Skiers Don’t Kill Skiers

Snowboarders? Maybe …

In the last few months my two children were visiting me from Hungary. They are ski fans as I  am. During their visit, flashbacks of sad events came to my mind. The last time I hit the slopes with them was seven years ago in Czechoslovakia.

Since Hungary lost her high mountains in World War One, many Hungarians have spent their winter vacations at Slovakian ski resorts. Sometimes we experienced hostility that, while inexcusable, can be explained by the thousand-year-old tensions among the Central-European ethnic groups. Some Hungarians made the hosts remember their original claim to those mountains and some Slovaks responded rudely to the provocation. Fights frequently broke out in the lift lines between representatives of the two nations, usually starting with verbal abuse, progressing to less harmful physical acts like disengaging one another’s bindings, and finally escalating to more dangerous fist fights and ski pole fencing. The confrontations were not about legal dispute over territories or historic grievances. They just happened like other ridiculous macho show-offs do: who can spit farther or who can brag about the larger penis.

A study of the past of Central- and Eastern Europe is necessary to untangle the affairs of the present. Why do those small nations think that the only way to independence is choosing separation from their former unions? The impulse appears to be a desire to void all remainders of the previous regime. I am sure a more viable policy would be that of the ‘for’. Not just voting for something as opposed to against something. Also, ‘for’ as forgive, ‘for’ as forget. While both North America and Western Europe are working on their integrations, countries of the former Soviet block can hardly find a new platform for cooperation. They create economically and militarily vulnerable mini states with their own currencies, bureaucracies and tiny markets inside guarded borders. National pride, not rational thinking motivates them. Immediately after the collapse of the communist regime the new Hungarian prime minister shortsightedly announced: “We will not export food to the Russians anymore,” dropping a huge market Hungary dominated for decades. “No problem, we will,” said the US, French and Danish Departments of Agriculture, grabbing the abandoned market. Instead of finding sensible compromises, recently freed nations proudly kill each other ‘to the last drop of blood’. They blab about religious and cultural differences but they are fighting over the redistribution of state-owned resources. For an outsider, serious political debates sound like children’s heckles in the sandbox: “I’ll take the power plant, you’ll take the deficit piled up during its construction!” “No, I’ll have the power plant, you’ll have the air pollution of it!” In the meantime, they destroy their agriculture, demolish their tourist business, sell out their working industry and loose their credibility.

American people, even with their diverse interests, are more civilized. Not just those literate ones who read, but the majority, whose only source of information is watching TV. They learn about conflicts and race related clashes in the United States, too, but so far atrocities happen on the periphery of the society. Especially not in lift lines. Skiers don’t kill skiers. Snowboarders? Maybe, but not the ones from their own pack. Cohesive spirit among skiers is stronger than the distraction of ethnic differences.

That is what I thought until our latest trip with my children. Crested Butte offered free passes for everybody and we could not resist. The snow was great, the sun was bright and my kids were noisy, naturally in their native language. The trails were crowded and the lines were relatively long. People attempted to squeeze in the middle of the long lift line from the side. We generously let some of them get ahead but after a while we plugged the flow of the pushy fellows. A persistent couple still tried to cut in, not knowing where we came from. Even my fifteen-year-old daughter was experienced enough to give them a practical lesson on the topic “How to keep your position in a line”. The situation seemed to be unresolved as we and the couple formed a row of five. Approaching the quad lift, the male from the offending couple did not refrain from saying:

“One of you should step out!”

” No! One of you should step out!” I replied. Thanks to our long survival training in the past, they had to give up and move back. The guy could not accept defeat and started to make remarks behind us.

“These foreigners don’t know how to behave.

The comment touched one of my most sensitive spots. I turned back:

“I’m sorry. I know I’m only a dirty foreigner and unable to act as polite as you Americans can. Thank you for reminding me of being a second class citizen.”

“You’re not a citizen, are you.”

“Actually, I am, although, I did not acquire my citizenship the easy way by being born here.”

How funny that most people here say citizen and mean US citizen. But let’s not return to the issue of groundless pride and stupid macho boasts. Shall we argue about that who’s got a larger citizenship? At this point the conversation abruptly ended. It was our turn to occupy the coming chair. Fifteen minutes later, sliding down the trail I noticed that my quarreling partner was following me. I stopped but somehow had the feeling I do not need to raise my pole ‘en guard’. The guy caught up with me and said:

“Sir, on the way up I was thinking about what I told you. I was wrong and I would like to apologize.”

“I wasn’t right, either, and I apologize, too,” I responded. I have experienced that Americans do not shake hands as often as people do in Europe, but I thought this was a proper time for reaching out. We shook hands as European, American, Asian, African and Australian human beings should always do. Did I mention snowboarders?

January 1995

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