When I was eight years old, my best friend invited me to his family’s cabin in June Mountain, California.He’d teach me to ski-that was the promise, and he kept it. We played in the snow and laughed on the lift,and I learned the thrill of sliding down the slopes. Those memories pushed me to the mountains for the nextfifteen years. But as the seasons passed, the desire to get up the hill began to wane: the excitement I oncefelt was not as strong. Then came the dark years, the five seasons I didn’t see snow at all. At first it wasn’tso bad, but after a few winters, I began to really miss it. Not the skiing so much, but the snow, the beauty ofthe Alpine environment, and that kid-like feeling I got sliding down the mountain. Ah, what the hell,
Ithought, I’ll give it one last shot, and to make it even more interesting I’d change perspectives, trading skisfor a snowboard. Oh, to be a beginner again-to be out of control, to fall on my ass countless times. I’m not akid anymore, and the prospect of self-inflicted pain wasn’t high on my list. Was I really going to do this?Yes, but first I’d try to stack the odds in my favor. I did some homework to see what the snowboard worldoffered in the way of teaching the helpless. I discovered that High Cascade Snowboard Camps, a pioneer insnowboard instruction based in Oregon, offered week-long sessions just for adults. The package soundedappealing-room, board (both kinds), lift tickets, extracurricular activities, equipment demos, and otherbeginners. I ponied up and headed north to Mt. Bachelor. During a mellow first evening of dinner andchatter between campers and instructors, I noticed something that assured me I’d made the right decision incoming. Amid the 29 campers-some returning for their second and third times-was a strong internationalcontingent. Campers traveled from as far away as Japan, Australia, Great Britain, and Norway to attendHCSC. Mixed in with folks from places like Colorado, Texas, New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico,you’ve got an entertaining plateful of different flavors. I was impressed by the strong reputation HCSC builtover the past ten years. “Good morning, Mr. Downer. This is your 6:00 a.m. wake-up call.” The day hadcome-maybe a little early-but it hit me like a fresh cup of coffee nonetheless. It would be my first time on theslopes in over five years, and I couldn’t wait. By 8:00 a.m., I was on the mountain lining up my equipment.
The gear, like everything else provided by HCSC, was top-notch. Then came the first tug on the tenuousgrip skiing still had on me-the boots were so soft, comfortable, and easy to walk in; I could feel mysurprised toes stretch out and relax in their new home, quick converts to the sport. After a king’s breakfast,we were off to conquer the mountain, or at least part of the mountain. Well, actually, I can’t even call it that.For the first time in almost two decades, I headed toward the bunny slope. Our instructor Chuck gave us abrief introduction to the snowboard and its parts. He put us through a few beginner drills on the flats, thenwe headed for the chairlift and our first run. On the ride up, I watched other beginning boarders struggling onthe snow below. Nobody made it more than fifteen feet without either catching an edge and being thrownviolently forward, or sliding out, landing hard on their butts. “You’re smart,” I said to myself sarcastically.
“What made you think changing perspectives was even remotely a good idea?” As I slid away from the lift,arms flailing, unmistakably out of control, my inner voice mocked, “Have fun!” For the next few hours wepracticed sideslipping-or “leafing,” as Chuck called it-to the bottom, first toeside and then heelside. Fall, sit,kneel, fall, try to slide, repeat-my cycle in a nut shell. Chuck remained positive and patient, offering concisepointers to help us down the run. As the morning progressed, so did I, soon finding myself connecting basicturns all the way to the bottom. What an incredible feeeling! Skiing’s grip was slipping away with eachsuccessful turn. Around the same time my stomach began grumbling about lunch, the muscles in my legswere pleading for a break, so it was down to the lodge to refuel. While finishing my burger, I noticed agroup of skiers sitting at a nearby table wrestling to get their feet out of those torturous boots. I wiggled mytoes inside their cozy, soft homes and smiled, wondering if I would ever be part of that crowd again.
Thenext morning I was up early once more. Due to my success the previous day, I was placed in a new group.We spent the morning fine-tuning our turns-accentuating the knee bend, compressing and decompressing,keeping our shoulders over the board, and using our arms as guides. During the exercises, I realized thatturning on skis never felt this good. Sometime after lunch, while riding an intermediate slope, it happened. Istarted off with a short toeside turn leading into a large, round heelside. I quickly picked up a rhythm, somespeed, and something else. I recognized it immediately, even though it’d been years since I last felt it-thecrisp bite of wind, the tears running from my eyes, the smile that wouldn’t wipe away. And for just amoment, maybe a dozen turns before I reached the bottom, I was eight years old again, not believing howmuch fun I was having. Back on the lift, smile still in place, I felt good. But something was missing.
No, notmy gloves or backpack. Chapstick and Kleenex? Nope, still a moist ball in my pocket … the grip of skiing.Yeah, that was it, unequivocally gone. I don’t know exactly when-probably sometime after lunch and beforethat last run-but skiing had definitely lost its hold. From that moment on, I knew I was going to be asnowboarder. -Luke Downer