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The Funny Slope

Skiing can be an exhilarating, transcendent experience—if you don’t find yourself the object of derision

Author Chris Wright Illustration Michael Byers

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A while back, I found myself standing at the top of Ski Dubai, the 1,300-foot indoor slope at Mall of the Emirates, watching as a woman in traditional Arabic dress launched herself over the edge. “Well,” I thought, “there’s something you don’t see every day.” At first, it seemed as if this woman might be a pro of some sort. From the onset, she made no visible effort to slow down, and before long she was by far the fastest thing on the slope, a blur of black cloth that had lesser skiers scurrying aside.

About halfway down, however, the woman skewed slightly to the left, and the spectacle became interesting in a different way. She was now headed directly for one of the facility’s big blue walls, practically flying toward it, though you wouldn’t have known it to look at her. Her posture remained casual, unflinching, as if she hadn’t a care in the world. I wondered if she might have a trick up her sleeve, a last-gasp, wall-evading swoosh. But no. 

A second later, the woman smacked face first into the wall, ricocheted away and pinwheeled violently down to the bottom of the slope, where she quickly stood up in a nothing-to-see-here way and hobbled toward the exit. “Ooh!” people said, and “Aah!” and, more emphatically, “Ha ha!”

Don’t judge. 

I took a Philosophy of Humor class in college, in which I learned about the things that make people laugh. Incongruity, the puncturing of human dignity, the release of tension, the violation of societal taboos—this woman’s ordeal had it all. Of course, it would have been even better if she had left a person-shaped hole in the wall, arms and legs splayed, and continued skiing down Sheikh Zayed Road, but it was still pretty good.

The point is, there is something inherently funny about watching people hurt themselves in ridiculous ways, and ski slopes provide a rich vein of pain-based comedy. I say this having been at the other end of the mocking finger. It happened a few years ago, on my first ski trip. My girlfriend at the time knew what she was doing, and I’d insisted on following her down an expert trail, which resulted in a tumble so savage and prolonged that one onlooker actually screamed. Less concerned was the guy who pointed at my scattered gear and yelled, “Yard sale!”

Even disregarding the hazardous slapstick, skiing is fraught with indignities. Those nonstop chairlifts, for one, seem designed to discharge people like me with a crowd-pleasing pratfall. Then, back at the lodge, there’s the ski-boot hobble, the fireside snot bubble, the $3,000 onesie that looks as though it’s been puked on by a Skittles junkie. 

And then there’s the expense involved. Figuring in gear rental, lift passes, gas money, lodgings and hot toddies, I’d say that trip worked out to about $75 per contusion, plus a $500 flat fee for the semi-permanent limp. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I’d actually done any skiing. As it was, my experience involved a short skid, a brief period of intense pain and, après-this, a demanding and humiliating scoot on my butt to base camp, where I spent the rest of the trip sulking on a snow-caked sofa listening to people say “Dude!”

On my second ski trip, I decided to go back to basics, joining a group of children who, like me, needed help buckling their boots and figuring out which end of the ski was the front. Later, the theory dispensed with, my fellow Bomber Bunnies and I were invited to take a run on a nearby hillock. I soon found myself standing in line for a tiny chairlift, behind a waist-high boy with ginger hair, with whom I felt compelled to make small talk. “So, you like Pokémon?”   

Then I was up there on the crest of the mound, poles at the ready, contemplating a wicked 20-foot descent. And, yes, as I dithered down that slope I felt a slight tingle, and I sort of understood why this might have some kind of appeal. At the bottom, the ginger-headed boy was waiting with his palm raised. He wanted to high-five. “Shall we go again?” he asked, but before we could take our seats an adult male, presumably the boy’s dad, came and took him away.    

A few years later, standing atop that slope at Ski Dubai, I’d progressed to the point where I could stay on my feet, slow down, even swish from side to side a bit. In my book, that made me an expert, and, as such, I was qualified to heap scorn upon the knee-wobblers and the chin-scrapers. In terms of sheer comic genius, however, few will ever match that flying woman in the abaya. She’s spoiled me in a way. She made me peak too soon.

Ink Global U.S. editor CHRIS WRIGHT also derives pleasure from watching people get hit in the face with soccer balls, fall horribly while performing onstage and get pecked by aggressive seagulls.

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