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Tom Germond
Voilà! A suitcase full of memories
Article published on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
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The best yard sale I’ve ever had was in the snow. In case you didn’t know, in skiing terminology, a yard sale is defined as the act of a skier losing his balance and, due to the laws of centrifugal force and gravity, unintentionally falling down, causing his or her cap, sunglasses, gloves, skis and other personal belongings to scatter on the snow or beneath it.

I’m an expert at this. In 1992, my yard sale in the Alps in northern Italy was so spectacular that I somehow managed to lose my lift pass in the snow. Consequently, instinct took over, and I engaged in the longest Après-ski ever undertaken by an ugly American abroad while my friends enjoyed most of that afternoon on the slopes.

That incident came to mind recently when I was thinking about selling my ski apparel, which is tucked away in a suitcase in my closet. Haven’t skied since 2003, in deference to the toll that acts of jockdom have taken on my body – two knee surgeries and two foot surgeries. Put an end to my days of racquetball, too.

However, nostalgia’s powerful grip may be deluding me. Could Yard Sale Germond return to the slopes?

For about 10 years I took several trips to Europe with a group called Adventures on Skis. It all started in 1991 while I was an editor for the Osceola News-Gazette in Kissimmee.

A co-worker, Ellen Johnston, invited me to go on a free trip to Chamonix, France. One of the people who had signed up for the trip canceled within a few days before leaving. Though she couldn’t get a refund, she was allowed to transfer her reservations for the hotels and flights to another traveler.

Since I was one of the few people she knew who had a passport, Ellen called me and asked if I would like to go on the trip with her husband, Bill, and her and other members of the group.

I had to be at her house, which was about 30 minutes away, in an hour. I hesitated because I’d never been on skis in my life, had little winter clothing and had a heavy workload that week.

But my boss said, “What’s keeping you from going? You’re single, and it’s free.”

Co-workers practically pushed me out the door. I ran into the bank to get my passport out of my safe deposit box. Then I went home and threw things into the suitcase. Made it to Ellen’s house in about an hour. They only asked that I give the woman who had to cancel her trip some small compensation.

From a pay phone at a restaurant on the road, I called my dad, who told my mother, “Tommy just babbled something about being on his way to France.”

Two days later I’m taking ski lessons from a female ski instructor, who I nicknamed “Bulldog.” She barked at me all day: “Snow plow! Snow plow! Snow plow! Voilà, better.”

Later during the lesson, as I was musing over whether the assorted bruises to my ego and my body were worth the aggravation, Bulldog gave me some hope. “You come back tomorrow. I think you’re starting to get your balance. No?”

Ellen and Bill had other plans.

“Go with us instead. We’ll take you to a bunny slope,” Ellen said.

Like hell. There are no bunny slopes in the Alps. I started the morning out by crashing into the ground after leaving the lift. Spent most of the day in the snow of a glacier looking up at little French kids skiing over me.

But I survived and swore over several glasses of beer that I would return to Chamonix the following year and become something other than an icon for comic relief on the slopes.

A year later, I was still crossing skis and performing yard sales, much to delight of other group members.

“There goes Germond again, bowling for skiers,” Bill said.

“Come on, Tom, we need to get down the mountain sometime today,” Ellen said.

In Kitzbuhel, Austria, in 1993, the lack of snow further impeded my abilities to improve but I didn’t look as wobbly as members of some Swedish ski team who were joined arm in arm while they sang the lyrics to “Hey Jude” for what seemed to be hours at some crazy Austrians’ beerhouse later that evening.

By 1997, I think I was “starting to get my balance.” Took a downhill 37-mile ski trip to France via northern Italy’s system of torturous lifts that might have been built by Caesar’s army. We were told to bring our passports, leading me to wonder who was going to check them. Nobody – unless you wanted to eat or dink something at an alpine restaurant.

Never tried night skiing. However, in 2001 after the crazy Austrians plied us with alcohol and yodeling for a couple of hours, we were tempted to try night sledding. Then the crazy Austrians told us the trail was the darkened road on which we drove to get to the restaurant. We declined. Safety is not in the crazy Austrians’ vocabulary.

By then, I think even the bulldog French ski instructor would acknowledge that I had approached the intermediate level on the ski slopes. I could get down the hill.

Voilà; I was happy.

Recently, as I sifted through the contents of my suitcase, including a ski bib, trail maps, long underwear, headbands, goggles, and, for some reason, a bottle opener, those memories of great trips came rushing back. Reminiscing is a priceless pleasure.

I’m eternally grateful to Ellen, Bill and their extended family for introducing me to skiing and taking me on some great trips abroad.

Can’t part with my ski apparel – at least not yet. It will remain in my suitcase in my cluttered closet.

Right next to my racquetball bag.

Tom Germond is executive editor of Tampa Bay Newspapers. Send him an email at
Article published on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
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