Vagneur: As good as it ever was
In 1949, I started skiing Aspen Mountain. Oh, not like we do today, but on a pair of skis with nipples pointing out from the tips and bear trap bindings. The baskets on my poles probably weighed about as much as I did. When Zeno Colo came across the finish line after winning the 1950 FIS Championship downhill, I was somewhere in the area, listening to the crowd noise and slipping around like I knew what I was doing.
Seems like I grew up skiing a lot with the older kids, like Don Stapleton, Billy Marolt, Gerry Morse, Tommy Moore, Dick Durrance and the rest of the crew. But today I’m thinking specifically about two of them.
Don Stapleton, who was my main ski buddy since the earliest days (and goddamn, did we rip it up and laugh a lot), moved to the Tucson, Arizona, golf courses a few years ago after a back injury and doesn’t ski much anymore. And the other night, Dick Durrance, of “Dream Like a Champion” fame, told me he has given up alpine skiing. He doesn’t want to chance getting seriously hurt while staying incredibly busy sharing his visions for success with so many people through his presentation.
As it seems to happen in my world, it’s the final run of the day when a last-minute adventure beckons. The patrol had just lifted the rope on Corkscrew Gully after it had been closed through the recent ski races and a couple of snowstorms — only two people had gone ahead of us. Expecting a foot of powder snow, I bailed in over the very steep, right-hand drop-off, a sure sign of confidence, and what a surprise it was. About 6 inches of wind-pack greeted me, but damn, it was fun — the kind of stuff I love — for an instant. On the third turn and in a heartbeat, my skis, perhaps with the cooperation of a large snow snake, unceremoniously threw me straight down the hill, where I crashed into an iced-up, bone-hard mogul, landing on my back, which snapped my head down hard.
The resounding crack of my helmet as it hit the ice was fearsomely loud, and the headache was almost immediate, overshadowing any other physical maladies I might have incurred. My overriding thought was to get up and ski that son of a bitch while I still could. Those concussion headaches are way too familiar, and I knew I had whiplashed my neck, a scary proposition what with the screws still in it from the last time I broke it (2010).
My buddy Chip picked up my unattached ski pole, lying about 10 yards above my landing zone, and probably wondered why the hell he’d followed me in there. Come on, let’s get outta here.
It was tough to get out of bed the next morning, what with the bruises and a pulled muscle, and with a headache still lurking, an epiphany of sorts began swimming through the tangled swamp grass of my tortured mind. Maybe it’s my turn to give up skiing; I’ve had a good run, I’m pushing 70, give it up, for Christ’s sakes. Without a functioning brain, you’re not much good to anyone, including yourself. One more concussion might be one too many. Perhaps Stape and Durrance, two great guys who’d mentored me along the way, were voices of reason, calling my name, reaching out to me.
It’s the story of a ranch kid’s life — if you get bucked off, get back on. So, after a day of rest, the solution seemed obvious: Highland Bowl. At least the hike might clear my head, making way for good decisions.
Ozone or Full Curl, and don’t you know some kids took off down Ozone, so I gave ’em a little head start and headed down Full Curl. Beautiful snow, chalky crisp in the gut with soft, crunchable crud on the sides, all under brilliant, clear blue skies. No one around, so let ’em run, let ’em run on all that perfect snow.
The Ozone kids, somewhere in their 20, for whatever reason crossed over about half-way down and stopped to rest their young legs. Please look up, don’t cut me off, and down I went, every turn a thrill.
Somewhere along the runout, a group of Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club kids were being coached off a big bump along the side, hitting it like we used to when we were young, one at a time, each learning and critiquing. It took me back to my own beginning years, and with that the future became clear. I ordered a new pair of skis, to arrive next fall.
By the way, may I say that Aspen Mountain is skiing as good as it ever has in the spring? Just follow the sun, and your heart.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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