Friday, April 6, 2012

57 years in the making

We never achieve anything totally on our own.  Somewhere along the way someone planted the seed of whatever accomplishment we may check off our "bucket list".

One item on my list, long in the making was "become a ski instructor".  I am not sure I know why it was important, but it was.  Perhaps I wanted to have at least one thing in my life that could be "certified" top in class.

Truth be told Level 1 PSIA certification is hardly top in class.  There are 3 levels and level 1 is barely the beginning in the hierarchy of the high priests of the trade. Yet, most skiers do not make it that far so it may still mean something. Regardless my motivations and the cosmic significance of my climbing a small mountain, it reminded me that it started a long time ago and not for my own doing:

With Grandma at Claviere, 1954
With Grandma at Claviere,

It was 1954, in the tiny alpine village of Claviere at the border of Italy and France where my grandmother still owned a small apartment, above the office of the Border Police.  Just below our balcony there was the first of two lines of border crossing each with a bar that had to be lifted for cars to pass after passports and cargo inspection by a policemen.  The French counterpart would repeat the routine a quarter mile up the road at the end of the village.  The Grand Hotel Claviere, once owned by my grandfather before WWII stood between the two police station in a sort of no-man's land. Just to add to the romance of this village that had played a big part in my family's story, This was the pass through which Hannibal and his elephants entered Italy to do battle with the Romans.

Mother in the gates, 1938
Mother in the gates, 1938

As was tradition in my family we would spend the Christmas holidays in Claviere. In her own time my mother had trained there to become a member of the Italian Olympic Ski Team.  Skiing to my mother and to the whole family was as natural and necessary as air.

For Christmas 1954 my parents gave me my first real skis. The bindings, known today as "bear traps" held a hiking boot by means of two totally unforgiving metal plates between which a cable pushed the boot without hope of release under any circumstances.  My skis were state of the art since they had little metal edged about a quarter inch wide set into the base of the ski at the outside edge.  Little screws held each segment in place. These marvels of technology improved the ski's performance on ice - superb. The top of the skis advertised that they were made of "solid hickory", the best wood available for skis since the seasoned planks were less likely to warp from one season to another or lose flex over time. The skis were sized so that standing with my arm up in the air the tips would touch the middle of my palm.

With the skis, my father delivered a book full of skiing pictures. In my boots and new skis I took my first ski lesson on the apartment's floor looking at pictures, the book set on a chair in front of me, replicating each position under the watchful eye of my parents and grandmother.  I can still feel the excitement of knowing that the following day I'd go skiing on a real ski lift.  No more playing in the snow with toy skis.

The following day my lifetime adventure with skiing started.  The snow was deep and natural; neither man made snow nor groomers had been invented yet.  Trails were made by the first skier and gradually widened by subsequent skiers who dared to ski with one foot off-piste.  To ease my learning many early runs were done in between my parents' skis or with one of them skiing backward to instruct along the way. That's how the bug bit me like my mother and never left me.

By the time I was 6 or 7 I started racing with other vacationing and local kids in the village. In my teens a good friend of my parents "Pupi" Levi, a ski instructor, took me under his wing to learn the new techniques that were evolving with the new equipment that technology was making possible: totally metallic skis (you could shoot them), wood and resin (imagine that), new bases, new edges, new bindings with endless leather belts, Marker safety toe bindings, etc.  Every year there were new products and technologies. On lucky years, for Christmas, grandpa would take me to a sporting goods store to select my next round of skis.

Since those teen  years I wished to become a ski instructor.  Life happened, other priorities interfered. I had a  short try as apprentice instructor, but in the US I became a ski patroller instead since it gave me more opportunity to teach my own son.  Over the years I remained passionate about the techniques and technologies of skiing. I taught countless friends and family based on what I had learned and mastered from my mentors.  It worked, it gave me great pleasure.

This year, after twenty years skiing in Park City, I finally had my chance. I joined the Deer Valley Ski School.

57 years after her first lesson, now mom can see the result.  Dad would have liked it too.

Marco Messina
Deer Valley 2011

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