by Randall Beaird
It was Christmas vacation 1979. My cousin’s church youth group from Lufkin was making the long haul to Durango, Colorado. Purgatory Ski Resort played host to an East Texas avalanche of teenagers.
I never was shy when it came to sports. I played middle linebacker, third base and made myself learn a half-gainer off the high-dive. Then, on summer vacation in 1983, at a Lake Conroe pool, I had just mastered the tricky deuce.
“Hey Mom! Watch this!”
I spun a little too far–ended up being a two and a half, and I landed on my right ear. One cotton patch later, over the hole in my eardrum, I gave that one up.
I’ll never forget that first moment of exhilaration on snow skis. By the end of the second day my falls were less spectacular, but the conditions were turning poor–the packed snow becoming more like ice. The trails were turning to crusty gray sheets, but over by the timber, the virgin like snow whispered my name.
It was the place to be, but the wipeouts could be extra painful. I had one that was worth it–I shared on the bus as we were leaving for the day, “I was rippin’ down the mountain, right next to the trees! But, I caught an edge and tumbled head-first into a jagged pine.”(I showed them my cracked-in-half goggles.) “But everything was okay! It was alright! I WAS ALRIGHT! And right there, at the bottom of that same tree, right before I pulled myself up, I found THESE! (I pull out the pair of sunglasses I found trunk-side.) “I put these on and kept on going! Sure, they’re missing an arm, but THEY GOT ME HOME!”
After years of skis, last year I ventured onto a snowboard. I will never go back. The board is so much harder to learn; the falls are brutal and I can’t remember being so exhausted. Those first trips down the mountain took forever, but on a snowboard, it‘s you and and the mountain. Just like surfing, it’s you and the wave. On skis, it’s like you’re on top of two bickering penguins.
This year, during my ski trip to Monarch Mountain, while waiting for my family to arrive, I took a day off from snowboarding and rented a snowmobile. It was pretty similar to riding a jet-ski, but the rocky cliffs had my number.
Follow-the-leader is the key on a snowmobile tour. The leader knows the terrain, the hidden rocks and cliffs. I should have been extra careful after the leader shattered his windshield in a snowdrift. But after three hours of staying in his tracks, I decided to make a loopty-loop at the top of this little slope to meet the group at the bottom.
I learned little slopes can be saddled with fifteen foot cliffs, as I sailed out into the clear mountain air. It was pretty for a few feet, until gravity raised it’s hand and slapped me down. Upon impact, my snowmobile was nose-down with a rag doll flying over the windshield. The major pain was coming, but I was bleeding before I hit the ground. Before flipping over the windshield, I gave it a little kiss. For several weeks I sported a gray, plexi-glass splinter in my lip, a testimony to follow-the-leader and my folly. (I was lucky to only owe $100 for the damage to the snowmobile.)
I hit the windshield so fast I don’t remember it, but landing on my knee, bent sideways like it was, and the way it popped, that part put me on the plane home. I saw an operation coming as I limped off the plane.
I was shocked to hear, “mild sprain” or strain, I don’t remember which. All I heard was mild. With the anti-inflammatories and the thoughts of twenty family members at the Colorado lodge, I was back on the plane by day’s end. My first ticket was $208, my second $360, but when the family gets together, it’s worth every penny.