Wood, wax, air and anticipation
It’s always happened this time of year, and the feeling I’m talking about comes without expectation, without being sought, and is forever welcome. For a kid, Christmas should have been the biggest time of the year, but the onset of ski season created a more complicated series of dreams and fantasies, delicious and delirious imaginations more enthralling than any short-lived holiday could ever produce. Along about November, every youngster with a serious attitude about skiing found a corner somewhere around home to set up a ski tuning center, a ritual probably still practiced today. My disposition got earnest around the age of 6, back when equipment was more challenging than it seems to be now, and I’d dive into revamping my all-wood skis with an enthusiasm and conscientiousness unequaled since. Last year’s wax had to be scraped off and then the base sanded down to natural wood, by hand, of course, and the bottoms made as smooth as the world’s finest handmade armoires. Then, the base was diligently reapplied with a brush, layer by layer, each coat being sanded to a fine, smooth finish. Six base coats were not unheard of, 10 possible, requiring about two hours each. Replacement edges, where needed, were screwed directly into the skis and even a kid of my limited mechanical ability could manage a new edge here and there, even learning to use glue and matchsticks to make up for any natural ability the skis might lack to hold screws where they were needed most.This process went on over a period of days, each base coat taking at least 24 hours to dry, and complaints from mothers concerning the odors of the latest fads in base wax could be heard around the evening dinner table. With each ponderous stroke, our minds ground out amazing thoughts: Last year’s experiences became the foundation for this year’s phantasmagoria of new and (up until then) impossible jumps, turns, illusions and performances. Practical technique was incorporated into our thoughts, only in the sense that first-hand analyses of Roch Cup racers like Dick Buek flying off the headwall at the bottom of Strawpile or Buddy Werner rippin’ and rompin’ through Spring Pitch above the “Berlin Wall” gave us images to work with (or discard) in our ultimate attainment of speed and air, air and speed. The rest was only necessary as control when the superfluous reality of an impending crash penetrated our relaxed attitudes.It’s uncertain how good we actually were at that young age, but it really never mattered because to us, we were as good as we thought we were. We never took formal lessons, other than what the school’s Wednesday Afternoon Activities program might afford us, but there were excellent teachers all over the mountain, such as Don Stapleton, Tommy Moore, Gerry Morse, Billy Marolt, Melvin Hoagland and John Morris. These guys were a bunch older than we were back then but weren’t past letting us ski with them on occasion, giving out helpful pointers when the mood struck. Our biggest point of congregation was the east side of Lazy 8 Gully, one at a time taking turns on the big jump we used to make out of it. Take off, down through the gully, up the west side, and launch some huge air, landing well out into Lower Magnifico. Every kid that skied Aspen Mountain would filter through this spot several times a day and it was great, each trying to impress his peers with distance and form. Watching was the most useful educational tool available to us. Long forgotten are fingers cramped from rubbing sandpaper up and down the undersides of those old skis, and excitement builds as it feels like time to get things ready, in my mind and in reality.Tony Vagneur finally got rid of his bear-trap bindings a few years ago. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to email@example.com
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