Friday, December 30, 2005

I Fought The Snow, and The Snow Won
By Blogger

I have a hell of an ego. No matter what I do, I feel like I should be competent at it. Athletics are no exception. I was a three-sport athlete until high school, when I concentrated year-round on baseball. (I made the freshman football team, then quit a couple days later. I got cut from soccer. No way I would've made the basketball team with these guys only a year ahead of me.) In college, when Zach, T-Bone, and I formed an intramural basketball team with friends of Sportszilla, Lance and Aaron, I warned my teammates that I hadn't played much over the past few years. Then, in retrospect rather boastfully, I said that I would be the intramural version of Dennis Rodman; my shooting range is about ten feet, but I'm a pretty good defender, a tenacious rebounder, and damned if I don't get everything I can out of my five feet and nine inches. As it turned out, I was far from Rodman-esque, but also far from embarrassing.

On Tuesday, I tried a sport for the first time, and figured that, as usual, I'd get the hang of it right away. My ego survived, but took a major hit. Snowboarding kicked my ass.

It began innocently enough. Over the past few months, my friend, Eileen, has had to do a lot of traveling for her job. A few weeks ago, I called her cell phone, and she answered in Miami. She told me she would be back for about a week around Christmas and that I should head up to her parents' home in the Sierra foothills to visit for a couple days. In fact, she added, as if an afterthought, if I came up, we could go snowboarding in the Tahoe area.

I don't have a very good relationship with snow. My family has lived in San Francisco my entire life, and we'd only gone to Tahoe once, more than ten years ago. When I went to New York for college, I was woefully unprepared for a Northeastern winter, and openly complained about the weather and "those damn seasons" my entire time there. I suppose I'm a weather snob, having lived most of my life in a ridiculously temperate climate.

Christmas night, I packed everything I thought I'd need, and the next afternoon, Monday, I hopped in my car and headed east. A few hours later, I was in Sacramento, where I'd agreed to meet Eileen. That night, we planned to go to a bar in Folsom for karaoke with Eileen's parents and two sisters. Believe me, this is relevant to the story.

About twenty minutes after we got to the bar, Eileen's mom brought the house down with the greatest rendition of "Hell's Bells" I've ever heard. I'm not kidding. The place exploded and gave her a legitimate two-minute standing ovation. When she finished, men in their mid-twenties were bowing like "I'm not worthy" in Wayne's World. And the party only got better from there. Around 2:00am, when the bar kicked everyone out, Eileen was well beyond buzzed, and while I'd only had one beer after midnight, I was pretty tired and worn out from the festivities. We finally rounded up all the people we needed to get home, drove back to the house, and I got to sleep sometime after 3:30am.

At 8:25am, my cell phone's alarm went off. Snowboarding. The newspaper says two feet of snow dumped on the mountain last night. Snowboarding. Gotta get up and get breakfast and bundle up. Snowboarding. Looks like it's raining here at 1,500 feet. Snowboarding. Are we going to need chains? Snowboarding.

Eileen and I were still half asleep as we finally ate breakfast around 10:00am. When we finished, I hustled to get dressed, fearing that by the time we were ready to get on the slopes we wouldn't have enough time to really enjoy it. I got dressed, and when Eileen saw me, she chuckled.

"Is that all you're wearing?" she asked. I looked down at my jeans and waterproof jacket. I put my hand on my knit cap.

"Yeah?" I said. Eileen dug through a closet and pulled out a nylon pullover and a pair of snow pants.

"You'll want these, too." At least they're all black, I thought. I'll look cool.

As she drove us into the mountains, we first passed patches of snow, then larger patches, then I noticed that all the trees were suddenly covered with snow, and then there was snow everywhere on everything and light rain was falling.

At the resort, I had to rent boots, but I was using Eileen's sister's snowboard, adjusted slightly to accomodate my bigger feet. Loudspeakers blared Switchfoot. At about 1:30pm, we hiked twenty yards up the bunny hill, and Eileen showed me how to strap myself to the board, how to get up, and how to stop. Fifteen minutes later, I finally made it to the bottom of the hill, a little snow under my collar, and a little perturbed that I hadn't managed to turn just yet.

