Last month I promised to write about 30 years of marriage and seven days of skiing in South America in August.
For our 30th wedding anniversary, my husband asked me where I wanted to go and I quickly replied, "Portillo, Chile." For any non-skiers out there, Portillo is a ski Mecca located high in the Andes on the border of Chile and Argentina. Virtually all of the Olympic teams train there during summer in the northern hemisphere.
When I met my husband, he was a skier. I was not. So on weekends in the winter, he would go skiing with his friends and I would sit home alone. I was young and in love, so I decided to go skiing with him. The nearest ski resort was Brianhead, Utah, which was four hours away. We couldn't afford the lift ticket let alone a motel room, so it meant getting up at 3 a.m. in order to be on the lift for the first run at 9 a.m.
On my first ski outing, we were on the chair lift and I started crying. Sheer terror, I think. Anyway, Tom took one look at me and said, "I can't deal with this," and he skied off. I made my way down the bunny hill, which at that time looked like Kilimanjaro to me. When I got down, I had stopped crying, and we got back on the chair lift and made another run.
Given this rough start, it is amazing that we are still married and still skiing together 30 years later.
It is even more amazing that I would find myself skiing in the Andes in August with my husband, my daughter, my sister, my niece, the entire Bruce "Rudy" Robertson clan and our friend Theo Miner, owner of Alaska Heli-ski. It sounded like the perfect trip, and as it turned out, it was more than perfect.
When we arrived, they had not had a storm in three weeks, so the snow was good but a little sparse. However, on the second day, a storm came in and dropped 18 inches of new snow which made for perfect conditions. The sky turned Tahoe blue and we enjoyed great skiing for the rest of the week while we marveled at the view of the Andes jutting up to 16,000 feet surrounding the Lake of the Incas.
One of the most unusual aspects of skiing in Portillo is the "Roca Jack." Although they have several chair lifts, the more difficult terrain is accessed by the Roca Jack, which is otherwise known as "a poma lift on steroids." In the U.S. the poma lift is on a cable and you put the poma, a little disk, between your legs and let it pull you up the mountain at a slow rate of speed. At the top, you release the poma on a flat spot and ski off, no problemo.
Well, the Roca Jack is the same theory, but four skiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder and it takes off at the speed of light while you hold on with a death grip. At the top, you have to release the poma from left to right on a steep pitch so you are essentially standing at the top of the mountain going backwards. Each ride results in skis pointed in all directions, skiers flopped in a variety of positions and general controversy. The ride is almost as exciting as the run down, except for the fact that you are skiing on pristine snow in wide open bowls with no trees, obstacles or crowds.
The nights were filled with wonderful four-course meals served with flare by a well-trained staff of fun-loving and entertaining waiters. The owners presented us with a bottle of champagne and the staff sang to us. There was some confusion because the song started "Felice Anos to you" and about half-way through, Hernan, the head waiter, said, "No, no, no," and they started over with "Happy Anniversario to you," to the laughter of the entire dining room.
All of this was wonderful, but my favorite part was salsa dancing until the early morning hours at La Posada, the truck stop across the street. La Posada is operated by Oscar who serves up great Pisco, a Chilean distilled liquor made from grapes. If you drink too much Pisco and misbehave, Oscar will bring out the machete he keeps behind the bar and begin to wave it around which immediately quells any security issues that might arise.
So how did I do it? What is the secret of staying married 30 years, people ask? I immediately respond, "patience." I realize that I am an infant in terms of the length of some marriages. My friend Helen will celebrate her 60th wedding anniversary next year, so I asked her what she would advise and she answered immediately, "patience."
So let me tell you, patience can really pay off. I skied with my husband for six days, and he only ditched me once. At least now, I know how to get down the mountain without crying.
Linda Johnson is a wife, mother, attorney and Carson City resident since 1975. She has been an avid skier for 30-plus years and hasn't cried on the chair lift for years.