SNOWMASS VILLAGE --I have learned that a newspaper columnist in a small ski town has no chance against vehement criticism from the townspeople. Sooner or later, someone is so angered by something I write that they fire back with the accusation that stings and leaves me down in the dumps for days: "You are a terrible skier!"
It happened twice last week. I can deal with garden variety critiques - "you need a comma in the 15th sentence before 'if,' you overuse 'flabbergasted,' and you have the IQ of a shoehorn." It's funny, though, when you get someone really worked up, and they fire back with the words
I suppose it's so frustrating because it's an accusation that I have yet to find a way to effectively rebut. Think about it. By calling you a terrible skier the accuser does not really mean "terrible" in a beginner kind of way. If that was the case you could brush them off by pointing out that you regularly ski black-diamond runs and own a pair of double-rocker, reverse-camber, super-fat, all-mountain skis. In fact, almost every piece of ski gear I own is multi-hyphenated all the way down to my tri-wicking, dry-tech long johns. See how far that gets you with the hyper-critics, though. When they accuse you of being a terrible skier, they mean it in the ski-town-local sense. Ouch!
It is so hurtful precisely because it is so irrefutable. I went so far once to set one of my biggest detractors straight that I actually went skiing with him to show him that I was not terrible. I happened to run into Lo Semple on Aspen Mountain one day (not literally) and decided to take a couple of runs with him to prove not only that I wasn't terrible, but was, in fact, much better than he is at skiing. My efforts did not result in the desired outcome.
On the first run I figured I would put the case to rest quickly. I let 'em rip down Lift Line. Several minutes later he caught up to me at the bottom.
"You went straight," he said, almost annoyed. "Anyone can do that. Going fast doesn't make you a good skier."
Bursting with frustration I got back on the lift with him and headed for Corkscrew. There I made some of the tightest, quickest, most rhythmic slalom turns that I possibly could. When he finally caught up again, his response was equally deflating.
"Could you have skied it any slower?" We carved Ruthie's. "Everyone can do that." We bumped Red's Run. "You didn't get enough air."
So, while Lo didn't prove I was a terrible skier, I certainly didn't prove that I wasn't. That was enough to leave him satisfied and me frustrated. He wins!
Modern skiing is funny. Nobody falls, and everybody can ski black-diamond runs. Carving is easy, and crossing your tips is hard. Even if you have never skied before, you will only be a beginner for a week. There are absolutely no objective criteria for judging whether or not a person is an accomplished skier, except for a race course, which contemporary skiers avoid like clumped frozen slush. Add it all up, and you discover that everybody is an expert. If you don't believe it, just ask them in a bar next to a fire apres ski. And that's the irony. When everybody is an expert, nobody is. And, if you're not an expert, you are terrible. Lo figured this out, and he's not even very smart.
The point is to turn down any job offer to be an opinion columnist in a small ski town. If judgment over a broad range of topics comes naturally to you, and you don't mind putting it down on paper for the world to rip apart or line bird cages with, pick a place to do it where they play a lot of golf or tennis, if you have a decent handicap or a wicked serve. Do it in a place where your time in a 10K is better than the average for that region. Pick a bowling town, a badminton town, or a ping-pong town: anywhere they like to do things that require you to keep an objective score. For Pete's sake, if you have long arms, do it in a fishing town. Just don't do it in a ski town. You'll never win another argument.
Roger Marolt will continue to try to improve ... his writing, that is. Skiing is a hopeless cause. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.