Roger Marolt: If the course be departed from …
There was a skier, an OK guy in street clothes, but in all ways transforming into a snob on the slopes. He needed change, a gain of perspective on a game he took too seriously. I knew this, for he was me.
Elsewhere, ghosts of Christmas visit people in their slumber. In Aspen, mine came in broad daylight on Ajax. You doubt this truth, so I will detail its telling, as terrifying as it was.
It was a good, not perfect Saturday afternoon — the skies pale blue, no clouds to tell tales to sailors, much less skiers. The light was leaning towards flat as it does when the December sun sails low and quick across the southern horizon.
I was on new skis, the thin under the foot racing type, sparse on sidecut and long on razor sharp edges. It was astounding how confident they were where I expected skittering across runs troweled smooth with hard, manmade snow. I carved with might as I broke the wild boards that buck until they respect their commander. There is no letting up on such thoroughbreds; exhausting, and still, what a thrill!
My legs were threatening protest by mid-afternoon and so I made for my last run. Down Copper Bowl, I felt my edges still nibbling firmly at the snow to hold me fast while avoiding a hard bite to ruin my flow. Near the bottom I felt the burn in my thighs and stood taller to give them rest. Easing back from my carves and letting the skis run free through Grand Junction and into Kleenex Corner, the sensation was of soaring, fast as a shadow disappears in spindrift.
Per the oxymoron common to athletes, I stopped to catch my breath at the top of Little Nell. Several skiers rested with me, but not a soul within sight was below. My breath continued its gallop, not yet reined in, but you don’t get many opportunities in a skier’s lifetime to take Little Nell alone on a December afternoon. In dread of opportunity lost, I pushed off quick.
Two turns in I was already faster than I wanted to be, but the skis were loving it and craving more. On the flats below Chair 5 my legs murmured of mutiny, but I didn’t give in this time. I bore down and pushed harder. I crested the roller and initiated a crisp left turn, testing the righthand margin of artificial snow. I hit a patch of icier snow and my edges drifted. As the sport watch struck 50 mph, my edge caught softer snow. I launched upwards, twirling backwards. I flailed for a lifeline and snagged the hem in the tail of the black cloak donned by the Ghost of Christmases yet to Come. I was along for the ride of, and for, my life.
Dragged along, I lit hard on my shoulders and head, bounced once and was suddenly high over the edge of the Ribbon of Death, flying backwards into what I could not picture. My mind raced to put together a mental diorama of where I was headed. Were there trees? Snowmaking equipment? A gondola tower? I knew there was no safety netting along this ad hoc race course. The Specter silently pointed its bony finger. This was my future.
“This can’t be happening!” Was my only thought. What would come next would arrive without my invitation. Fathomless dread wrapped me coldly.
“Is this the way it must end?” I mourned. Then, like a bolt of lightning, I struck my destiny. I tumbled and twisted helplessly through the thin snow, well off the groomed track. My body was pulled and twisted, bones stressed to the breaking point. I recognized nothing in the tumbling blur. Then, silence. I waited for someone to come, but nobody had seen the hideous crash. If they had, they would have assumed death and rushed to capture a memorable Instagram post.
My face and clothes were packed with snow. My helmet — thank God for my helmet — was mashed over my face. My skis and poles were gone. I lay motionless, inventorying body parts …
I had survived. Albeit with bruises and scrapes, head to toe, and my left hand swollen to resemble a catcher’s mitt, I was alive! Haha! Hallelujah! I was given a second chance! I will be joyful on the slopes! I will be humble! Careful. Kind. To trace a Dickinson turn of phrase, I will honour skiing in my heart, and try to keep it all my life. I have skied in the past, the present … and will now in the Future!
Roger Marolt is still weak in the knees thinking about his recent crash. Miraculously, he is only leaning on a candy cain this holy eve. email@example.com
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