Roger Marolt: Sometimes it’s the impact we don’t make that hurts
I got hit by a snowboarder last weekend. In over 50 years on the slopes, amid every imaginable set of circumstances, I had never been crashed into. I had been lulled into believing this was not a possibility. It happens to tourists, intermediates and those with rewards cards at Cloud Nine restaurant, but me? No way.
It scared the hell, crap and daylights out of me. That was the extent of it. I was not physically injured, even if forever attitudinally altered. The worst part was that, afterward, my mind was exploding with all the perfect things I should have said and done that had escaped me at the crash site.
I don’t know where the guy came from. I was cruising down the very top of Copper Connector heading for North Star on my way to Kristi’s. It’s a wide-open, fairly flat run, meticulously groomed nightly. I wouldn’t even call it a real ski run. It’s a means to get somewhere you really want to ski.
I know some like to go fast on stuff like this. I don’t see the point. My preference is to use this gimmie type of terrain to make a few easy carves to loosen the legs. I ski it close to the treeline to stay away from those who would rather go straight. It’s my tip of the hat to it being free country.
Just like that, I felt a jolt from behind. It nearly knocked me down. My head jerked back and in my peripheral vision I saw that another human body was now, literally, standing on the backs of my skis. At this point, my guess is that we are traveling at somewhere around 30 mph. The thing I don’t have to speculate about is that I can’t turn. We are veering out of control toward the dense forest to my right. I am about to hit the deck as the best option for damage control, doing instantaneous carom calculus that an eggbeater across the flats while tangled up with another human is going to break fewer bones than a twist around a lodgepole pine. I feel my edges again and the inadvertent hitchhiker dives off to the left, probably thinking like I was, cartwheeling off in a cloud of snow. Disaster averted.
My parents taught their children well. It is as ingrained as the Ten Commandments to stop at the far edges of trails, never out of sight below a knoll. Thou shalt avoid crowded groomers. Thou shalt look uphill coming into an intersection. We know a moving skier’s gaze naturally draws them toward a skier at rest. Dad preached to never rely on anticipating the moves of a skier in front of us; it’s better to give them as much room as possible. Yelling “right” or “left” from behind is a crap shoot. Many people concentrating on their skiing seem to have a hard time processing that command. It’s like a surprise trick question they may double-clutch on.
What happened next was adrenal gland nuclear fusion. The young man was sitting wrecked in the snow and I yelled. I yelled so loudly that I nearly lost my tonsils. I set off a roaring avalanche of mostly incoherent jumbled chunks of run-on sentences. Without making much literal sense, I think the only thing I convinced him of was that mere anger was a milepost I passed 50 yards earlier with him on my back! At the end of my thunderous rant, he looked me straight in the eyes and sincerely, calmly asked, “Are you all right?” I informed him that, luckily for him, all he had done is scare the crap out of me; as, if he had killed me, I would be really mad.
One of the worst feelings a healthy human being can experience is an adrenaline rush subsiding. My knees wobbled like overcooked penne pasta tossed in olive oil. I was slightly nauseous. Worst of all, I was filled with regret over my post-crash performance and opportunity lost. The gnawing realization that I had neither said nor done what would have been so perfect had me down. As I made turns as jagged as a cheap zipper guided by numb fingers and then sat sullenly on a quiet gondola ride back up, I brooded.
It is what haunted me in my attempts to sleep that night when all the right words I should have said and all the perfect actions I should have taken came clearly and easily to my mind in dreamy pictures of a perfect world. Why, in tense confrontations like this, can we so rarely come up with the perfect words that would really get them good?
What I wish I would have done, after I was done yelling, is take a deep breath and extend my hand to help him up. I wish I would have been the first to ask him if he was all right. I wish I would have told him that he had really scared me, but I was sorry about how I had lost it on him. I wish I would have given him a fatherly hug and told him I was glad we’re both OK. I wish I would have told him to enjoy the rest of his day and to be careful. … If only I could do it all over again, I think I could have had a much bigger impact.
Roger Marolt now knows that dreams, and nightmares, really do come true on the ski slopes. Email at email@example.com.