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The view from Catamount Ski Area in Hillsdale, New York. Photo courtesy On the Snow

CECELE KRAUS: His tracks

By Thursday, Apr 11, 2019 Viewpoints 4

Mind you, I hadn’t skied in four years. A concussion from a bike accident had shifted my focus from adventure to rehabilitation. Yet as Christmas approached, I yearned to be on the slopes. Elation about returning to a sport I loved eclipsed doubts. Cold air and the prospect of turns well-executed overrode trepidation.

My husband, Jerry, began teaching our children, Janine and Andrew, when they were 4 and 9. Not wanting to be left behind, I bought clothes and gear before ever going to the mountain. Over the years, we skied Butternut, Jiminy Peak and mountains out west, and I graduated from beginner slopes to black diamonds.

Jerry skied until he was diagnosed with a glioblastoma at the age of 85. As his symptoms increased, skiing became impossible. Now widowed, a thought occurred to me: What a joy it would be to take Jerry’s place on the slopes with Alice and Emily, our granddaughters. I pulled out ski clothes, gathered equipment, and tried on Jerry’s red helmet. It fit. I packed up his duffel bag.

My daughter Janine, the girls and I embarked to Catamount, 15 minutes from home. Quickly, misgivings set in. How did my boots get so tight? A toe warmer jammed in from a previous season made boot entry painful. My pass photo shows a ghostly presence with a grim smile.

Alice and Emily hopped on the chair lift. Janine and I followed. She asked, “Do you want to get off at the mid-station or go to the top?”

I opted for mid-station. Snow piled up where we got off.

Janine shouted, “Let’s turn left.”

“No,” I yelled back, fearing a turn on such terrain. “I’m skiing straight ahead,” counting on the incline to break my momentum.

Imagining the Himalayas but making slow, awkward turns, I managed not to fall.

Janine asked expectantly. “Are you having fun?”

In a flash I realized the hours needed to regain competence and the high risk of an accident. All the reasons I quit skiing—accident, concussion, a fall at Hunter Mountain—came back to me.

“Janine, this is the end of my ski season. That’s it.”

Years ago, our skier friends gave each other awards for skiing the most days, worst outfit, newest equipment, etc. Chuckling, I thought, if we were still giving awards, I could win for the shortest ski season: one run.

Janine corrected me. “You got off midway and skied half a run.”

Jerry bequeathed me another option. For years he swam with a Masters swim team. Three times a week, he packed up his gear and drove 30 minutes to Bard College at Simon’s Rock. As his brain tumor progressed, he moved to a slower lane, where his coach and fellow swimmers looked out for him. Jerry swam until 18 days before his death.

I had never followed Jerry into swimming. But now, I feel a pull to the water. I won’t be breathing Jerry’s air on the mountain or carving his turns, but a few weeks after his death, I returned to the pool where he swam. I see him there, smiling across the water, and though I won’t fill Jerry’s space on the mountain, I swim in his lane at the pool.

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