Your esteemed Editor miscalculated the moment he began his rotation, catching the tails of his 213cm Kastle Super G’s on the lip of his take-off. This small-scale yard sale occurred near the bottom of Mark Malu, Snowbird, UT in 1986. I landed like a cannonball, right below a sign that read, “Cliffs Ahead.”
If you’ve been a lifelong skier, you’ve not only experienced failure; most likely you’ve survived at least one miscalculation so soul-scarring, its time capsule is enshrined in the halls of memory alongside weddings and funerals.
As inspiration and prod to memory, allow me to recount a vignette from my days as a freestyle competitor. The location is Keystone, Colorado, the event, The Chicken of the Sea Freestyle Classic, a sponsorship coup that couldn’t have been too tough to land as Ralston Purina owned both the resort and the tuna.
I qualified via a preliminary aerial competition, taking a conservative tack by throwing a mule kick, hardly daring when going upside down was common. But my modest move was clean and hung out to dry, with a barely discernible, weightless pause at its apex.
Having cleared the low hurdle of qualification, I went into the mogul competition the following morning in a nearly transcendental state. The run selected for the comp was a simple, three-tiered blue run, with a shallow pitch on the top, an even more languid mid-section and the final plunge to the finish where the battle would be won or lost.
Under the auspices of the IFSA, freestyle’s B-league at the time, the final score in the mogul comp was to be decided by the best of two runs. I took this to mean the judges wanted to see mayhem on the first, disposable run; should disaster strike, there was still the second run to secure a high finish.
So when my number was called, I skated out of the start like it was a World Cup start house. I made a couple of turns in the top section just to show I could, but not enough to slow my speed. I scorched the senseless center section and set my sights on the biggest bump I could see crowning the top of the steep section just seconds ahead and closing fast.
What I failed to appreciate in these shrinking seconds was how the scoured-out upper face of my chosen launch pad would toss me upwards with such violence that a moment later I was looking at the lovely skyline of the majestic Colorado Rockies for what seemed like much longer than it’s taking to find the end of this sentence.
I had a small orientation issue. The spread eagle that was supposed to land me halfway down the bump field had rotated on takeoff by 90 degrees, from upright to supine. I was viewing this serene mountain vista through the large gap between my feet.
I had plenty of time to contemplate my situation. Stopping my rotation was job one on my new to-do list, so I flung my arms wide as if in supplication. Otherwise I maintained my dignity and didn’t struggle as I plunged back to reunion with Mother Earth, back-first.
I landed in a trough with my skis safely out of reach of any snow, dissipating the shock of impact by hitting my head so hard I lost hat, goggles and Rx glasses in the explosion. I was still falling far faster than recommended, so the upside of the next bump I collided with tossed me back into a second full flip that deposited me, now straining to gain control of the situation, into another trough much further downhill.
Some survival instinct informed my body how to only rotate half way and add a slight twist that allowed me to land on my skis at the bottom of the run. I had “skied” the money pitch without once touching ski to snow. The crowd was delirious as I sailed, battered but unbowed, into the finish corral.
The coda to this tale concerns the Coke-bottle glasses that went into orbit when I whiplashed through the first trough. It wasn’t until ten minutes before the start of the second run that a friend – Richard Malmros, thank you, wherever you are – found my glasses, without which I couldn’t see, well, anything.
I’d been born with something like 20/600 vision. From twenty feet away, I couldn’t tell Scarlett Johansson from Rudy Guiliani from a sack of potatoes.
But I wasn’t going to miss that second run. You can imagine the buzz in the crowd when they realized I was coming up soon, the guy who almost killed himself! Of course, I had DQ’d on my first run, but I’d won their hearts, and I didn’t want to disappoint.
With my specs on, I finished somewhere in the pack of also-rans, the carnage of the first run unable to lend its luster to the second. The question left unanswered is, how would I have fared if I had taken that second run all but blind? How loud would the crowd have roared then?
Feel like sharing?
If you send me the saga of your most spectacular wipeout, I’ll cobble up your collective tales and post them here. It will make wonderful holiday reading that will help bring the community of skiers together through shared experience.
Just think of the comfort your torment could provide in these difficult times.
I look forward to hearing from you.