Remember the lessons of history



“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

I came to appreciate the famous Santayana quote this weekend on the slopes of a local ski resort. As I wobbled through another turn on a lazy slope of the mountain, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a ski class lined up on the hill, listening intently to their instructor.

They were in grave danger, and didn’t even know it.

Hadn’t they heard about Pearl Harbor? Back in 1941, the Army Air Corps was concerned about terrorist attacks against our aircraft in Hawaii and promptly lined them up wing-to-wing to keep a better eye on them. On December 7th, the planes became easy pickings for Japanese strafing runs and the results were devastating.

Nevertheless, there was the ski class, lined up side-by-side. Ignoring the lessons of history, they just stood there, clearly vulnerable to a surprise attack when they least expected it.

I guess it’s easy to forget – heck, I was just like them once, an entusiastic young kid taking a class to learn the subtleties of the sport. From time to time the instructor would line us up the same way, each student standing wing-to-wing as she taught us how to turn, and stop, and slow down.

We didn’t get hit that day, but we were lucky because another class did – on the very next day.

I know, because I hit them.

Apparently I hadn’t paid enough attention during my session, but that’s water under the bridge. On the following day they released us to “ski wherever we wanted”, and I hit the slopes with abandon. Below me on the mountain I spotted a group of rookies lined up down the hill. As I closed their position, I realized that I couldn’t remember how to turn. Or stop. Or slow down.

At speeds approaching mach one, I plowed into the students on the uphill side of the line, then through the entire group. I eventually fell down, but not before I had decimated the entire class. In my wake were the kids – crying, sprawling, and scattered all over the hill. Unmanned skis shot down the mountain. The instructor yelled obscenities and threatened my well-being. As soon as I could, I regained my feet and composure, and got out of there before anyone could identify me. To this day I have never returned.

What bothers me is that with a little prevention, the whole incident could have been avoided. If the students had been placed in a random formation, I would have only hit a couple of them – three tops.

So it’s essential to know your history, learn its lessons, and remember.

Unless you happen to have been a ski instructor at Winter Park, Colorado in 1970 and remember a kid running down your whole class. If so, forget everything I just said.


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  1. Scott Stroman on

    You jogged a few memories here. In 1988, on shore duty in Denver, my wife and I decided to learn to ski. We went to Winter Park, took all the lessons, and were raring to go.

    We made it on to, and off of, the lift on the first try. Impressing ourselves, we started to work our way down the greenest of the green slopes. Little did I know that our instructors had left out one crucial lesson. I refer to it as GTHOOTW, or Getting The Heck Out Of The Way.

    About 2/3 of the way down the slope I stopped off to one side to catch my breath and plan the rest of the route. Suddenly I heard a bellow from back up the hill. I turned to see a fellow student coming down the hill, completely out of control. Put delicately, she was a rather large lady. She was coming right at me.

    I immediately went into the GTHOOTW mode but, to my suprise, didn’t move. Rapidly swishing one’s skis back and forth just polishes the snow underfood. I was still polishing snow when she hit me.

    Winter Park has a very nice infirmary. It looks like a scene out of “MASH”. And the lounge has a nice selection of Irish whiskey.

    Choose carefully.

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