"Very good. Then you stay with me."
He was an elderly, thin man with a ruddy face pickled by ages of snow. He affixed my skis and I grappled with my ski sticks, then made a few motions and found the skis moving rapidly in various directions. They had a life of their own. I performed some impossible diagram and fell.
"You must change those skis at once," said Herr Schumacher. "They're racing skis. For champions." He sounded ever so slightly satirical.
He helped me to my feet and got us all in line, and we did a few exercises, shuffling sideways, doing herringbones until, quite suddenly and dramatically, we were actually gliding down a slope. After a few seconds I developed a terrific momentum, desperately adopted the sort of posture I had seen in ski photographs and hissed toward the bottom of the hill. "Look at that man," shouted our instructor. "So elegant and swift. Now stop."
I was approaching a fence. The instructor was close behind me. Everything was panic. "Stop being elegant," shouted Herr Schumacher. "Fall." I fell. Again the instructor picked me up.
"It's your abominable weight, my poor old man," he said. "You should be of medium height, slight and young."
We continued all day, shuffling, herringboning and performing what the instructor called a promenade. This was a laborious, crablike, wheezing ascent of a long slope, during which I seemed to grow taller and heavier, my gigantic skis gyrating far, far below me. In the afternoon I watched two Dutch ladies in earnest conversation. They faced each other, one looking uphill, the other down and, while they talked, the tips of their skis interlocked and they started moving slowly down the slope, still drugged with gossip, a stately but doomed procession. As acceleration developed, they screamed, and everybody rushed toward them. There was an incredible melee on the snow, but nothing could stop them, not even Herr Schumacher, until far down the hill there was a general collapse, followed by screams and laughter.
In the days that followed, broken as they were by long spells of exhaustion and hopelessness, I chanced now and then upon fleeting moments of the kind of sheer exhilaration that is the song at the heart of skiing, a tiny breath of balance, style, courage and swoop. I was almost grasping a glorious butterfly, but I could not reach it. And as I fell, my skis a fiber-glass cage above my head, I would see a procession of tiny children, 3 to 5 years old, zigzagging on the snow above me, sliding down boulders, schussing on down the mountain. Oh, wasted youth, false beginnings, idle dreams.
I knew I was going to drift from the slopes, and I did. I began to haunt the town of Kitzb�hel itself. There are a variety of establishments for drinking, dancing and all sorts of exuberance: beer cellars, American bars, restaurants with dancing, Tyrolean yodel haunts—you can go up and down the scale. Finally I found the headquarters of the Kitzb�hel twist. It was called Tenne and possessed a very good European-style twist orchestra, with exhibition twists and competitions. Why not learn the twist, enter one of the competitions and regain my self-esteem? In addition to bona fide skiers (whom you could generally tell by their red faces and imperious voices), there was a fair sprinkling of pseudos. All these wore magnificent ski clothes—the loganberry-colored trousers of the women were more like stockings—and the men sported Hemingway beards. During my second afternoon on the twist floor, I suddenly saw Myrtle. She was standing by the bar, her face cold and stony. I went over to her.
"Not skiing?" she said.