The Chameleon Rides Again!

I made a career out of fighting four-edged ignorance by infiltrating (with ease) elitist ski strongholds yet to open their lifts to us, like Alta, Park City, Aspen Mountain, and Keystone. But after cracking crown-jewel Taos “Free Taos” November, 1997, I swore I’d hung up the split-board for good. You only live twice, after all, and nothing on the horizon posed much challenge for a superspy. Bust the Balsams Wilderness? Get real. Any Chameleon mission now relied on the pens of the people; only pressure from the ticket-buying public would open the fortress gates.

Since retiring, I was content traveling the world and catching waves-even if it meant having to sit idly by while fascists like the IOC and its ski-division FIS glommed onto our sport. I was as disgusted with the Winter Olympics deal as any snowboarder, yet even with stealth skills, what could I do?

Then, while sunning on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, I received intelligence reports of the IOC’s tar and feathering of first gold-medalist Ross Rebagliati (my pick to take the GS, incidentally-lucky guess?). As I decoded the underlying message, I knew I had to go be with my people in their time of crisis-whatever the cost. I was on the first military transport to the land of the rising sun.

Too late to voice protest at the GS races, I reached the halfpipe site at Kanbayashi the very last day of practice. Riders boosted and music blared down the valley like at any contest, but the two giant buildings (housing the judges and officials) and mammoth TV screen blocking the view of the pipe from the bottom, along with the hordes of gray-jacketed Olympic personnel demanding to see credentials a mile away from the action clued me in: this was no ordinary contest. No amount of pleading “dumb foreigner” was going to get me past these sumos. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t aware of how far snowboarders are willing to hike.

Up top security was no different. I have to hand it to the organizers-there I was looking down into one of the most perfect pipes I’d ever seen. It was steep (eighteen-degree inclination), long (394 feet), the walls were tall (eleven feet), and the flatbottom nearly nonexistent (sixteen feet). It reminded me of one of those giant Plexiglas U-jumps skateboarders used to demo in the 80s. The best riders in the world (minus boycott-warrior Terje) were gettin’ some off any spot they chose-spinning, tweaking, flipping, Michaelchuck-chucking-a feast for even the most jaded snowboard fan.

Still, something was wrong. The entire area was fenced off and patrolled by gray jackets. No one hiked; riders had to negotiate a maze of fencing down to the solitary lift that dropped them off nearly in the pipe. Photographers didn’t cluster by the biggest hits but instead were corralled in a pen like Fuji-fed veal. And the riders didn’t give the customary call of “dropping!” as they usually do to control the chaos of the run-in. They were herded by twos through a gate by a pair of scowling FIS dictators. This was no “people’s festival of sport” like the early halfpipe contests. This was a stressin’ session with all the spirit of a snowboard infomercial. It was clear what my mission needed to be, if I chose to accept it …

Nobody-and I mean nobody-dropped in without a contest bib. I won’t say where I got mine; a good spy never reveals contacts. Suffice it to say our neighbors to the north are the true heroes of the sport and these Games. Next thing I knew, I was gliding past the guard dogs and dropping in on Olympic pipe, baby!

The lack of flatbottom made things tricky-I was up in the air off the backside wall before coming down from the front. Keeping things conservative to avoid getting bucked, the first run was uneventful. If judges scored it, the amplitude numbers might need a negative sign. Still, whaddya want? Espionage is my game, not halfpipe hucking-this was shred-terrorism! I hurried back up for another run with my helmet cloaking device and slipped by with ease again. The second run things started to click, but let’s put it in perspective-these riders were the best in the world with almost a week to prepare. Hats off to the shapers, taming this tube was as elusive as you’d expect in snowboarding’s Super Bowl.

Rounding the bend for a third run, I imagined being dragged off and interrogated by ski-pole-wielding goons, but my hookup started to fret-lack of Olympic prowess is a difficult thing to disguise. Not wanting to put the Maple Leaf under more scrutiny than it already was, I surrendered the bib without controversy and my two-run Olympics was final.

Still, this Chameleon’s mission was accomplished: Like it reads at the opening of JFK, “To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.” You can put fences around the halfpipe, but no one can shackle snowboarding’s spirit.