January 24, 2021
I remember having to call my parents and telling them that not only had I skipped school, but my buddy and I were stranded on the other side of the mountain. A storm was coming in. We were busted. But first, a bit of the backstory.
Being a transplanted southern boy, New York winters were a new experience. I had only really seen snow one time in 1974 when a freak snowstorm hit Columbus, Georgia, and paralyzed the city. Now, in New York, we had tons of snow all winter long. I became proficient in winter sports such as ice-skating, tobogganing, and snow skiing.
My first real lesson on how your body adjusts to below freezing temperatures was in our very first snowstorm. We stayed out playing in the powdery stuff for hours. There was a hill by our house that was perfect for sledding (although one of my brothers did slide directly into a tree, that’s another story.) We constructed forts and then defended them with an arsenal of snowballs.
As it began to get dark, we were called home to tubs of hot water waiting to warm our frigid bodies. We painfully learned that cold skin does not react well with hot water. We all began screaming at the same time as it felt like needles being pushed into the skin. We did not replicate that scenario again.
West Point Military Academy was a short 20-minute drive over the mountain. The campus had its own ski slopes. My friends, Richard and Ronnie Parkins, invited me to go skiing with them. I had never been. After a few falls on the bunny hill, they suggested it was time to go up the top. I was eager and a little scared. The three of us loaded onto the lift, and we began to ascend the mountain. I started thinking, “Maybe this isn’t such a great idea.”
As the chairlift came to the landing, the thought came to me that I had never asked how I was supposed to get off. “Just stand up and let the chair push you forward” was Richard’s advice. What I should have asked was, “Then what?” I stood up and was thrown down face first, which is a bit challenging to do when you’re wearing skis. I had nailed my first fall and then perfected it even more so the five or six times I fell on the way down the slope.
Throughout that winter, we went skiing a lot. I loved it, and was getting pretty good. One day, Ronnie suggested that we skip school and go skiing. I had never skipped school, and it sounded exciting. We packed our backpacks with our school books and our gym bags with our snow wear. Off we went for a great adventure, and it turned out to be that, just not what we had in mind.
We rented our skis and jumped on the lift. We had many great runs down the mountain. I was getting more confident and rarely fell, but I was not ready to take risks. My buddy, Ronnie, was an athlete, an extreme sports kind of guy. There was nothing he wouldn’t try. So when he saw the chance to learn to jump, he went for it.
I stood off to the side and watched person after person take those jumps. It was exciting, but I was certainly not going to give it a try. Ronnie took a few jumps and landed them. He was pumped and cocky. On the last run of the day, he hit that jump full force and came down hard and tumbled in the snow. There was a loud yell, and people started staring to see what had happened.
Ronnie’s leg was broken. The ambulance came and took us to the Keller hospital. We were both there in the waiting room as the skies darkened. In just a little under an hour, snow was falling hard. Officials closed the mountains when conditions warrant it, and these conditions did. We were stuck, and we were in for it. I had to call my mom and tell her that we had skipped school, gone to West Point to ski, and Ronnie broke his leg. My mom would have to go across the street to tell Mrs. Parkins, who generally was never in a very good mood, and tell her what occurred. Since the mountain roads were closed, they would have to wait until the morning. Once the streets were plowed, both parents braved the mountain roads to rescue us from our predicament. I don’t really remember the punishment, but I’m sure it was severe.
I skipped school plenty of times later but never again had such an adventure. I have still never taken the jump.