Older and wiser, but less impressive.
It’s closing day at Bridger. The sun is out, babes are in bikinis, and the fellas are feelin’ flashy. Everyone’s throwing down. The mogul line under the lift looks like a choreographed aerial show, each skier doing a unique flip out of the giant trench that has formed throughout the day. Nothing looks better than a good ol’ fashioned backflip, though. It’s clean, simple, and straight to the point. The backie is a classic trademark of skiing, and I just might do one today.
It’s been a few years since my last, but I used to whip ’em up like pancakes in the morning. Plus, all these college kids are making them look easy. Surely I haven’t forgotten the mechanics. But there was that one time, my knee whispers. I ignore the thought. That was 10 years ago, my ego responds. How about that time when you tried one at the bottom of North Bowl? my elbow asserts. Or the one where you attempted to impress your cousin and landed flat on your fa—“Quiet you!” I say out loud, confusing the people on the lift with me. This is closing day, dammit! A day to celebrate with bravado, chug PBR like I’m in a frat, and flip like George Washington in a coin toss. Let’s get inverted!
That was a lot of air, my knee quivers. You sure you remember how to do these? My wrist and head feel the need to chime in as well. Things aren’t the same now that you’re off your parents’ health insurance.
I depart from the lift and snake my way through the partying crowd up top. I’ve got business to attend to, so I don’t linger among the hordes. I’m not going to try my first one in years under the lift for everyone to see. I don’t want that kind of pressure. But there’s a booter off the beaten path that provides good lift and a long landing. Everything you can ask for. I ski the first half of the run and my heart starts to pound noticeably stronger.
When I reach the spot, I see a pack of young go-hards with the same idea as me. I let them go first. They drop in one after the other, not leaving much space for the man in front or behind. Under flip, Lincoln loop, back flip, cork seven—it’s all flawless. They even hit a cliff up top and add an entry trick before launching off the main kicker. Their confidence is both inspiring and paralyzing.
That was a lot of air, my knee quivers. You sure you remember how to do these? My wrist and head feel the need to chime in as well. Things aren’t the same now that you’re off your parents’ health insurance. Recovery wasn’t fun the first time around. What makes you think it’ll be any more tolerable now? My body’s negativity becomes exhausting to deal with and my ego counters. Guys, we’ve been running strong for a while now. Our successes have far outweighed our failures. We’ve got this!
Before I’m able to make a decision, another group of salad-day rippers skis up and drops in without even stopping to scout the thing. Backflip, backflip, Lincoln loop—it’s like a movie on repeat. Half of them aren’t even wearing helmets or shirts. They look like Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in Top Gun, except skiing instead of playing volleyball.
I’m racing down the in-run, absorbing bumps, and picking up speed like a 747 preparing for liftoff. I’ve hit this jump 100 times, but I’m flying like a turbo-powered banshee shot out of a cannon.
At the end of the train, one guy does a massive spread-eagle, stomps it, and disappears around the corner with the rest of his friends. That looked pretty cool, I admit to myself. Maybe I’ll do one of those first to get the feel of the jump, and then come back for some upside-down glory. I consult my begrudging body parts and they all seem to be on board. None of them can remember ever messing up a spread-eagle.
With that, I’m racing down the in-run, absorbing bumps, and picking up speed like a 747 preparing for liftoff. I’ve hit this jump 100 times, but I’m flying like a turbo-powered banshee shot out of a cannon. I realize that this is going to be a lot bigger than I anticipated and do a half-hearted speed check five feet before the lip. It proves futile. I launch into the vertical so fast that I forget what I even had planned. In attempt to slow myself mid-air, I awkwardly starfish my limbs in random directions. I roll the windows down four times as I soar well over the landing and smash onto flat ground. My knee pops upon impact but somehow, I’m still able to ride it out. I come to a halt to an internal chorus of bodily complaints. Told ya so, idiot! Yep, real smooth. Really sent it on that one didn’t ya?
After I catch my breath and get a grasp on the pain, I look up to see yet another cluster of kids filing off the cliff and flipping the jump. Damn them! I say to myself. For a moment, I sulk in denial before resigning to the harsh reality that the only reason I’ve found myself in this position is that I am jealous. In my mind, I’m one of these young rippers, a stud skier at the height of his powers capable of executing his best stuff on any given day. But the fact is that I am not. I’m not old, but injury and early aging have taught me that hurling myself off 30-foot cliffs and doing flips like I used to might not be in my best long-term interest. And that realization sucks.
Right now, I don’t want to know better or be wiser, or have the experience that tells me not to do things I shouldn’t. Not on closing day. Right now, I want to float elegantly through the air with grace and style. I want the ethereal feeling of completing a full rotation and coming to land back on my skis as smooth as I took off. I want to feel cool.
But when my girlfriend and mom ski up to me half-laughing, half-concerned to ask if I’m okay, it’s clear that I’m far from cool. Guess you just don’t have it anymore, they joke. And out of the corner of my snow-crusted eyes, I can see my girlfriend sneaking a furtive glace at the young hotshot skiers, making for another big kicker. And for a second, I even catch my mom checking them out, too.