"Let's take the lift up," Eileen said.

"Are you kidding?" I said. "I won't make it down alive!"

"It's the bunny hill," she said. "You'll be fine."

So we got on the Beginner's Express, and it carried us to the top of the hill. Eileen had warned me that getting off the lift is a tricky proposition on a snowboard, since one foot is not strapped in, and that even though she'd been snowboarding many times before, she'd probably fall on the dismount, too. We did, indeed, fall, and I nearly ripped my foot off at the ankle. By the time I was able to gather my bearings and get to my feet, the next batch of lift riders was yelling at me to get out of the way.

I managed to skate over to where Eileen was waiting, at the crest of the hill, and we strapped in to our boards. She coasted down the hill about thirty yards, stopped, and turned to wait for me. Over the next half hour, I took perhaps ten spills as I angled my way down the hill towards her, terrified of going too fast lest I lose control and either smash into some poor soul or have to take a dive at twenty miles per hour. When I finally reached her, she stood up and demonstrated yet again how to stop. I know how to stop, dammit, I thought. I just can't find the right balancing point on my edge. I just can't. I can't. I can't.

Eileen coasted down another couple dozen yards to wait for me, and we repeated the process with incremental improvement. More than an hour after stumbling off the chairlift, I reached the bottom of the bunny hill, alive, adrenaline pumping, cursing the cold, and with more snow down my shirt.

We headed for the chairlift once again. This time, we rode up with a little girl on a pink mini-snowboard. She said she was eight years old and had been snowboarding for four years.

"It's my first day," I told her.

"Well, it gets easier from here. Just remember, heels and tippy toes," she replied. See? Simple.

This time, I nearly tore up my knee getting off the lift and ended up sprawled with my face in the snow. At least I was out of the way of the next batch of riders. The girl with the pink mini-snowboard scooted away unscathed.

This time down the hill, Eileen left me to my own devices and slid down by herself. I figured I should attack the hill at an angle, finding the easiest grade to handle that would still allow gravity to pull me towards the bottom. I still wasn't sure how to stop, so I ended up going a certain distance, and then, if I didn't fall, turning until I was almost headed uphill, at which point I would stop and then start moving again, only in the opposite direction. I'd unwittingly begun doing a falling leaf pattern, and it worked for me. I ended up smothered in snow only about ten times.

During my flailings, I noticed the other obvious first-timers. I called out to a few of them, and they all laughed with me at our futile attempts at remaining upright. This utter failure thing was a bond. Who cares if you can go down the bunny hill without so much as a flutter in your stomach? I fell and punched the snow. I fell again, and lashed out with my fists again before pushing up. My fellow fallers appreciated the passion. Several mothers pulled their children closer as they passed me. Was this what Jordan felt when he went back to baseball after a thirteen year layoff? Did Herschel Walker go through this sort of awkwardness when he began bobsledding? How in the world can Jeremy Bloom be so comfortable on both a grassy field and a snowy hill? Is it ludicrous that I'm comparing myself to those guys at all?

When I made it to the bottom again, still alive, still with both ACLs intact and functional, I considered it a victory. A pyrrhic victory, perhaps, but a victory. It was fast approaching 4:00pm and last call for the chairlift. Eileen found me. She'd been up and back down twice while I was fighting the snow. Time to go. Beat the rush down the mountain.

When we got back to the car and stripped off the snow clothes, we realized we were both soaked the bone. My t-shirt stank of sweat and stale rainwater.

As we rolled back to the foothills, I thought about the day. Snowboarding had beaten me. No doubt about it. Unanimous decision. But I'd gone the distance. If I'd had the chance to go back up the hill one more time, I think I could've made it all the way down without falling. There will be a rematch. Next time, I won't be out partying the night before. Next time, I won't get only five hours sleep. Next time, I'll dress properly. Mark my words, there will be a rematch. My ego won't settle for anything less.


Blogger Eil B Fresh said...

I'll be there for the next one!

7:11 PM  

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