It has been my privilege to ski with some of the greatest skiers of my generation. This despite the fact that the acme of my competitive career was a first-place finish in the Breckenridge town obstacle-course race in 1973-an event that somehow eluded media attention. So it is with all due humility that I recite some of my favorite moments on snow with skiing luminaries, painfully aware that were it not for the kindness of fate, my name would never appear on the same page as theirs.
I have chased the incomparable Ken Read, of the legendary Crazy Canucks, down glaciers in Switzerland and even raced against him once. True, it was on a pile of crushed ice dumped in a parking lot and the only time I was near him was in the starting gate. But how else was I to share a podium with a man who once won Kitzbühel?
I have teetered on the wind-scoured rim of Corbet’s Couloir in the company of world extreme champion Doug Coombs, and at his insistence plunged into its powdery depths. I survived, and to express my gratitude later on the same run I collided with him at super G speeds. We continued to ski amiably and aggressively for the rest of the day, nature somehow masking my pain.
Seared into memory is the moment a small gang of local Aspenites and I were barreling down Ruthie’s Run on Ajax, led by celebrated extreme skier Scot Schmidt. We veered over to the steep incline of Aztec, our speed causing the planet to drop away under our feet. That’s when we came to the collective realization that the slope we presumed to be buffed was pocked with VW-sized bumps. Schmidt pinged from mogul to mogul like a water bug, my survival instincts permitting me to follow unscathed, but two of our number augured into the hill and blew up like geysers.
I have similarly survived serial mogul runs with the likes of Wayne Wong, Cameron Boyle, Scott Kauf and Robbie Huntoon, champions all. I’ve been lucky enough to cavort down the mountainside with freeskiing champions Rex Wehrman, Aaron Estrada, Noel Lyons, Kim Reichhelm and the irrepressible Glen Plake. I have even pursued my friend Jonny Moseley down the occasional zipper line, but I confess I lack the courage to follow him down the in-runs of the monstrous kickers he prefers. The only dinner rolls in my repertoire are made by Pillsbury.
I have shared the slope with many former U.S. Ski Team members, but my most precious moments were when Pam Fletcher permitted me to fly down the hill as her wingman (happily oblivious to my history of collisions), exulting in shared speed.
Everyone I have mentioned here is not only a skier of immeasurable talent, each is also a person of rare quality. I have never heard one of them boast of their achievements. It’s one of skiing’s many charms, this shared sense of community that binds the sport’s elite to its more mundane members. I don’t know of another sport where those on the A list acknowledge their affinity with those on the Z list. You can’t play golf with Tiger Woods (unless you pony up $1 million) and it’s unlikely that Derek Jeter will join your beer league softball team. Yet you can make a few turns with Bode or Hermann-if you’re in the right place at the right time.
Perhaps it’s this awareness that skiing offers a special refuge from life’s daily grind that prevents me from extending this presumption of community to the other celebrities who seek solace in the liberation of our sport. The closest I have come to invading their space is when, some 20 years ago, I followed Christie Brinkley (at a respectful distance) for one run in Aspen. I watched in dismay as a fight broke out in the liftline among morons battling for the honor of escorting her up the chairlift. Skiing should afford celebrities the same escapism with which it blesses the rest of us.
And so it is that when I see Robin Williams at my local area, whether boarding in the back bowls or lunching in the locker room, I, and the rest of the room, leave him be, despite the fact that I would love to exchange quips with our time’s cleverest comedian. If skiing’s greatest athletes can treat the common man with kindness and decency, the least we can do is treat the uncommon among us with the same respect. u
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.