Climbing the hill was a struggle: the heavy sled was weighted down by gravity; it was cold, the air was thin and we were having to semi-carry our inebriated leader.
Along with two other native Floridians, I was visiting in the Collingwood, Ontario home of the head of the company providing services to our workers compensation self-insurance fund. When we pulled into the garage to escape the frigid night air, our boss, Bruce Martin, the fund administrator, spotted a sled and said we had to go sledding. For good reasons, I was reluctant to hop on a sled on a dark and very cold evening.
Two days earlier we had traveled from the Toronto airport to the service company president’s cabin on Georgian Bay. The plan was for us to spend two days snowmobiling around the bay and then travel to Collingwood where we would ski Blue Mountain. To ensure that we enjoyed the drive, he had a case of beer and snacks in the car.
After an hour on the road, we had enough beer that we needed a “pit-stop,” so the driver pulled to the side of the road: the Canadians and my boss—who was from Minnesota—immodestly stood on the edge of the road. Ignoring a shouted warning—after all we were modest, Southern gentlemen—my two compatriots and I and headed to a line of trees about 20 feet off the road. I took one step too many and suddenly I sunk up to my chest in a ditch filled with fresh snow. As they extricated us from the trench, I understood, that our northern companions were wise, rather than immodest.
The snowmobiling was phenomenal: there were numerous well-marked, safe trails that allowed for hours of touring and the scenery was breathtaking. With insulated overalls and helmets, despite bitter cold, we were warm.
The most fun was going fast on the frozen bay with every turn producing a “rooster tail” of fresh, powdery snow. I was driving with an acquaintance from Clearwater —who had never seen snow before this trip—on the seat behind me. I saw our Canadian host point towards the shore, gun the motor of his snowmobile, hurdle the ice piled at the shoreline and come to a stop near the front door of his cabin.
No big deal; I gunned the motor, raced towards the ice jam, and, as my companion screamed, hurdled into the air, only to realize there was a second row of ice. I didn’t have enough speed to make it; so as I bailed out, the snowmobile struck the bank head on and turned on its side. I landed on top of the snow; my partner wasn’t as fortunate: the snowmobile landed on top of and buried him in four feet of snow. He wasn’t hurt but as we shoveled him out, he was shivering, gasping for air and calling me every name imaginable.
It had taken a couple of adult beverages and a lot of whining and pleading but Bruce convinced my snowmobiling companion and me to go sledding. We reached the top of the hill and, as we caught our breath, he instructed us on sledding: “I’ll lay down on the sled, the two of you get on top of me and then we will push off: you pull with your hands and I’ll steer.”
It was great; we were hurtling down the hill, the wind whistling in our ears, our hands pulling through the snow, when suddenly I didn’t feel snow in my hands, and the sound of the sled’s blades on the snow vanished. I had a few seconds to realize that we were flying before we crashed into a snow bank.
As I struggled to stand, I looked and saw the other two were alright: my boss, smiling and holding a half empty bottle that he had hidden under his jacket, and my Clearwater friend laughing so hard he could barely stand.
The next morning, we could see that the hill we climbed the night before was a ski slope that made a sharp dogleg to the right. About 20 feet below the crook in the dogleg was a parking lot. The night before we had missed the turn and flown—literally—into a parking lot that fortunately, having not been plowed, was full of snow.
On that trip, I learned some valuable lessons: I could be a Canadian if it wasn’t for winter; perhaps others have a reason to act in ways you don’t understand; what appears to be an easy feat, such a jumping a snowmobile over an ice jam, takes skill and knowledge; and, at night when you are partially incapacitated, stay off of sleds.
“Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”– Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne