Just returned from chaperoning my church’s high school youth group’s ski trip, and learned some valuable lessons.
I realize that people in Vermont and Colorado would openly mock what passes for mountains here in the Lower Peninsula. What we think of as a wild slope would be considered a kiddie sledding hill in those parts.
And to be fair, some of the ski peaks in the southern regions of the state are actually new uses for former landfills. So trees aren’t a problem.
But we went to a place called Caberfae Peaks, near Cadillac, Mich. about two hours north of Grand Rapids and the hills in that part of the state are tall enough to make things fun.
I love to ski, but don’t get to do it very often. And as a chaperone, you have to go kind of slow to keep your eyes on the kids in the group, making sure everyone is happy and healthy.
Alas, there were some additional challenges that proved even more difficult than getting 22 high-schoolers up for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast call.
Boarders: About half the people on the slopes were snowboarders, and I didn’t quite see the appeal to what they were doing. Watching them hop around with both of their feet locked into place reminded me of those little plastic soldiers I had as a kid, all of them with little bases molded around their feet so they could stand.
Also, they seemed to spend much of the day clasping and unclasping their boots so they could walk around. The rest of the time they seemed to spend on their butts, either because they kept falling or they were sitting in groups, usually smack dab in the middle of a run creating an obstacle for the novice skiers in my group who had not become proficient at turning or otherwise avoiding anything in their path.
Ski lifts: We had two issues. Like I said, it’s been years since we’ve been on the slopes and getting on the lift for the first time in the day was a little tricky. OK, it was disastrous. They had to stop the lift to get us untangled, which prompted everyone else to groan and look.
Later in the morning, it was someone else’s tangling that stopped the lift two chairs after my son and I had been seated — except this time, the staff couldn’t get it restarted. This brought a hurried group of people on snowmobiles with tools. The people in the chair behind us were about 6 feet above the ground and jumped off. We weren’t so lucky, dangling there for about 15 minutes contemplating if dropping the 12 feet or so to the ground would cause serious injury.
Grown-ups in the hot tub: We were staying in what the lodge called "dormitory space," but was basically a big room divided by a sliding wall filled with old furniture and old skis nailed to the walls. We had access to a lavatory, but not showers. Which meant the heated outdoor pool and hot tub became more important.
It was pretty freaky — but kind of cool — to be sitting in a outdoor pool in Michigan in January while it was snowing. The second biggest difficulty was the sprint from the pool to the front door of the lodge, especially after discovering that our once warm and dry towels were covered in snow.
But the biggest problem turned out to be adults -- at least after the kids stopped challenging each other to jump out of the pool and make snow angels.
The kids in my group were all soaking in the tub when some people came over, popped in and a woman started smoking. Who smokes in a hot tub? Yeech. And because of the steam rising off of the bubbling water, she couldn’t see our icy stares. And it soon became a mixture of steam and second-hand smoke. Just plain gross!
Confusing lyrics: Our plan was to spend Saturday skiing, then visit a little Lutheran church in Tunstin, Mich. along the way home on Sunday to worship. Apparently our group had done this in previous years and the congregation enjoys hosting us, and likes us to sing for them.
So one of our leaders brought a guitar, and we practiced "Amazing Grace" on Saturday night. After a couple runs through the song, one of my guys raised his hand and said "We should say ‘screwdriver’ next time."
We mentors apparently looked confused.
"It could be any tool. You know, instead of ‘wrenches.’"
"Ah Jason, the word is ‘wretches,’ it means something different. The line is ‘... saved a wretch like me.’"
We all had a good laugh and a vocabulary lesson, too. We also discussed that the hymn was authored by John Newton, captain of a slave-trading ship who converted after surviving a violent storm at sea in 1748.
The next morning our hosts asked us to stand in front of the church — not what we were expecting — to lead them in song, and there were more than a few smiles when we sang that line.