Tony Vagneur: Until death do us part … me and my skis, that is
“Do you still ski,” she asked, during an interview. I have to say, the question threw me off my game. To me, it’s like asking if someone still breathes, or eats. “Yeah, I do,” was the reply and there was friendly avoidance on my part to talk about it any further.
Fifteen years ago. or so, I ran into an old high school buddy. “Wow, you’re still skiing,” he said, eyeballing my ski clothes. “Yeah, I’m still haunting the Big Mountain.”
“Amazing,” he replied, “Aspen Mountain, no less.” He found that hard to fathom, anyone as old and decrepit as me, but I stuck to my story.
If done wrong, skiing can be brutal, and we’ve all done it wrong at some point, some of us more than others. Calluses on your hands from hobbling around on a pair of crutches, torn ligaments; fused cervical vertebrae, cracked tibial plateaus, spiraled lower leg bones, hip replacements and the list goes on. How many times did you say that one shoulder could be surgically repaired?
Maybe no one has done the statistics, but what’s the percentage of our reasonably stable skiing population who has one or more fake joints, or had shoulder repair surgery, or doesn’t quite look straight ahead anymore because of one serious, or repetitive concussions? I’ll bet it’s a high percentage. I’m talking ski wrecks here.
A childhood friend of mine, a damned fine skier and one-time excellent racer, no longer skis. He shall remain nameless, but it’s because he wants to stay heathy so he can continue doing what he does in his professional life. You have to respect that.
Take all that aside, all that injury and precaution, and hit the gondola early, cerulean blue sky above, and nothing to do for the moment but ski. Yeah, the warm days have made the bumps a little crunchy early in the day, even the ones in direct morning sunlight, but so what? That’s why God made corduroy.
Personally, I don’t usually ski groomers, except when skiing with my grandkids, and man, they can be a lot of fun. I mean groomers, but grandkids are a lot of fun, too. Hit my favorite, Summit, the other morning, early; it was a little brutal, ice stalks sticking up like chicken heads and the edges a bit set-up, so the hell with it.
I scratched down Pumphouse to finish the bumps off and then up 6 and bombed a deserted Ruthie’s, wide open. Hard not to smile ear-to-ear on days like that. You can do the same thing down Spar or Copper, depending on your personal gyro. You gotta get there early.
In honor of Guido Meyer, the local man who died in what may have been an altercation with his tractor last year, may I say he kept me from making a big mistake once. When told I was seriously considering moving over to the Paonia area, maybe Crawford, he laughed and said, “That will never work. You’ll miss the skiing too much.” Kinda like getting advice from your dad, only from a friend.
On slow days, we’d sometimes line up five or six abreast at the bottom of 6, holding hands. As we went faster and faster down Spar, no turns allowed, people would pull out of line as the speed got too great or the fear of co-mingling with your friends and their skis in a big wreck looked too likely. Naturally, last man standing or two hanging on to each other won … usually a pitcher at the Red Onion.
The beauty of skiing is that it’s very athletic, but it’s not necessarily related to age. The last run I made with my cousin, David E. Stapleton, young Dave’s dad, was a few years ago. David was in his 70s somewhere and after a couple of runs on top with him and his wife, Sigrid, we decided to call it a day. Sigrid opted to ride the gondola down.
“Three-turn maximum on the way down,” I hollered as we launched from the top, David in the lead. As we waited for Sigrid at the bottom, David said, “I couldn’t do it, Tony. I made 10 turns on the way down.” Think about that the next time you’re in a hurry. “Tell me about it, Dave, so did I.” I’d love to have a do-over on that last run with him.
To get back to the question posed at the beginning of this column: “Do you still ski?”
The answer may be found in another question: “Do you quit skiing when you die, or do you die when you quit skiing?”
For a good synopsis of skiing our local mountains, check out Catherine Lutz in the latest edition of Sojourner Magazine. Ms. Lutz was my editor at The Aspen Times a few years ago.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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