BROWN'S CLOSE: Skiing and the Socratic Method
This COVID winter, all of my usual activities were indefinitely postponed. Typically, I spend the cold months indoors with friends. We go to events around town, the movies, and last winter got into a memorable altercation in a local wine bar with a woman who threw our coats on the floor.
Faced with the prospect of nothing so exciting to do as that sort of direct communication, I taught myself to ski. I bought a pair of used classic cross country skis from Play It Again Sports in September, and in November I went to Hilltop and puttered around the flat landscape.
It struck me as odd that the skiing destination known as “Hilltop” has the flattest land for skiing in the whole city. I was quickly distracted from this thought, however, by the sheer difficulty of cross country skiing. It takes some time to grow accustomed to the movement. One does not walk on cross country skis, or shuffle. One glides.
Going straight from zero to glide proved challenging, but I picked up some tips from YouTube. Try to shuffle-shuffle-glide-shuffle. Move up to the shuffle-shuffle-glide-glide.
By the time I graduated to the shuffle-glide-glide-glide-shuffle, I’d begun to notice some things about my fellow skiers. For example, the fastest way to annoy a gaggle of cross country skiers is to go the wrong way on the trail. Indeed, most loops are one way, and yet the direction is rarely marked. It’s up to the skier to know the direction.
Sadly, as a novice, it is pretty much inevitable I am going the wrong way. Serious skiers, mind you, are not shy about informing you of your mistake, though their corrections could do with a bit more directness. Rather than throwing my coat on the floor, my fellow skiers want to teach me the error of my ways through the Socratic method, trying to get me to reach my own conclusions.
One evening while happily skiing the wrong way, I was stopped by a female on skate skis. She was tall and thin, with her skis and poles making her legs and arms look even longer than they actually were.
She flapped over.
“Is there a moose back there?” Her voice went up at the end of the sentence, and she cocked her head.
I frowned, puzzled.
Did she expect there to be?
“Oh. Well, like, you’re going the wrong way?”
Her voice went up again, and she cocked her head in the other direction.
I wondered why she didn’t make it a declarative statement. After all, I was either going the wrong way, or I wasn’t.
In my defense, there really is no way to know whether one is going in the correct direction. Much like the skiers themselves, the ski signs communicate opaquely. Periodically, there will be one way signs with alarming stop signs beneath, clearly demonstrating the way. The trouble is, the stop signs are only at intersecting trails, which necessitate more signs with more arrows pointing to the new trails. Many of these arrows point in the direction of the stop sign, thereby instructing novices like me to disregard the one way.
Like, do you see my problem?
Clear, comprehensible directional signage is not important to the ski community, but signs telling non-skiers they are not welcome on the ski trails are very important. Around Anchorage, it is not uncommon to see trails labeled, “Ski Only in Winter.”
While I do give kudos to the skiers for at least labeling these trails, the syntax is wrong; when else during the year would one be skiing?
The first time I saw such a sign, I was on a walk in the fresh snow at Service High School. I had not yet attempted skiing myself, so I was not fully indoctrinated in the skiing ethos of restricting trails for skiers only.
I read the sign, frowned in confusion, shrugged, and proceeded. I wasn’t sure why Service High School felt compelled to tell me not to bother skiing outside of winter. Perhaps some rogue student went haywire one year, tried to ski in the summer, and caused such mayhem the school administrators took extra steps to prevent similar chaos in the future.
I was promptly accosted by a woman on skate skis.
She, too, questioned me to show me the error of my ways. How else was I to learn?
“Are you taking a walk?”
She pulled the skier head cock.
“Like, you’re not supposed to walk here?”
“What do you mean I can’t walk here?”
She pulled her head to the other side, and continued to look at me. The Socratic method was not working.
Really, what could she do to me. This is America. I could walk on any trail I wished.
“Are you telling me you don’t want me to walk here?”
She shook her head piously.
I waited for her to offer a bit of helpful information, such as, where she wanted me to walk instead.
After we engaged in a standoff for several seconds, she motioned me to a different trail system.
Many of Anchorage’s skiers are elite athletes, to be sure. Once the city reopens fully, however, they could stand a lesson in direct communication from any number of Anchorage’s bar patrons.
Sarah Brown is direct. Write her at [email protected]. Tweet her @BrownsClose1. Visit Browns-Close.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.