We knew every bump, every rock, and every tree on that hill. If you had to walk to get there, you would.

Have you ever fallen in love with a place? I have.

This article was first published in the Portland Press Herald.

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