There’s a certain finality when attempting your first big rock drop. A rider stands alone for this defining moment. It’s put up or shut up time. No test runs, warm-ups, or ollie bumps to float you over danger if perchance you blow the takeoff. The equipment of consequence is skill and confidence.

From the sketchy drop-in, all that’s visible is the valley floor-the pitch is steep, but it looks utterly flat from above. The downhill takeoff appears to have grown a kicker while you were strapping in-you reassure yourself it didn’t. It’s an illusion, and fears of an accidental backflip must be forced aside. Visualizing the line a hundred times becomes numbing: “How hard can you analyze a straight air?”

Impossibly, a tailgrab feels too sketchy from this vantage point-it’s time for a safety grab. You nervously tug down hard on the brimmed beanie and adjust your binding straps for the twelfth time. You take a final breath-voice cracking-call out “dropping,” and turn that wood and glue downhill.

Accelerating toward takeoff, motion slows, as a lucid calm takes over. Like the aftermath of a car crash, your mind is dreamy now. Time stops as you “pop,” leaving the lip.

Amazingly, you’re grabbing frontside, floating over the rock face, and looking at a buddy below. The front leg automatically straightens, smashing out a nose bone.

In a flash, the landing gear is down. You’re taking the hit and riding away in a powder wheelie, yelling, “It didn’t hurt, it didn’t even hurt!” Then the blood comes. A little in the mouth … now running down the chin. A red stain contrasts against gray pants on your back leg near the knee. Disbelief flows over your face, as you realize it’s your nose that’s bleeding … but nothing’s broken, and “it doesn’t hurt too bad.”