Getting older sucks.
I slide in above the slot, fresh snow hissing down the steep gash like sand from an hourglass. Below the four-foot-wide entry, there’s a small cliff and then the line curves away from an enormous left-leaning rock wall—not a turn you can miss. I shuffle my skis and wait for it: the familiar cerebral jolt of anticipation, fear, and do-no-wrong confidence that’s been my favorite ski partner for 25 years. More clinically inclined people might call it an autonomic response—the fight or flight instinct. Others call it an adrenaline “rush.” I call it Gary.
He’s a pretty ebullient fella, always ready to rock ’n’ roll. He’s perpetually stoked; raving about how much fun everything is going to be. His voice in my ear is inspiring, exciting, encouraging. He can do anything, and with him on my shoulder, so can I. He’s been with me down thousands of ski lines, off cliffs, over jumps, and through crashes. And he’s the first to laugh and dust me off when things don’t go as planned, “No big deal, you’re fine!” he says. “Go try again. You got this!”
But Gary’s been a little hit-or-miss lately. Since I turned about 30, I guess. He’s left me hanging a few times, which is a real bummer. I thought we were friends—we’ve had the best time together, and done a lot of pretty cool stuff. The really troubling part, however, is that another guy has moved in, and he’s a real downer. We’ll call him Dick.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, I think Dick’s trying to ruin my life. He’s no fun at all. In fact, it sometimes feels like Dick is trying to make it impossible for anyone to have fun. He’s always saying things like, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” and “Remember what happened the last time you tried a back flip?” He even makes me think about what other people are doing: “Oh, man that kid is way out of control. That’s so dangerous! Someone should tell him to slow down.” He’s all about reasonable doubt and control and consequences. It’s frustrating. If I’m going to hear voices (and who doesn’t?), I prefer them to tell me I’m awesome and invincible and a great skier. It’s way more fun that way.
But today, staring down this powder-filled stone hallway, Gary’s nowhere to be found. Instead, Dick’s perched on my shoulder, leering down the line like a cowardly gargoyle. I think he’s chewing caramel in my ear. And then he says it: “If you drop in, you’re definitely going to hit that wall at about 40 mph and break into a million pieces.” He smacks his caramel again as my blood pressure rises. “Yep,” he deadpans, “you’re probably gonna die.” I stamp my skis and fume and fidget and fuss and mutter about how much of a bastard Dick is under my breath.
A 20-something ripper slides up next to me, and appears to be a bit alarmed at my cogitations. Understandably. But he asks in all earnestness, “So, you gonna drop in?” I nod. Then shake my head. Then nod. Then mutter something about Dick. He skis away, looking over his shoulder like I might spontaneously combust.
Just as I’m about to admit defeat, Gary shows up. He seems bored. “Just go. You’re fine. You’ve made this turn a dozen times, and the snow is perfect.” He’s right. I know he’s right.
But on my other shoulder, Dick whines, “If you screw up, it’s your body, your season, your job—is it worth it?” It sucks, but he’s right, too. It would be really bad to crash.
Hmmm. These guys are making me crazy. Maybe literally. This used to be so easy.
“Don’t be a wuss,” Gary quips. “Don’t be stupid,” Dick counters. “Goddamnit!” I say, as I drop my tips and go. Over the cliff, around the bend, and onto the apron—I’m hauling the mail, and it feels glorious. Almost like when it was just me and Gary.
As it turns out, getting older might mean there are more perspectives echoing around my head, but it doesn’t mean skiing can’t be super duper fun. Eat that, Dick.