“I haven’t been shipwrecked in 15 years,” boasted a good friend of mine as we shared a chair atop Mount Spokane a few years ago.
This is ridiculous, I thought to myself.
I knew he meant that as a testament to his skill and the level of control he maintains, but I couldn’t help but think it was nothing to brag about.
Not that anyone is trying to lose control. Sinking is, generally speaking, when injuries occur. Trying to stay on your feet is absolutely something to strive for, and no one wants to ride a ski-patrol toboggan towards an ambulance.
There’s no denying, however, that getting as close to the control limit as possible is one of the main joys of the sport. Of course, we’re on the hill for the views, for the exercise, for the camaraderie; but pushing the limits of your skills, feeling an adrenaline rush and achieving something you think is possible – that’s what turns people into die-hard addicts.
The edge of control means different things to different people. For me, that can be learning to ski with confidence on brittle crust and other weird and usually nasty types of snow (it’s been a great year for this pursuit), or maybe catching some air from the old man on small jumps in the terrain park, trying to feel less and less like a sack of flour.
Last Sunday after hitting the first three jumps in Mount Spokane Park (my thing is to go straight and scream) I took a break, swerved off a skier in his teens or twenties who was aiming for the final jump, and I watched in amazement as he completed two off-axis spins before disappearing out of sight – and landing with a racket and a chorus of sympathetic groans from a crowd of onlookers. Coming to the side of the jump, I witnessed the aftermath – bent over, face bloodied and shaking in pain.
Turns out he was close to completing a Cork 900 (2½ rotations off axis) before he had a hard landing.
You can bet that in the years leading up to his Cork 900 attempt, he had accidents practicing pizza and fries, accidents learning a 180. Accidents learning a 360. And so on.
When you push yourself, there are always calculations in the background. How hard and fast can I go? How far will I slide if I’m shipwrecked? Are there other runners I could hurt? Will I be stabbed by a snag or hit a tree?
The mental arithmetic continues when you are involuntarily upside down and backwards. Can I land on my feet? Or at least with my legs pointing down? Can I self-stop? Was anyone watching this? (At the very least, someone should get some entertainment out of my idiocy.)
Over the years, the way I choose to push my limits has changed.
Healing takes longer. The idea that my wife has to put up with me because of an injury is more present in my mind than it was before. So… icy snow and zero visibility? Slow down the speed a bit. Good visibility and soft snow? The potential consequences of a wipeout are less, and it’s time to indulge a bit.
In the 15 years that I’ve been back in the sport, I imagine the days I’ve had completely brilliant days could be counted on one hand. And it always makes me smile when I see others fall. Not because I enjoy feeling their pain, but because I know they are striving to be better skiers.