“I haven’t wrecked in 15 years,” bragged a good friend of mine while we shared a chair to the top of Mt. Spokane a couple of years back.
“That’s ridiculous,” I thought to myself.
I knew that he meant it as a testament to his skill and the level of control he maintains, but I couldn’t help but think that it was nothing to brag about.
Not that anyone goes out trying to lose control. Wrecking is, generally speaking, when injuries happen. Trying to stay on your feet is absolutely something to strive for, and nobody wants to ride a ski-patrol toboggan to an ambulance.
It’s undeniable, though, that getting as close as possible to the edge of control is one of the primary joys of the sport. Sure, we’re on the hill for the views, for exercise, for the camaraderie; but pushing the boundaries of your skills, feeling adrenaline surge and pulling off something that you think might be possible – that’s what turns people into die-hard addicts.
The edge of control means different things to different people. For me, it can be learning to ski breakable crust and other kinds of weird, generally unpleasant snow with confidence (it’s been a great year for that pursuit), or maybe catching old-man air off the smaller jumps in the terrain park, trying to feel less and less like a sack of flour.
Last Sunday, after hitting the first three of Mt. Spokane’s park jumps (my trick is going straight and screaming) I paused, got out of the way of a skier in his teens or 20s who was aiming for the last jump, and watched in amazement as he did two off-axis rotations before dropping out of sight – and landing with a racket and a chorus of sympathetic groans from a crowd of onlookers. Coming around the side of the jump, I witnessed the aftermath – hunched over, face bloodied and shaking off the pain.
As it turned out, he’d actually come close to completing a Cork 900 (2½ off-axis rotations) before having a hard landing.
You can bet that, in the years leading up to his Cork 900 attempt, he had crashes practicing pizza and french fries, crashes learning a 180. Crashes learning a 360. And so on.
When you’re pushing yourself, there’s always calculus going on in the background. How hard and fast can I go? How far will I slide if I wreck? Are there other riders I could harm? Will I get stabbed by a snag or bash into a tree?
The mental math continues when you’re unintentionally upside-down and backward. Can I land on my feet? Or at least with my legs pointed downhill? Can I self-arrest? Was anybody watching that? (At the very least, somebody should get some entertainment out of my idiocy.)
As the years pass, the way I choose to push my limits has changed.
Healing takes longer. Thoughts of my wife having to put up with me through an injury are closer to the top of my mind than they used to be. So … icy snow and zero visibility? Dial back the speed a bit. Good visibility and soft snow? The potential consequences of a wipeout are lower, and it’s time to give in a bit to delusions.
In the 15 years that I’ve been back at the sport, I imagine that the days that I’ve spent completely shiny-side-up could be counted on one hand. And it always makes me smile when I see others tumble. Not because I take any pleasure in their pain – but because I know that they’re pushing themselves to be better skiers.
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