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The Times
  • Gary Brown: Relationships while skiing are tricky

  • Personal information is revealed more quickly than is socially expected when the two people engaged in the conversation are sitting on a ski lift.

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  • “This is my first time skiing since my hip replacement.”
    That sort of personal information is revealed more quickly than is socially expected when the two people engaged in the conversation are sitting on a ski lift and riding to the top of a short slope in the Midwest.
    It can take only seconds — as little as minutes at the more expansive New England and Western resorts — to develop the sort of superficial relationship with a fellow skier in which intimate information is just blurted out, as if the listener is not the kind of guy who might later see the speaker on the slope and shout out, “Hey, Hip Replacement Guy, how’s it goin’?’”
    “Yeah, I had to take last season off to rehab and it killed me,” the man continued.  “I didn’t ski at all.”
    Now, I usually begin my ski lift conversations with, “Do you get to ski often?” But that seemed like a question that had been more or less answered. So I sat there beside him, pretty much silent. I nodded a lot. I think I said, “Well, welcome back.”
    And when we both got off the lift, I skied carefully down the unloading ramp so I wouldn’t accidentally bump into him, hurt his other hip and make him miss a second season.
    Another story
    Still, I thought of Hip Replacement Guy again on my next ride up, when I shared a ski lift chair with a guy who almost as suddenly made his own announcement.
    “This is my last time skiing. I’m having a hip replacement next week.”
    What are the odds of that? Consecutive Hip Replacement Guys. Coming and going.
    I thought he meant this was his last time skiing for the season. It turned out he’s giving the sport up for life.
    “I haven’t skied much for quite awhile because of the pain. And the doctor told me I’d be better off not skiing after the hip replacement. So I thought I’d come out one last time, as sort of a farewell thing. I’m skiing slow, being careful.”
    We were getting near the top of the slope and again I didn’t quite know what to say because I often end a conversation with “I hope to see you out here another day.” I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen, so wishing it might sound like I was rubbing his misfortune into his face.
    “Na, na, na, na, na na. I’ll be skiing and you won’t ...” How sensitive.
    Instead, I told him it was an honor to share his last day. And I meant it. It’s a guy thing. In fact, I was so sincere that I offered him my hand, making him almost drop his ski poles as he tried to shift them from his right hand to his left so he could return the handshake. On a ski lift, gestures of goodwill don’t always go as good as you hope.
    Page 2 of 2 - At the top of the hill I separated from the second Hip Replacement Guy. I skied even more carefully down the unloading ramp next to him since he had the kind of current injury that could cause a painful lawsuit if I aggravated it.
    Kept in mind
    But I kept thinking of both these new acquaintances the rest of the morning. Since I don’t believe we ever are just thrown together for no reason, except perhaps at Cleveland sports stadiums, I dwelled on what the three minutes or so that I had spent with each of them had taught me.
    I learned from the first skier that all things are possible, I suppose. He wanted to ski so he overcame his afflictions and was back on the slopes. Although I did wonder if I should have tracked him down and warned him that, “I hear you aren’t supposed to be skiing after a hip replacement,” even if that sounded as though I was kicking him off the slopes.
    I guess I learned gratitude from the second skier. He seemed genuinely grateful for having had the chance to ski so many different places in his life — resorts that he hastily listed as we neared the end of the lift ride. He still seemed happy, even though it all was ending.
    Personally, I later wished I’d told Hip Replacement Guy No. 2 that maybe he should get a second opinion about the give-up-skiing diagnosis because Hip Replacement Guy No. 1 was over on another slope having a ball.
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