A Leg Up
Like any good Colorado native, as a kid I was placed on a bus, Saturday after Saturday, and shipped off to the hills to learn how to ski. I do not recall requesting such a thing, nor do I recall being asked if this was an activity that I might enjoy; it was simply something that young Denver parents did with their young Denver children because they were supposed to. Like recreational soccer in the city's parks or a Katy Tartakoff family portrait with heads stacked, always stacked, on top of each other, skiing was a necessary accoutrement for any reasonable family, and the required equipment in the hall closet was a badge of honor. "Roadrunners" was the name of the ski program, I believe, but I cannot recall for certain, as I was kicked in the head by a mule this weekend while attempting to stage an irreverent photo for my new MySpace account, and my memory seems to have been affected.
But I do remember that my instructor was a prick. He looked like Robert Wagner on Hart to Hart, and was the sort of grizzled ski bum who was starting to realize that maybe he should have been doing something more than double-black diamonds and ski bunnies for the past fifteen years, as stocky was beginning to bleed into obese, his joints ached constantly, and health insurance was a goal as distant as the Pulitzer for What's So Funny. He would lash out, calling us spoiled and swearing way more than was appropriate, liberally spreading displeasure up and down the mountain. Looking back, it strikes me that he was probably an alcoholic. But even the presence of Boozy didn't prevent us from falling in love with the sport. While he bitched and ignored us, we'd whip recklessly down the hill, shit-eating grins tattooed across our faces. We couldn't wait until they'd let us use poles.
And then I tore the ligaments in my right leg from my ankle all the way to my kneecap and never skied again.
Back before the Internet and decent video games -- back before children could permanently scar themselves by uncovering porn clips they sooooo weren't ready to see or desensitize themselves completely by shooting turban-topped Arabs on GameCubes -- we had to find our own fun. At my elementary school, it was stair jumpin'. The school did not condone this behavior, of course, so we'd seek clandestine opportunities to leap down staircases, keeping close track of who'd jumped over what for bragging rights. The record was eight steps. I tried for ten -- but as I landed on the ninth, my ankle bent awkwardly beneath me. The snapping of ligaments was audible. I collapsed onto the landing and let out a bone-chilling scream not heard since Grendel, a scream that brought the entire second grade in from recess. My teacher carried me to the main office, and my father was called to drive me to Rose Hospital. The look on his face wavered between concern and amusement over the way his glue-sniffing son had injured himself.
I was in a cast for three months. I watched as my friends skied through the season, becoming increasingly addicted. And even the next year, after my leg was healed, I didn't return to ski school. I don't remember why, but I blame Robert Wagner. Weekend after weekend, my friends would head up to the mountains, and I would be left behind, riding my bike in the ten-block radius that I was allowed to peruse, getting weirder by the second. They were becoming Colorado skiers; I was getting really good at collages.
Finally, in high school, I snapped. A friend invited me to go to Vail and learn to snowboard one weekend, and I accepted. Although he quit after the first day, returning to the skis with which he was so familiar, I kept on. I became a passable snowboarder that weekend but lacked the fortitude, the sheer stick-to-itiveness to get really good at it. While my peers were used to getting up early on Saturday, I'd come to believe that weekends were for sleeping in and shopping with Mother.
After collages, after college, I returned to Colorado. And I suddenly found myself longing to be part of this state's ski culture, to really belong. I would hear asinine conversations about midway snow depths and the closure of high-altitude runs and think, "Hey, me too, me too! Include me in your conversation! Ask me if I got the five-mountain pass!"
Because the answer is yes, motherfuckers. I'm back in the game. They say that if you ski only four times in one season, you've got that pass paid off. Well, guess what? This past weekend was number two. Sho 'nuff.
And as I stood with my board at the top of that blue run at Arapahoe Basin, bravely preparing to navigate it with no warm-up green, I felt a sincere sting of regret for missing out on this pleasure, this privilege of Colorado living, for so many years. But I also felt good being there, knowing that I haven't missed it entirely. And I still hold the record for stair jumpin'.
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