Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Welcome To The Dream Academy

"You have been doing a great job, Al. I’ve spoken to Don and I know it wasn’t part of your employment package, but I have arranged for The Company to pay for half of your ski pass. We’ll finance the other half and take it out of your pay. Oh! By the way, here is a pager, nothing happens around here until later in the day, so go ahead and go up on the mountain early, get some first runs in the fresh powder and if anything happens, I’ll page you,” said, my then Property Manager.

This must be some form of a joke, I thought. No employer awards their employees, retroactively with a ski pass, not previously negotiated, tells them to go skiing when the snows come. I had turned from a well trained ski bum into a chubby middle aged Italian working man. Out of shape for skiing completely, there was no way I could even pretend to have a good season.

“By the way, I designed a ski conditioning program at the Aspen Athletic Club when I was the manager there. It is patterned after the Denver Bronco’s Football Training Camp, but it is geared for skiing. Perhaps you’d like to join the club and get in ski shape. We have a corporate membership and there is a discount off the regular price. It makes membership affordable.”

Was I dreaming? Had I really died and gone to ski bum heaven? There is the fittest woman athlete in Aspen, a power lifting champion, a western conference racquetball champion, that had the envy of Arnold Schwartzenegger for her calves, the respect of Phil and Steve Mahre(Olympic ski racing brothers) for her rock hard abs, giving me permission to go skiing everyday and she’ll call me if she needs me. All I had to do was to get in the best physical shape I’d ever been in by following the most advanced ski conditioning class in Aspen, Colorado.

That worked very well for me in my downtown Aspen apartment. I lived across from the Main St. Bakery, with their outrageous designer coffee and brownies, just down the street from Benjamin’s Deli and their homemade Matzo Ball soup.

I was able to arise early mornings, work on my short stories, then take a walk through our 8 commercial buildings in the downtown core and perform the repairs on my list from Kathy. I would reserve a spot in ski conditioning, before 9 am.

The weeks of training unfolded and I progressed in my athletic development to a fit and trim ski athlete. Everyone commented on the new man.
Ski conditioning concluded with the award of t-shirts. “I survived ski conditioning at the Aspen Athletic Club, Aspen, Colorado.” I wore my new shirt proudly, along with a new wardrobe and self-confidence.

When Aspen Mountain opened up, true to her word, Kathy provided the coveted ACRA All Mountain Ski Pass for all three mountains, Aspen Mountain, The Highlands, and Snowmass, (a fabled fourteener, with the infamous wall as it’s centerpiece.) I commented to my associates that I was in love, not only with the mountains and new terrain, but with this woman who had arranged it for me.

I have always become obsessed with the powerful women in my life. It all began with my first grade teacher, Ms. Ossendot in 1960. I was learning to print in pencil on those large pieces of paper with the big green lines on them. I was already dreaming of 1961, because I realized that you could turn the paper upside down and it would still be 1961. Anyway, I refused to stay with in the lines, another malady that would haunt me throughout my life. Ms. Ossendot made me stay after school until I reluctantly wrote between the lines. It also set a deep consequence and reward issue in my young mind. After school that day, I got to ride home in her yellow rag top Volkswagen Beetle, with the top down in the sunshine with the prettiest teacher in school.

Misbehaving had its rewards. A pattern I was to repeat often, culminating with my boss Kathy at our annual Christmas Party. She was in an Emerald Evening Gown and looked beautiful to say the least. I, feeling quite sporty in my new tight fitting jeans. I remember kissing her hello on the cheek and walking past her. I could have sworn that she looked approvingly at my small ass. It’s funny how things between men and women are often misconstrued. Years later, she denied looking at my ass. She maintained that as an expert on physical conformation, she was looking for my ass. It however, gave me the courage later that evening while at her home when she asked me to help remove her cowboy boots, (her new Larry Mahan leather boots that even Vagisil down the boot wouldn’t help slide off,) to become brazen and to get a little frisky. It all ties back to my failure at staying between the lines. I thrive on skiing out of bounds. I don’t like ski area boundaries, other skiers, and authority in general. It has been a great hardship in my life, except for stepping past the employer and employee relationship with my boss, Kathy.

The trilogy of Aspen Mountains are beautiful, as wonderful as it is to noodle up Walsh’s, where the Paragliders take off from Aspen Mountain, and drop down into the big open bowl called the Wall at Highlands, or to slip out of bounds into the backside of Highlands.

My calling has always been that of Utah. I love Colorado and all its Ski Areas, but Utah is to die for, (literally.) I took my vacation and my new super in-shape athletically fit body and drove there. I remember starting to herring-bone up Brighton Mountain, to get to the out of bounds, and ski the chutes through the trees with 18 inches of new snow, a feat that had always caused me great trepidation and physical distress. I practically ran up the mountainside and dropped down over the lip and cranked off 50 big arcing powder turns before I realized just how great of physical shape that I was in.

Isn’t it funny that sometimes the greatest times of life is when no one else is there? I had none of my friends with me, no one to show off for, only to know that I had just accomplished this utterly fantastic feat of physical prowess for myself. It also made me realize that I had spent a lifetime alone on the mountains, and that I didn’t want to be alone anymore. For the first time in a long time, a woman respected me for my sobriety and the obstacles that I had overcome to achieve it, for my physicality, and the time and patience I had put in following her program to achieve it.

I had laid a lot of things to waste in my short life, but her gift was not one I could let go of. I did not want to become another lonely old man in a ski town, with his skis and dog and a P.O. Box that said Aspen, for the sake of my own vanity. Something had changed. Perhaps it was this girl, who snuck up to the Cowboy Corral in the dead of night on Christmas Eve with a lantern, her Stetson hat, and a bag full of ribbons and bells. She climbed up and silently laid across the backs of the 2 ton behemoth Percheron team of Sid and Sam, (the brothers).

She would spend hours on that snowy Christmas morn braiding the manes and weaving in the bells without a betraying jingle to be heard. She would surprise the Cowboys and their guests with a hitched up and jingling sleigh to take them to the restaurant for their Christmas Dinner.

Perhaps it was the look on her face when I presented her with the Lady of the Lamp, a sculpture from my artist friend Elfie of Vail. Whatever it was, suddenly skiing and the endless turns of deep and steep powder meant nothing to me even being in the best physical shape I had ever been in. I cut short my ski vacation, (an unheard of act in my former life.) I returned to my quaint little Aspen Apartment to pursue the love of my life. I have never looked back. All I have to say is, “Welcome to the Dream Academy!” --- Albert Bianchine

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