I pounded it into their heads. Everyone’s. That was my mistake. I thought that every ridershould know the rush of Alpine snowboarding. But they only want what you have, not what you have tosay, and no one’s ever really cared much for truth. Alpine’s not for everyone. It started innocentlyenough with me twisting my neck to follow him from the chairlift above, the only way I could keep up.Paul Parsons did things on a snowboard the rest of us had never seen before-at least not in person. He’dbeen to Europe, probably with the Sims team, and must’ve picked it up there. Man, how he laid it over.We joked about skiers tripping in the wake of his deep, sinuous trenches and cursing his name. I spentthe early season alone, suspended out over the slope of a green-blue run, run after run. I pushed farther,my only goal to get as close to the snow as possible-an elbow, then an ear.
The board swung from under me, my boots nearly six feet across the hill from my eyes on each turn, and I hung on. Therewasn’t really any power to the thing, but for that fraction of a turn when all gravity pendulumed in my gut,it was heavenly. It was the tip of the iceberg. I glimpsed a snowboard’s capabilities, and I knew therewas more where that came from. At the time it was just a turn-it was more than that to me, but literallyspeaking, carving defines a type of turn, nothing more. Any board can carve, yet few riders familiarizedthemselves with carving or the feeling associated with it. But equipment was starting to become morespecialized in a quest for performance and speed. Without us even knowing or wanting it, The GreatDivide occurred-boards and boots expressly made for carving. The thing is, performance didn’t concernmost riders, there was no precedence for it. Alpine riding came into being, and the carve-the explorationof a snowboard’s inherent potential-came with it. If I felt alone in my pursuit before, simply trying newways of turning down the mountain, I was now on an island.
Mainstream snowboarding flowed in the opposite direction, and I swam with the fringe, the Alpinpunks. The tip of the iceberg broke off andfloated away. Gradually, my goal became a different one. I slept under a torn-out picture of the WorldSlalom Champion, Swiss-rider Phillipe Imhof. Racing was an obvious path, and at the time, the onlyforum for carving-where the limits of snowboarding were being defined. Finally, someone knew what Iwas talking about. Or did they? Racing required redirection, and relearning all that I had taught myself.
All of a sudden, what felt so good was wrong. I conformed to a rigid, function-first school of thought,and rode to the arduous beat of technique. My idyllic round turns were replaced by an edge on ice as Iforced my board down the fall-line after the next gate. I took a liking to the power, and I wentwhole-heartedly on, from race to race … … A noble pursuit. At 5:30 a.m., the alarm pierces thefrozen November air. The contenders know only one can win each bout, and they practicallysleep with their boots on. Motivation wanes among the riders heaped from second to infinity. It’snot surprising that racers occupy the periphery of not only Alpine riding, but all of snowboarding.
They are the pinnacle of nonconformity in a sport-and in a society-that’s always rewarded peoplefor looking good, not being good. But the rogues persist, steadfastly thwarting thedecharacterization of the sport, when we’ll all look and ride the same. What do you do for money,honey? How do you get your kicks? For every snowboarder the answer’s unique. The racer mightsay by mastery, technical perfection, winning, losing, and everything else that makes them feelalive. It’s likely they are among the few who could answer with clarity. Racing is largelymisunderstood, any racer will tell you. Freeriders tend to think of it as less expressive, moreinhibitive because turns are dictated to the rider and success demands refinement. But the racersknow the upside.
To them, iit’s a celebration of speed, carte blanche. Go as fast as you can, asfast as you want, at the best resorts in the world. And technique? It only allows you to go thatmuch faster. But technique is not an end in itself. It wasn’t for me anyway. I was a better snowboarderthan I had ever been, but most of the time I never felt worse about riding. Maybe I knew too much;snowboarding had lost its simplicity and its fun. It was a job. A job that paid on rare occasions, if at all. Itried to make a living off of what had given me life. That’s the hard-to-recognize forbidden line I crossed.I no longer rode for a feeling, but for a time. Eventually, I rode hard boots all year, in all conditions. Ibecame just like the rest of them, the riders who never explored the idea of carving at all. Innocenceseemed lost. Ten years later, it’s not often that I labor into my hard boots, bigger now than they used tobe, the hundredth of a second gained by a “race fit” no longer as important as the comfort of mylate-twenties toes. My objectives are uncomplicated and sort of a combination of things, but not acompromise.
The technique affords the feeling, better than I ever would have known. Only now can Iput a finger on my confusion-it was never my ambition or pursuit, but how I counted the rewards, howwe were all taught to count them. I was made to think that what can’t be bought or sold is worthless, butreally it’s priceless. There’s a big difference. Not everybody gets that, not everyone should. The job didpay, just not in the same currency other people use; a truth is, after all, only what’s true to you.Sometimes, from the lift, I still follow a winding track deeply marked. “Fluid like water,” my coach usedto say. “Ride like water running down the mountain.” My first instinct is to look for Parsons, but then Iremind myself: enlightenment is a solitary mission, a singular path. I’ll cash my check when I hit the run.It’s so simple, and in the morning, beautiful.