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All downhill from here

Feb 21, 2012 - By Richard Klein

Last summer in June, a cousin and his wife arrived at the Jackson Hole airport, bound for a Yellowstone park adventure. My wife and I met them in Jackson that evening, where we shared dinner. In the course of conversation that evening, my cousin's wife asked, "What's it like here in the winter?"

My wife replied, "It's beautiful! Why don't you come out next winter? We could rent places to stay and go skiing."

This from a woman with two artificial knees, who had not downhill skied since she was 25, and is married to a husband who had never downhill skied at all.

Karen then waxed poetic about the Grand Targhee ski resort west of Driggs, Idaho, on the back side of the Tetons. (The resort is in Wyoming, but you have to go to Idaho to drive there.)

A few months later the two wives began to communicate via e-mail. They found condos for rent that were quite reasonable. And they made reservations for mid February of 2012.

"But Karen," I exclaimed, "we don't ski!"

"The kids do," she said, "and we can take lessons."

In August, when this discussion was taking place, February seemed a long ways off. I was more worried about harvesting barley, sugar beets, second cutting alfalfa, and lambs that would be arriving in September, and I chose to just not think about it.

That worked quite well until last weekend.

When I was 11 years old, my grandfather, Clay Hellwig, took me ice skating. Together we shoveled trails in the snow on the pond across the street from his house, laced up our skates, and circled around the pond. An hour or two later, as we walked back to his house, he said: "When you're 65, I hope you remember going ice skating with your grandfather when he was 65."

The Targhee resort has been described to me as a family friendly, unpretentious group of very nice people. After spending a couple of days there, I could not agree more. From the ticket takers, to the people who fitted me with a pair of skies and boots, to the instructor, everyone was helpful, enthusiastic and smiling.

After a brief introduction, our instructor, David D., took us to the bunny slopes and began teaching us how to stop.

It's easy to go. Just point the skies downhill. Stopping, on the other hand, is another matter. Or I might say, stopping while still standing, is another matter.

We learned how to snowplow and, during the second hour, how to keep our skis parallel and shift weight from one edge to another to turn.

By the end of our session, things were becoming much more comfortable. Once I learned I could stop, the fear went out of it. I was in control rather than the hill. We asked David D. if he could give us a second lesson the next day.

Day two dawned bright and clear. The Tetons were visible as we drove from Driggs to Targhee again. We met with David, and again he took us to the bunny slopes to see how much we had retained from day one to day two. We made a run, and then he stopped us and said, "I have never had two people learn how to ski so quickly. What do you do for a living."

I explained that we were farmers and, yes, we did stay active. And that it takes courage to plant seed each year, just as it takes courage to try new things.

He then said, "If you want, I would like to take you to the top of the mountain this morning. I think you're both ready." Karen and I looked at each other and said, "Let's go!"

At 10,000 feet, the Tetons were even more beautiful. The long slide down the hill was exhilarating. And the feeling of accomplishment was amazing.

We do not have any 11-year-old grandchildren yet, but I did make it a point to tell my sons, "I hope you remember that when your mother and father were over 65, they took ski lessons and went to the top of the mountain on the second day."

And lived to tell the story.

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