skot AT izzlepfaff DOT com
Thursday, 01 March
My recent exploits up in the mountains have caused me to remember the source of my love for snowplay: I used to be a skier. It was a long time ago--junior high through high school--but for a time, I was a serious ski nut.
Don't get me wrong: I wasn't ever very good. I was competent, maybe even better than average, but I never had a shining career in front of me or anything. I competed in a slalom race once; I came in third. I got destroyed by D., a classmate of mine who later went on to grow a rat-tail mullet and got on the fast track in the barfly industry. And some other guy who I don't remember, so . . . eat it, other guy!
I got started when I helped out my father at a part-time job at the ski rental place on our local ski hill. Snowhaven, as it is called, is possibly one of America's most hilariously rinky-dink ski hills. It is by any standard unbelievably tiny; if one chooses to take off at top speed from leaving the t-bar (yes, t-bar--or rope tow, if it's running! Which is never), one can easily get to the lodge within two minutes, easy. When God was leaning over to sculpt Sun Valley, Snowhaven fell lintily out of his pants pocket and drifted to Earth up north as Snowhaven. Snowhaven is to skiing as lost keys are to NASCAR. When the miniature people from the bottle city of Kandor want to go skiing, they come to Snowhaven, and are served hot chocolates and cheeseburgers by Dufflepuds.
Think I'm kidding? Have a look. A full day lift ticket is thirteen bucks. Anyone who has gone to a typical ski resort knows that the employees all wear ski masks and are accompanied by gorilla-like brutes whose job is to seize your ankles and shake you upside-down vigorously until all your money is on the floor. Then they take your credit cards, jewelry and dignity before turning you over to the attendant surgical team, who promptly remove a kidney. Getting charged thirteen dollars for a lift ticket is, in the skiing world, a lot like finding a unicorn eating a leprechaun.
Not that it mattered. As a worker at the place, I got to ski for free, once I was done helping out my dad with the rentals. After that, I was free to suit up and go ski my feet off, run after glorious two-minute run after another. At first, I wore stuff from the rental shop, but soon, as a Christmas present, my folks got me real gear of my own: namely, Atomic "Red Sleds," which I prized; these were moderately famous skis because they were worn by Bill Johnson when he won the 1984 downhill gold in Sarajevo. I cherished them beyond all measure, basking in how pristine they were for a little while--about a week--before some guy skiied right over them and laid a gash down to the metal.
My dad got me lessons to get me started; Snowhaven had a ridiculous little bunny hill with a tiny rope tow. My instructor taught me how to snow plow, and I immediately demonstrated a flair for the sport when on my first successful vertical run, I instantly forgot to put my skis in the V position and skiied off of the bottom of the hill into the parking lot. My instructor wearily took out a hip flask while the poor bastard in the Lilliputian rope tow cockpit sighed and fired up a tinfoil pipe.
I got better, of course, and eventually developed into that pestilence of the ski course, the Boy. Boys don't much give a shit about schussing back and forth in elegant arcs, enjoying the snowscape and nature's beauty. Frankly, fuck nature, fuck beauty and fuck you. Boys are interested in two things: speed and jumps. Either a run was a kamikaze dive straight down to the t-bar line (capped off, of course, with a supremely irritating last-minute stop where your skis throw an icy fantail of skidded snow all over everybody else) or it was a looping, cross-lane adventure where jump was followed by jump, young boys flinging themselves into space for ridiculous distances and attempting to perform ski tricks with exotically dumb names, like a "mule kick" or a "daffy" or a "spread-eagle" or a "helicopter" or any combination that one cared to attempt, so long as one was always, always making sure to maximize the possibility that, upon landing, one was most likely to snap a femur.
Of course I fucked up a lot. I really loved to jump, and it was great fun, but not so fun? Landing. Quite often, I would wipe out spectacularly, resulting in what we loved to call--and call we did, when we witnessed it--a "snow sale." The optimal outcome of a snow sale is: poles 10 meters away; skis five meters away, hopefully pointing awkwardly toward the sky at odd angles; hat utterly missing, as if carried of by angry birds; goggles 25 meters away, impacted and invisible into the groomed snow; teeth unrecoverable. Then, if you were very lucky, lying there dazed in the snow, you'd hear that call--"SNOW SALE!"--and then several of your good friends would swoop down on their skis, pick up your shit, and cackle all the way down to dump it outside the lodge, leaving you to trudge dolefully all the way down to retrieve the stuff.
Repeat this for nearly every Saturday night in January for a few winters, and you have reconstructed my time at Snowhaven exactly.
I did get better. I eventually mastered the daffy without exploding on impact; I took on the legendary Jump Hill, Snowhaven's single black diamond run (yes: one), which was right next to the t-bar for maximum showoffiness. I figured out how to ski backwards; I figured out how to ski on one ski with the other cocked behind me at a 90-degree angle, the leading tip of my ski carving a trough in the snow; I figured out how to annoy everyone else on the t-bar by applying drag to the cable, then suddenly releasing the resistance, causing everyone else to ride out the resultant jerk on the line, hopefully resulting in some old people losing their balance and ignominiously falling off the t-bar.
And once, taking my best friend B. up to the hill to learn how to ski, I maliciously took him right to Jump Hill; B. of course, like me once, completely froze, forgot his magical snow-plowing skills, and then parallelled straight down the slope at the speed of sound, his screams Dopplering back to me nicely. At the bottom, terrified beyond rational thought, B. simply elected to fall over on his side to stop himself, and the resulting explosion of powdered snow, B.'s limbs, and every item of clothing and gear resembled nothing so much as those Andy Capp cartoon panels where Andy and Flo indulge themselves in some enthusiastically vigorous domestic violence. I half-expected SFX lettering to float out of the incredible cloud of mayhem: "BOOM!" "THRAKK!" "SNO!"
I doubled over with laughter as B. finally coasted to a stop and lay half-dead on his back, the surrounding landscape littered with the neon Gore-tex of B.'s formerly useful ski gear and clothing. He made croaking noises and experimented with the concept of movement. It was clear that there was only one thing to do.
"SNOW SALE!" I screamed. B. feebly waved at me as I gathered up all his shit and then shouted at me weakly as I glided down the mountain to cheerfully dump it all outside the lodge. I went inside and ordered a cheeseburger and waited for B. to make his lonely, embarrassing trek down the hill. Boy, it was fun. Boy oh boy.
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I filled my mouth with carmel-colored bubbly water right before I read this line:
Then they take your credit cards, jewelry and dignity before turning you over to the attendant surgical team, who promptly remove a kidney.
You'd think I'd know better by now.
If I die of a hemorrhage later today from holding that in, feel free to sell my parts and buy a couple of ski lift tickets for you and the missus. Or some new sleds. Whatever. I'll leave an instructional Post-It on my monitor just in case.
Have a great weekend.
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