Somewhere back in the early 1970s I got the first paid vacation I ever had in my life. I’d somehow managed to work a full year for Roos-Atkins clothing store without getting fired and had a week off, but no idea what to do with it.
That’s when my friend Neil Boel came to the rescue.
His parents owned a cabin in Lake Tahoe and Neil suggested we go there for my week’s vacation and he’d teach me to ski; which sounded like a pretty awesome way to spend a week.
Turned out Neil’s idea of teaching me to ski was to advise me to point the pointy part of my skis downhill and go like a bat out of hell until I crashed and then get up and repeat the procedure. At some point, Neil assured me I’d “figure it out.”
Thank God Neil didn’t take me skydiving.
But after just one day of body slams that would have made Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson proud, I could kinda parallel ski; I had learned to jump in the air and turn both skis at once and set off in a new direction.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was efficient and after that I viewed beginning skiers who took lessons and skied “correctly” with scorn; real men – or at least real dumb men – came screaming down the slope, somewhat out of control and didn’t mind hitting the occasional tree or lift shed in an effort to stop.
Stein Ericksen with his perfect, completely-in-control turns could kiss my ass.
At about the same time hot dog skiing – or as it later became known “freestyle” – was becoming a thing and I was drawn to it the way Sonny Barger was drawn to the Hells Angels; these were my kind of people.
To hell with all those prissy, perfect turns with your skis welded together; smash and bash your way down the slope and if you could throw in a flip or spin while doing so – even if it was unintentional – it would entertain your friends and complete strangers.
Timeout for a diatribe against capitalism:
Mostly I think capitalism is OK if you don’t count snow storms in May, children mining coal and islands of plastic roaming the high seas, but it really fucked up hot dog skiing.
The attraction of the movement was that there were no rules; it was a just a bunch of guys – and the occasional girl – doing their own thing and entertaining each other with tricks they’d learned.
The image above isn’t me before a visit to a chiropractor, it’s me doing a move called a “tip roll” and I could do it while moving and ski away unharmed unless you count appearing in public wearing what appears to be the ugliest sweater ever knitted.
Then some investment banker or stock broker out for a day of those prim and proper turns looked at his second wife and said, “Y’know, people would pay to watch this” and came up with competitions and rules and judges and critiques of form which is what the freestyle movement wanted to get away from in the first place.
You can take something fun and innocent and as soon as someone figures out a way to turn a buck with that fun and innocent activity, it goes to hell. If you don’t believe me, just look at porn and when you’re done – three and a half hours later – tell me I’m wrong.
Even though I’m not sure there’s a better system, I’d say certain parts of capitalism can kiss my ass, but someone would once again say, “Y’know, people would pay to watch this” and we’d be right back where we started.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Stupid human tricks
So where were we?
The original motivation for writing these stories down was to preserve them for my kids and their kids and their kids so one day generations from now a descendent of mine could stand up at a third grade Show and Tell on the planet Jupiter and say: “You can’t believe what a fucking idiot my great, great, great grandfather was.”
That language might sound shocking coming from a third grader, but the way our standards are dropping – with my help – I believe dropping F-bombs in third grade will be normal by then and the teacher will say: “So, Timmy, what did the stupid son of a bitch do?”
Since you asked…
At the time of this story I’d been skiing a while and as you can see from the posted photographs, thought I was hot shit.
BTW: I wasn’t. There’s almost always someone way better and crazier than you are and you just haven’t met him (or in some cases her) yet and when you do you’ll have to downgrade your opinion of yourself unless your ego won’t allow that in which case you should clearly run for President.
But I digress.
So my friend Bob Nunes and I were skiing at Squaw Valley and I just checked a trail map and if I recall correctly we were on a run named Red Dog – assuming that run existed back then and the memory of a guy who isn’t sure if he took his allergy pill five minutes ago can be trusted.
The run zig-zagged down the mountain and had a dog leg in it – an upper zig just above a lower zag – and the ski lift took us over a jump someone had built that amounted to a shortcut between the upper zig and lower zag as long as you didn’t mind a little air time and we didn’t.
Having the IQ of inbred squirrels we didn’t see the need to check the jump or landing spot first; there were tracks off the jump and a shortage of bodies underneath so we figured we could handle it.
We were hot shit.
Bob – AKA “Hippy” – went first, skated toward the jump to pick up speed and after he left the jump I couldn’t see him anymore, but heard a roar from the skiers on the lift and the ones on the lower part of the run.
Hippy must have done something pretty awesome and I was determined to do something even awesomer. So I sidestepped up the mountain to get even more speed so when I left the jump I would be a human cannonball and wow everybody watching…which I did to a spectacular degree.
What Hippy and I failed to realize was how sharp the drop off after the jump was – it was almost straight down – so we didn’t have to go very far out to be really high up; way higher than either one of us had ever been or wanted to be.
This next part is 100 percent true because it’s burned into my memory unlike those allergy pills:
After leaving the jump I looked down between my skis and saw…the fucking parking lot.
For a brief moment it appeared I was going to clear the lower part of the run (the zag), a stand of trees, the bottom part of the run that led to the lift shed and die when I crash landed on someone’s VW bus and impaled myself on a radio antennae.
They say your life passes before your eyes at moments like these, but I didn’t get any glimpses of my childhood because my mind was too busy screaming:
“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! – pause for a breath – FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”
That was during the “out” part of my jump, but gravity kicked in and I started the “down” part of my jump and as I lost velocity and plummeted back to earth my apparent landing spot altered accordingly.
As my trajectory changed it appeared I wasn’t going to make the parking lot, but it then appeared I was going to land on the ski shed, then it looked like I’d crash on the bottom part of the run, then the trees and finally I realized I was actually going to land on the far side of that lower zag, jump all the way over the ski trail and the people on it and fortunately, land in several feet of powder snow.
I probably wasn’t going to die, but it was still a helluva jump.
Timeout for physics
Okey dokey, class: skis are flexible and when I hit the powder my body weight depressed the middle of my skis and turned them into a giant bow of bow-and-arrow fame; the tips and tails were higher than the waist of the skis.
Once I had gone down in the powder as far as my stressed out skis would allow, just like a bow they flexed back up and I became a human arrow. I shot up out of the powder snow like Venus Rising if Venus had been a moron on a pair of K2 skis.
I did an almost complete forward somersault and landed on my back in the powder snow, scared shitless, but completely unharmed.
I looked to my left and Hippy was lying in the exact same position and had the expression of a man who had just seen a ghost, a vampire and Frankenstein’s monster in a three-way and couldn’t find words to express the experience.
When we regained the ability to express ourselves verbally, the conversation centered around wondering what the fuck we had just done and vows to never do anything like that again.
Then – swear to God – a guy skied up, stopped and said: “My girlfriend missed it; could you do it again?”
I can’t speak for Hippy, but after that I decided Stein Ericksen might have had the right idea and have happily been making perfect, prissy turns ever since. Way less entertaining, but all I have to do is remember that unique view the of the Squaw Valley parking lot and I’m pretty happy to still be here.
(Now let’s see some other third-grader top that at Show and Tell.)