When the whole two hundred were spaced out in line, the poor pro could hardly see to the ends. Hardly any, including some six teachers deployed to keep order in the ranks, had ever before seen a pair of skis.
"All right, come ahead!" the pro yelled, intending to add "One at a time," but it was too late. On that icy crust the whole line was bearing down on him. With the same technique used to escape an avalanche, the pro turned downhill and raced for his life. And when the last flying figure had piled up, about half the girls and five of the six teachers were out of action for the rest of that day at least.
Somewhere around that time we were suddenly jerked into an era of rope tows. They sprang up everywhere, and if the country was flat the optimistic proprietors seemed to think the demand would cause hills to sprout.
Occasionally some debonair skier would get caught by the rope and emerge like a heap of laundry spewed out of an electric wringer and be quite as lifeless, but this only added to the fun. Even today you can easily spot a veteran of the early tows. Just look for a man with arms about six inches longer than normal and subject to bursitis.
Those of us who survived were rewarded by entering the Golden Age of Non-Climbers. Comfortably relaxed and swaying gently in our seats, we were wafted aloft by the chair lift. Big business, technology, and sport combined at last. Now all we had to do was stuff our pockets with wads of dollar bills, stand in line for an hour or so, and presently we would arrive at the summit so numbed with cold we wouldn't care how we got down.
One day my wife and I were skiing on a crowded slope when the lift stopped for repairs. We kept right on, making a round trip up and down in little more time than we had been doing via the lift. The idle waiting crowd stared at us as though we were defying the laws not only of gravity but of decent propriety as well. Only then did I realize that a generation of skiers had grown up as ignorant of climbing as we had been when we first saw an uphill ski track. (When we were children a wandering Finn had climbed the hill past our farm; for years we marveled at how he had managed it.)
I remember two trips to Canada. On the first we met thousands of happy, frolicking skiers, all strung out along the Maple Leaf Trail. This trail runs from village to village all across the Laurentians, and we loved it. A couple of years later we found the Maple Leaf deserted. Not a single track marked the perfect powder. But in every village five or six tows were doing a land-office business.
The period of Frechette had begun. Who was Frechette? Well, we were on a large tow-slope at Ste. Adele, or maybe it was St. Sauveur. About every half hour a great shout would go up, "Make way for Frechette! Make way for Frechette!" Several hundred skiers would scurry toward the edge of the slope. And presently down would come Frechette, scornful of any sissy attempt at turns to right or left. Crouched so low he could just peer over his knees, poles outstretched like the wings of an eagle, straight down he would sail. Somewhere short of the bottom there would be a sudden wild pinwheel of arms and legs and skis and snow. Then Frechette would gather himself up and start back for another exhibition.