I never reached any great level of skill on alpine gear. I started skiing at age 13, going after school with the ski club. Crusty Koflach boots, blue jeans, Look bindings, and a pair of Rossignols that had some women's name etched in the tips.
We rode in the bus to Brandywine ski hill outside of Cleveland, Ohio. I say hill, due to the fact that it's so small I'm sure it would fit in the smallest resort in the U.S. with room to spare. With 240 vertical feet to chew on, Brandywine boasts Ohio's steepest run, which is about 35 degrees. It's a wonder I made it out of there alive. But I don't want to crack on the mountain where I learned, after all, we have to start somewhere.
So I went up everyday after school and froze my ass off with frozen toes and fingers as well as frozen jeans and I always had a great time.
You can never forget the people in our lives that show us the way. My math teacher, Larry Vasel, is such a person. He took me to the ski swap and helped me pick out my gear with the 150 bucks my parents gave me. They were reluctant with that. I'm sure money was tight back then and I had a history of getting excited about something, going out, buying it and then throwing it in the closet a week later. Guitar lessons, sneakers (Pony not Nike) and whatever else a boy of 13 wanted. I skied for a season. I even went to upstate New York to tackle the big slopes of Peak n Peak as well as the wind chill. I remember spending most of the day inside trying to thaw my feet out.
High school came around, and I finally proved my parents right. I gave up the skiing, my fascination was gone and I pursued other things like football, drinking and girls. I saw Mr. Vasel now and again. He told me stories of skiing at Steamboat and other western mountains. He was a ski patroller at Brandywine and every year he went out west to ski the powder on the patroller exchange program. I feel kind of sorry for those that came to Brandywine from the west. He always got so excited talking about powder. His face would get so red I thought his head would explode. "The powder Pat, the deep fluffy powder!" I just didn't get it. That was 1984 and I wouldn't ski again until 1995.
Enter 1995. A friend of mine calls me up and tells me that we're going on a trip. He was thinking France, to ski. "I haven t skied in over 10 years," I said. He said, "you'll learn." This is a guy that has been telling me for years about the bottomless powder in Alta, Utah. One year I remember him mentioning something in the area of 700 inches. Trying to visualize 700 inches reminded me of the headaches I would get trying to figure out Algebra with Mr. Vasel. When you re on the inside, seeing isn't so easy. Then the corners unfold and reveal the secret that was sleeping inside of us.
Our ski adventures began in Garmisch, Germany. My first time back on alpine gear was less than spectacular. The wobbly runs I took only re-affirmed the truth. Beater! As I continued to watch my friend Chris rip it up on tele skis, I packed in the alpine gear. He set me up on his K2's. 204cm. I found a pair of flimsy, leather cross country boots at the local thrift shop and I took to tele skiing like a fish to water. It made more sense than the locked heel ever did.
Certainly, I wasn't an overnight success. I endured sore legs and for a couple of days and I could barely sit down. I was hooked. After a couple of weeks, I went down to the local ski shop and bought some leather Scarpas and a three pin set up. I found a pair of Atomic skis in the hallway of our dorm, and I was ready! Skiing in Germany wasn't always the best, but we hit it in a record year. One day we were poised to ski 18 inches of fresh. To this point I hadn't skied much powder. When I did, I pushed against it and thrashed about spastically. We traversed across the Bernadein bowl, a local spot where I flailed on a regular basis, and headed way out under these enormous rock faces.
There I stood looking at three or four paved patches of fluff, as if some German road crew was out that day laying fresh powder down instead of asphalt. They were perfect and untouched. Chris turned to me, smiled and then dove in to the white blanket. Soon he was engulfed in a white cloud, and I could barely make out his head as he rode the wave to the bottom. I hesitantly turned and moved into my path. I pointed down the fall line and snow began to fly everywhere. The snow was alive around me almost carrying me as I floated through the fluff. I moved effortlessly and laughed so loud that I choked on the flying snow. It was like being in water for the first time when you swallow some and you don't know whether you should be afraid or laugh harder. Face shot after face shot, I blindly made my way to the bottom and when I reached Chris he just stood there and smiled.
I turned to check out my line and it was amazing, natural as if nature herself put it there. Everything Larry Vasel said came flooding back to me in that moment and suddenly the math didn't seem so out of reach.