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Sucking it up

Jon Maletz

It’s a scenario I know all too well.I’m cruising along, arcing nice, wide turns and working on keeping poles out in front. I pay little or no attention to the trail sign as I casually glide past. That’s when an unwarranted surprise hits me square between the eyes.I drop into a mellow-looking trail only to find myself staring wide-eyed down an expanse of snow, ice-encrusted bumps and trees that seemingly drops off the face of the earth. The legs start to tremble as my fear of heights kicks in. The sweat glands start to work overtime. The breathing quickens, causing the inside of the goggle lenses to fog. I resist the urge to shout out, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” I have two options: admit defeat, unclip and hike out, or suck it up. I choose the latter, mostly because the other alternative heightens the risk I will slip and slide to the bottom on my back. Funny, that sounds like the more graceful way to get down.The technique I have perfected on the cruisers vanishes without a trace; ski instructors, turn your heads. The tips spread wider and wider apart. The back bends as my body forms a semi-fetal position. I can feel every muscle in my body tense up. Above the sound of the music blaring in my headphones is a voice inside my head. “Don’t fall. Don’t Fall. Man, you look like an idiot right now.”The poles start to drag behind me, and all hope of keeping both shoulders square with the slope is lost. I take one turn, then stop. Another turn. Stop. I look uphill for oncoming skiers. Sometimes I pretend to be adjusting the clips on my boots, motioning for them to go ahead; they think I’m being gracious, but my only motive is sparing myself the embarrassment. Sometimes I make a comment like, “So that’s how you’re supposed to ski this.” No one ever laughs. Not even a smile. Once I make it to the bottom in one piece – and pull a branch out of one of my helmet vents – all tension dissipates. I feel like I hit a three-pointer from the corner as the buzzer sounds. I convince myself I actually knew what I was doing back there.And they call that a black diamond.


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