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Skiin' with the Devil

Deep thoughts

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What I remember most vividly is coming over a rise in full tuck and absolutely, categorically flattening a middle-aged woman who had stopped to…to what? Pick her nose? Adjust her bra? I cannot be certain, but whatever the reason, there she was. And there, suddenly, was I, andthe air between us was too small a thing to keep us apart. Soon enough, she was on her well-padded ass, a good 20 feet from where she’d been before we were so rudely and briefly introduced.

I was 14 at the time, of an age and era (mid ’80s) when it seemed as if the most fun thing I could do on skis was to point them straight into the fall line and lean forward until the back of my neck ran parallel to the ground. Turning was anathema and the band Van Halen was my God. Life was good.

“You asshole! This came not from the woman I’d hit, who was gasping and writhing in a fashion that was, like a car wreck, at once impossible to watch and impossible to not. No, this was her partner, who was also of the female persuasion and quite a bit smaller than I. Even at 14, I knew her sex and stature should work to my advantage. “You asshole, you asshole! YOU! ASS! HOLE! I gave her my best “Who, me? look, which had long ago lost its charm on my parents and the teachers at my high school, but still packed a wallop on the uninitiated. This woman was apparently not a member of that naïve group. Would it be impolitic at this point to mention that I was not entirely unscathed? I had managed to remain upright, no doubt assisted by the fact that I’d cranked my DIN screws down as far as my spindly arms would take them. I doubt I even knew what I was doing, but during my early teens, I was guided by a near-fanatical devotion to the assumption that anything done to extremes is superior to that which is not. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

In any case, I could feel in my left thigh the soft release of bursting blood vessels, the steady spread of bruise flushing my quad. I felt, in some odd way, vindicated by the pain: Hey, lady, look what she did to me! I was just about to raise this point when the woman I’d hit started making noise.

“Hime….unnnh…ergggh…hoookay…Hime…unnnh…hoookay….unnnh….ergggh… To my ears, it sounded like she was saying she was OK, although truthfully, all the gasping and wheezing made it hard to tell. Apparently, there was enough ambiguity that her friend interpreted the noises quite differently and launched another volley of assholes.

Partly to escape the verbal barrage, and partly because I didn’t know what else to do, I set out for my victim’s skis, which upon impact had been spit far down the slope. At least, that was my intention. But once I felt the freedom afforded by the slip of waxed P-tex over snow, damned if I didn’t keep going straight past the detritus of skis and poles and goggles. Even as the shrieker was reloading her lungs with obscenities, even as the woman I’d hit was slowly pulling herself out of the butt-shaped dent she had made in the Vermont hardpack, I was easing into a full tuck, the jukebox in my head dropping its needle on “Runnin’ With the Devil.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t really hurt that woman, at least not in any way that time and Tylenol couldn’t heal. I scanned the local paper for weeks, looking for key phrases: Skier Sought or Skier Still In Coma or Hey, Asshole! But they never appeared, and I gradually buried the incident under more pressing concerns, like whether I’d lose my virginity by the end of the school year.

Still, I never confirmed my victim’s outcome with any certainty—and the incident has haunted me ever since. I’m 33 now; it’s been a full 19 years since I went human bowling on the slopes of Jay Peak, but I still can’t put the hammer down without reliving that day. Hurting oneself while skiing is one thing—ours is a sport that bears more than its share of risk, and we’ve been conditioned to accept the snapping of bones and rending of tendons that we occasionally visit upon ourselves. But innflicting these things on others? Like the crooning of certain washed-up rock stars, it’s simply not OK. Not OK at all.

So I offer this public apology. If that woman is reading this, I am sorry. I should not have left you there, with only your hysterical friend for comfort and assistance. Hell, I should not have hit you in the first place. If only I’d known how to turn. If only I’d known that rocketing down a blue-square ice floe is to skiing what Sammy Hagar later became to Van Halen: a sad thing that should be experienced only under the most dire of circumstances.

It is good to know these things and I can now proudly say that I do. But somewhere out there—perhaps on your favorite mountain—there’s a pubescent boy, and much of the time, he is confused and angered by the seismic changes occurring in his body and mind. It’s not an easy phase for him. But when he clicks in, tilts his body into 30 degrees of granular, and lets go, everything is better.

To him, I say: Keep skiing. To you, I say: Look out.