No guts, no story on opening day at Snowmass |

No guts, no story on opening day at Snowmass

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

SNOWMASS – Allow me to preface this report by saying that I am probably the most conservative skier one would ever meet.

The rest of the story, the short version, goes something like this: Guy gets excited about opening day at Snowmass. Guy talks friend into giving him a ride to Base Village. Guy takes Big Burn chairlift to the top of the Sneaky’s trail. Guy is mostly confident, yet slightly intimidated by the heavy wind and blowing snow.

Guy handles first part of the run but hits an icy spot, loses control, connects with a small rock slightly off the trail and takes a bad tumble.

Guy gets a free sled ride back to the base, courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.’s diligent ski patrol. Guy’s “perfect” day on the slopes is over.

That “Guy” is me of course.

A dude who should have worn a helmet.

A dude who should have waited for more snowfall and the opening of Buttermilk.

A dude who might have had it coming to him, having skied some 30 times (lifetime) without ever taking a lesson, but also never incurring even the slightest physical injury.

You sort of knew it was coming, kind of like Oklahoma State’s loss to Iowa State on Friday night. All those years of winging it finally caught up to me.

The crash, as most of them do, happened quickly. I can’t really recount it.

After managing my way down the first third of the run through less-than-ideal conditions, and feeling proud of it, I found myself going a tad too fast.

I skied into an icy patch, the ski hit a rock, I tumbled (someone estimated 30 feet), and everything went black for a split second. Maybe that’s because I had closed my eyes.

Later, I wanted to know if the fall was worthy of YouTube. I envisioned this colossal crash, with my body flying through the air, time momentarily suspended, and then the climactic landing.

But my skiing partner du jour, sports editor Jon “The Hammer” Maletz, described it as being more like a “roll” followed by a “thud.”

C’mon, Hammer; I can’t make good drama out of a “thud.”

Lying there in the rocky snow, calling for help, I didn’t know what to make of things. There were icy clumps of blood all around me, which made me nervous and a little dizzy. Was I severely injured? Was I dying? My life started flashing before my eyes.

There was the fifth-grade regional spelling bee I botched in the second round (after my teachers had held so much promise for the big win). There was my first “real” kiss, an awkward but ultimately successful eighth-grade situation with a Catholic schoolgirl named Nancy, in the back of an Oldsmobile parked in the middle of a cotton field back home.

There was my college graduation, and trust me, getting to that point was a miracle in itself.

My brain was rolling through my first job as a newspaper reporter, circa 1989, when I heard a ski patroler’s voice.

“What’s your name?” asked Andy Fisher. “What day is it? What did you have for breakfast?”

“My name is Dre,” I responded. “It’s Saturday the 19th. I didn’t eat breakfast. I find it highly overrated.”

Fisher and his ski patrol cohorts were patient and professional. They asked about my knee, which was sore. They asked where I was bleeding (I had a small gash on my head). They figured I would live to see another day. They asked if I thought I needed an ambulance. They had me sign some sort of waiver.

And then, as a precautionary measure, they rolled me into a sled and pulled me down the hill, which was slightly surreal. The snow was falling all around me as I stared at the gray clouds through yellow-tinted goggles tainted with small blotches of blood. The classic Animals song “Sky Pilot” was rolling through my mind. (“How high can you fly … you’ll never, never, never, reach the sky!”)

At Base Village, I got out of the sled and raised my arms as if to signal a touchdown – a way of letting all the other skiers know that I was all right. No sense in ruining their fun, too.

But I felt horrible. I didn’t get the happy, shiny feel-good story about opening day that my editor wanted. I spoiled Hammer’s time. I didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish on the slopes.

But I was alive and I could move my fingers and toes, and that was good.

Later, on the way home, Hammer’s offbeat brand of levity made me feel better. And I was pretty damn sore.

“I’m not sure we can actually say we skied together,” he said in his droll way.

“Funny, Hammer,” I thought.

He went on, expressing disbelief that I came out of the accident as well as I did.

“You’re lucky,” he said. “You and Tim Tebow must have the same ju-ju.” (I think he meant, “mojo,” but I got his drift.)

All’s well that ends well, as they say. Thank you, Skico, for a memorable experience. I certainly don’t blame you, and I can’t wait to get back out there.

At Buttermilk. On a sunny day. With fresh powder.