It was the sort of morning that exists only in barroom myth: "It snowed so hard we had to dig our way to the coffee shop!" "I let my dog out and he just disappeared under the snow—gone!" And the ever popular: "It took 'em an hour to dig the chairlift out just to get it turning!" But this day in Aspen was irrefutably real, it had snowed nearly three feet overnight, and it was still dumping. And it wasn't even December yet.
Tim, Mike, and I ripped run after run, legs screaming, a sense of invincibility in the air. We were skiing anything and everything, fast and hard. Trees, bumps, chutes—it was all covered. We could do no wrong.
Then we hit Aztec, sweeping giant turns on the face before heading into the woods at the bottom. First Mike, then me, followed by Tim. It was snowing as hard as ever.
"Caaaat traaack!" I heard Mike scream at the very moment my tips bent unnaturally upward. Everything slowed down. I managed to relax just enough to drop my hip to the snow and take the brunt of the impact on my side and shoulder, letting my skis slip out. I spun like a lopsided top. And then I screamed.
"Caaat traaack! Caaat traaack!"
But Tim was too far away to hear, and his path pitched even more sharply into the flat road. He augered in like a heavy spike into a rotten beam. His skis exploded off his feet, shooting 10 feet straight up. The air was blown out of his lungs by the impact—it sounded like an elephant coughing. And his poles, gloves, hat, and goggles flew every which way.
Then something remarkable happened. Tim popped up, like someone had pulled a string. "I'm okay! I'm okay! I'm okay!" he chanted. Mike and I stood there stunned as Tim walked around like a drunken sailor.
"You sure?" I asked. "You just got hammered."
"I'm okay! I'm okay! I'm okay!" he continued as he loped around, running through a mental checklist of his bodily functions (knees—check; back—phew; head—well, it's as good as it's gonna get).
Everyone had a good laugh, despite the fact that we were beaten down. I couldn't feel my shoulder, and my wrist was clicking. Tim's eye was swelling, and his elbow was obviously hurting. Somehow his head didn't look like it was on straight. But did we go to patrol? Did we head for the lodge for ibuprofen? Nope. We just jumped back into the woods for more.
Bruises, scrapes, knocks, twists—it's amazing the abuse that skiers take on the hill. And yet we forge ahead until last chair. Maybe it's the numbing mountain air or just a desperate addiction to adrenaline, but skiers aren't quitters and powder doesn't wait for whiners. Short of a compound fracture, we tape up and charge.