Remember "the agony of defeat?" You will.
"Come jump tonight at the Olympic Sports Park," says fellow Snowbird local Brian Beck. We're at the 'Bird, trying to ski some Utah respect into my visiting Vail buddies. We are having a big day, but the Vail boys aren't cowed. So Beck ups the ante with the jump idea. It isn't until later that we hear people calling him "Flyin' Brian."
As I park at the jump hill, I wonder if Brian isn't setting me up, too. Then there he is, handing me a pair of 223's and a downhill suit. A woman tosses me a bib that reads 2001 Utah Winter Games. Yeah, he's set me up all right. Next thing I know, I'm in the suit, feeling naked, and Brian's pointing me toward a five-meter jump.
"Start on this small one," he says, "then work your way up." My V is a constipated spread eagle. Vail boy Dave Abney does a weird wheelie flap-and-pump thing in the air. He looks like a fish; we start calling him Trout Boy. Though a 12-year-old beats us, we qualify for the 20-meter. There, we take the long icy in-run and fly 20 meters (65 feet), which qualifies us for the 40. Gone are any hard feelings; this is easy. Fun even.
"Don't get too amped," says Brian. "The 40 is a whole different program."
I climb the dark stairs that let you choose how high up the ramp you'll start. Trout Boy picks the highest step. Now I am going to have to go there, too. He hoists himself onto a long wooden arm, they announce his name, and he springs off the board like a spooked cat. He drops into a tuck, flies into a dark sky, triple-pumps, and touches down in a sea of spotlights. Then I'm on the wooden seat, trying to breathe. "The agony of defeat" loops in my mind. I sit stone still, weighing the humiliation of sneaking down the stairs.
But when they announce my name, the ol' ego kicks in. I shove off, tuck, and plummet toward well-lit disaster. The wind builds. The whooshing of the ramp's two-by-fours sounds like a train. My skis are in tracks until I spring at the lip, jerking into a paralyzed V. I float into the dark, staring down at the bright crash zone. Then I shoot up the outrun. It is the smoothest landing I've ever had. My eyes are exclamation points.
After two more jumps, Trout Boy and I try to bribe the starter for more. I haven't succeeded in blowing the Vail boys away; instead I've blown my own mind.