I have a complicated relationship with snow.
My father – like all Italian fathers – thought it was important that I learn to ski at a young age. Perhaps this comes from growing up in a country with an Alpine border. So he took us to the local bunny slopes in Pennsylvania where I learned to coast gently on the powder and sip steaming hot cocoa by the fireside in my wet jeans. As a teenager I became a skateboarder, and so naturally in winter I began to snowboard. One winter we even took a trip – friends only! no adults! – up to the slopes for a weekend. While my friends were getting trashed and wrecking the room at the Days Inn, I hooked up with a girl I had never seen before, resulting in an unexpectedly hot night. The next day on the slopes I remember thinking, “Do I have a girlfriend now?” When we got home I promptly discovered she had moved in with my friend Jeff. At least I had an answer: I did not have a girlfriend now.
Years later, after I had moved to Italy, I was visiting a cousin in Zurich when I found myself again on the slopes. This time they were real Alpine slopes with staggering views of what appeared to be the entire continent of Europe. I was on borrowed skis for the occasion. With the Swiss there is no dilly-dallying on the beginner slopes. These people race right up to the top of a mountain and down the other side like rabbits. When I found myself on a slope, which for all intents and purposes seemed liked like a mountain-sized vert ramp made of ice, I began to have second thoughts. “There are only two ways down this hill,” I was told by my Swiss companion. “On your skis or on your ass.” I seriously contemplated the second option for what seemed like years, staring down at the infinite whiteness. A knot formed in my stomach. When I finally thrust myself from my shaky perch, I made it some part of the way down the mountain before hearing a distinct “craaaack!” and feeling my leg twist around like a rubber Gumby doll. I lay there sure I had broken my leg. The pain was intense. I had no phone, spoke no German and had no idea where my cousin or his family were. I was three hours outside of Zurich, eight hours from Rome, an ocean and a mountain range away from New York City (still home to me then), alone and writhing in pain on a mountainside in deepest Switzerland.
I spent the rest of the week reading Nietzsche’s The Gay Science in the lodge and obliquely chasing after Italo-Swiss ski bunnies. I wrote a lot of poetry in those days, continuing work on a Don Juan-esque epic I was writing (to be published after my death) and musing on what the fuck I was going to do when I got back to Rome. My leg, it turned out, wasn’t broken.
I haven’t touched a slope since then. When people ask why I don’t go skiing in the winter – settimana bianca is an Italian tradition – I say I don’t like having things fastened to my feet. Of course, as a skateboarder it’s becoming more difficult to make excuses for not wanting to ski. And now that our daughter is old enough to begin taking ski classes I envision having to return to the dreaded mountains again soon. Seeing the distorted smirk on my face, my wife says, “You can snowboard, you know.”
“I don’t like having things attached to my feet,” I repeat, changing the subject.