The Stupidest Thing I’ve Ever Done – The Dry Ski Slope
“I craned round and Alex had disappeared.
I continued to scream.”
It was a grey, early summer afternoon. The sort of non-weather that is peculiar to London. I was 12 and my mother was taking me and my friend, Alex Gravel, to a dry ski slope in Uxbridge. We lived in central London so this was a special treat.
Being a Wednesday afternoon Alex and I were the only ones there. If you ever went to a dry ski slope in the early eighties in a western suburb of London then you won’t need me to paint a picture but if you haven’t… a dry ski slope is a hill covered with a lattice of dirty white brushes. Its a disappointing prospect but, to a young boy with limited sporting abilities it represents less a drab man-made hill and more a field of dreams where he could act out the fantasy of being good at ski-ing far from the critical eyes of his peers. This prospect was unvoiced but tacitly understood by both of us.
As Alex and I were the only ones on this vast, dirty plastic hill we acted as if we owned the place. There weren’t even any attendants to bring us back to shatter our illusions. Together we luxuriously took our time to come down and hung around at the top chatting and, no doubt, embellished our prowess at a sport we knew little about – being two nerdy types who didn’t really fit in. Why else would we have been on a dry ski slope on a summer’s afternoon in term time?
Like the two geeks we were we seized on our solitude to enact our fantasies. We were Kings of the slopes, the best, most graceful (and attractive) two 12 year olds in London. Together we schussed (or snow ploughed) around this vast artificial expanse exploring how it would feel to be liked or admired by our peers, attractive to girls and being the people we imagined we could be (in our dreams). We saw ourselves as a diminutive version of Bodie and Doyle with a big bit of James Bond and Daley Thompson thrown in.
A dry ski slope such as this one has a button lift and it is on this contraption that the day’s events were to unfold. As I approached the bottom of the lift for the twentieth time I noticed an odd contraption which
must have been there all along but which I hadn’t already clocked. What I discovered was a wooden board, about two foot by three foot, with two skis crudely bolted in parallel on the underside and a rope attached to the front for dragging. It was a dry slope version of a home made toboggan. Too excited for words I called Alex over and as he sexily snow ploughed to a stop I excitedly showed him my discovery. Immediately I assumed control and directed Alex to wait for me to get to the top and out of my skis and then to send the toboggan up with the rope hitched around the ‘button’. I would un-hitch it and wait for him and then we’d go down on it together (suavely).
I got to the top, took my skis off and gave Alex the special signal we’d arranged. I watched as he hooked the toboggan to the next passing button. It took what seemed like hours for the toboggan to arrive. I watched as it slowly ascended the hill, bobbing slightly from side to side. Eventually it arrived and I deftly stepped inside the rope with my left, still booted, leg and attempted to unhook it. But there was a second’s delay as I did this and all of a sudden my left foot was swung out from underneath me by the front edge of the toboggan board which had been caught by the heal-binding ridge of my ski boot. Now I was on my back and being dragged by the toboggan which was still attached to the button. And as I craned my neck and looked ahead I was filled with horror.
Once the buttons passed the ‘hopping off’ point the roundel of the button lift swung through 180 degrees to send the buttons on their stately journey to the bottom of the hill. As the buttons passed the summit the hill dropped away forming a kind of cliff with a 20ft drop. More than this, as the buttons swung around they splayed out through centrifugal force. To stop this from causing the button poles to swing all the way back down the hill there was a ‘restrictor’ which funnelled the out-swinging buttons back to vertical through which all the buttons passed as they began their descent.
In an instant I was dragged beyond the landing stage and found the land beneath me falling away causing me to drop back so within a couple of seconds I was dangling 20 feet up now secured only by a 2cm outcrop of plastic on my heal. Naturally I was doing a lot of screaming but was too frightened to wave my arms unless In dropped to the bottom of the cliff.
I yelled for Alex to stop the machine but now I had a new worry. The restrictor was hoving into view. I was too big to go through it easily. This would mean that I’d either be dragged into it and get jammed there or have my boot forced from its precarious hold dropping me the full 20 feet of the cliff.
Now I became aware that Alex was leaning over the cliff looking at me, mouth frozen open. I kept yelling at him to hit the emergency stop button but he was too shocked to act. By now I was facing away from him and heading towards the restrictor, one leg dangling and the other oddly hooked at the heal to a worn-out piece of ply-wood.
I craned round and Alex had disappeared. I continued to scream. I now put out my hand and touched the first pole of the restrictor, steadying myself as I stared into the abyss and certain demise. Now I was in the wide part of the restrictor, still screaming but accepting that this trip to the dry ski slope was not what I had been hoping for.
And then silence. The mechanism stopped. I swung. For what seemed like an age I hung limply arms hanging down, drifting too and fro with the the other button poles. A moment later and there was Alex’s frightened face peering over the edge of the cliff, in line with mine but the other way up. Alex had hit the ‘stop’ button just as I was about to be dragged off my precarious board. I was close enough to the restrictor to reach out and use it to lower myself down. Alex, who by this stage had stepped out of his skis was too shocked to talk. Together we hobbled down the hill in our ski boots leaving our skis at the top of the hill.
Once down we walked into the deserted changing room and, unable to speak of what had just happened and what might have been, removed our boots and put on our shoes. We walked silently out into the car park where my mother was waiting in the car.
We didn’t say anything to my mother who must have noticed how quiet we were on the drive back to town. We were deep in our own thoughts. I remember thinking, what would the people who ran the slope think when they noticed two pairs of skis at the top of the hill and a toboggan dangling from a rope attached to an oddly still button lift. §