Most of the passengers in the marketplace look at us as we go by and turn their back, expecting us to try to lure them into a greater use of their muscles. Occasionally, we have to yank on a strap or take our ski poles to draw attention to our presence. We take pride in our modest clothing: T-shirts and shorts. Some even reveal their underwear under skis.
We have to step out into the open. Before we are approached, a few more clicks of our ski poles and an awkward but private answer can either encourage or repel. If we are lucky, the person doesn’t even bother. We have had the summer off so it is really a good time to advertise. If we are unlucky, the pass-along goes on for some distance until one of us asks “How do you get there?” The answer: It’s right there beside us in the lobby.
Another time I explain: I’m snowboarder, your ski friend.
I say, “We have lift tickets for lift tickets.”
The vendors scatter, looking for a hint to market me.
I tell them my brand of snowboarding is not an ax and beaver, the classic winter guest. I ride my stuff down the hill, making right turns and left turn jumps. Today I will do some rocket jumps and spike turns.
We move closer, closer. My inner voice shouts, “Wrap a flower around your finger and smooth out your hair. You’ll look kind of silly on the way up.”
A ski vendor will greet us with a smile and seem as if they are about to look you up and down in the bushes. He will be short, but his grin will be bright. There will be a dash of snow in his hair, and the ski shirt with no sleeves will stick to his pale skin. His shoes will be slipping and sliding, the snow-catching the heel. With the music loud and agitated, his hands swirling back and forth, he will be smiling more than he will be talking.
When we get there, the lift attendant will wave us in. I wear my ski jacket, and my brother-in-law, who owns the log cabin on the mountain, wears his all season long, and for some reason my sister comes down for a day too.
Someone will announce “Arr,” signaling that someone is boarding and everyone will step aside. And then we will just be standing around.
Somehow we have to maneuver the lift up to the top of the mountain. We are quiet for a bit before we are forced to talk. One neighbor is a writer who commutes from here to Boston. Another is an outdoorsman who connects his rope tow to the next rope tow. He has a basic form of lift ticket with slide down capabilities. Two others are these women in summer ski and snowboard gear. They have been coming to Val D’isere from the Bay area. They walk up and down the mountain without stopping. They know the equipment, their lifts. This group has been coming for a few years.
We build a relationship with these neighbors. They remember when we first came up here and made their first lift trips. They know where we are coming from.
One night, I am bused back from the mountain after dark, and the rides back are not great. People are quiet, and many of them are rather tired. We agree on what we need to do for supper: be at my house for a quiet night. We are both thankful for the opportunity to finish our supper before jumping back into our life.
We have four lifts that we can use, and once we get on those lifts, we can’t help but laugh. Each time we leave one chair behind, the other three go up. One seat falls over. It is filled with my dad in his pajamas and the three other boys are having fun. The waitress approaches my brother-in-law and says, “The food is so good here.”
They used to talk a lot, these neighbors. How about I ride you back to the village and come for dinner sometime next week?