Like many of you, I was absorbed by the Winter Olympics.
I experienced ridiculous highs as athletes achieved their dreams, the result of years of focused hard work and determination. I also cringed in agony as hopes were dashed with every fall, wipeout, and miscalculation.
I’m the last person you’d call a winter sports enthusiast. Still, I found myself glued to the tube, squirming and rejoicing for hours.
Born and raised in the Sacramento Valley, I experienced snow for the first time as a teenager on an Explorer Scout skiing trip in the high Sierras. It didn’t end well. Someone cut me off, forcing my skis into a snowbank. The result—a twisted knee and ankle.
I tried the sport again in the early ’70s, managing a few mediocre runs on a small hill near my home in the Sierras.
Over a decade later, I met Doris, a Swiss woman and my future wife, who had been an avid skier since childhood. Our friends Misty and Steve, invited us to their place near Vail. (Yes, the same Misty from my book Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes.)
That’s when Doris talked me into accompanying her on the slopes.
I gripped a color-coded map showing the paths of multiple ski runs printed in green (easy), red (difficult), and black (wet-your-pants terrifying). I started out on the green-rated bunny hill, where my wife attempted to give me some much-needed pointers.
Even though I couldn’t get the hang of stopping, I found if I curved back and forth horizontally across the slope, I could keep my speed in check. Using this method, I was able to maneuver along without much trouble, kissing the snow on only a couple of occasions.
Knowing Doris was anxious to test her limits on the black diamond runs, I urged her to be on her way. After we agreed to meet in the bar of the lodge at the foot of the mountain, she disappeared down the slope. On my own now, I studied the map and found a wimpy green line that descended all the way to the lodge.
With visions of a steamy Irish coffee in my mind, I started following that green trail downhill. Despite a steepening incline, things were going well as I weaved back and forth across the slope, keeping my speed at levels that would make an old lady proud.
But then something unexpected happened—the trail narrowed. All of a sudden, there was no room for weaving, and I started to accelerate. I could see that the slope was going to be constricted for quite a distance, so I attempted the stopping technique as instructed.
When that failed, I did what I had to do—I dropped to the ground, nearly burying myself in the soft snow.
I stayed there for a few minutes formulating a plan. With resignation, I slipped off my skies and began the long walk down the mountain with my gear slung over my shoulder. With snow up to my hips, it turned out to be a forty-five-minute arduous trudge to the bottom.
Did I say “No sweat”? When I arrived at the parking lot, I was drenched in perspiration. I stripped down to my undershorts and sat in the car until I cooled down. Heart rate and body temp finally near normal, I put on my clothes and went in search of that well-deserved Irish coffee.
Since that day, my version of winter sports has been limited to channel surfing, a skill that came in handy during the televised Olympics. Fortunately, my distaste for skiing wasn’t a deal breaker as far as Doris was concerned!
Though I often wonder what drives some contenders to risk life and limb with death-defying aerial acrobatics, my hat remains off to all the impressive athletes for their inspiring performances.
Here are some of my favorite 2018 gold medal moments. What are yours?
Shaun White’s final half-pipe run
Women’s hockey: USA vs Canada
Russian women’s figure skating rivalry: Alina Zagitova vs Evgenia Medvedeva
Men’s curling: USA vs Sweden
Who would have thought curling could be so exciting?
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