I had a cold, wet, numb butt; it was nice because I was getting hot. — Heather, Barbarella’s sister
Our absurd attempt to produce fire in the wood stove long abandoned, David and I lounged on the couch, sipping Evolution #9 from our wine glasses while basking in the warmth of the portable radiator we’d dragged from the bedroom. The thin air in our rental condo (a lofty mile-and-a-half above our sea-level home) amplified the wine’s effects, making me winded after even the simplest of maneuvers, like springing to my feet. Hence, my horizontal position.
This was my second visit to Mammoth Lakes, a ski-turned-mostly-snowboard resort town 400 miles northeast of San Diego. The first time I went, over ten years ago, I had driven up with my friends Rusty and Zim, who were avid snowboarders. While they were out jibbing the rails and hitting on Bettys, I had stayed back to sip cocoa in the condo and catch up on my pleasure reading. Back then I was averse to anything sporty. But two months ago, as a fairly recent convert to the exaltations of exercise, I gladly accepted an invitation from my sisters Jenny and Heather to join them on a snowboarding trip during spring break.
I had every intention of learning to snowboard. So did David. While we searched for a suitable condo to rent, we waxed delusional about how we would hit the mountain, gear up, and slip-slide in the snow with ease, gleefully reveling in the invigorating sensation of cool wind on our warm faces. Then we learned about all the equipment one must acquire prior to hopping on a lift — snow pants, jackets, gloves, boots, goggles, bindings, not to mention the board itself — and our daydreams clouded over. Some of the gear we’d have to buy and some we’d have to rent, to the tune of hundreds, all for an activity we had no intention of pursuing. Snowboarding suddenly seemed like a hassle.
Because I wanted to spend time with my sisters and enjoy the enchanting snow-covered mountain scenery, I went ahead and booked a place for us to stay, a three-bedroom condo to house me and David, Heather and her husband Sean, Jenny and her fiancé Brad, and Molly, Heather’s best friend from high school.
David had just emptied the last of the bottle into my glass when we heard the front door open, followed by the rustling, zipping noises of people unbundling after a day in the snow. One by one, they groaned their way up the stairs and plopped onto cushioned seats. All cheeks were red, and breath was hard to come by. Brad and Sean looked particularly pained. “Hey, Molly,” said Brad, after slowly lowering himself onto a chair. “Can I get one of those Motrins?” In answer to my concerned expression, Brad explained, “Two drinks is great — it loosens you up, makes you feel more confident. Four drinks is bad. I got a little too confident and had a hard fall, hit my tailbone and the back of my head.”
“Oof,” I said. “Bet that’s gonna hurt tomorrow.” Brad shot me an annoyed look.
“I still can’t believe I’m goofy,” said Heather, who’d spent the morning with an instructor who’d informed her of her goofiness.
“Goofy isn’t the half of it,” I said.
“Not that kind of goofy,” said Sean. He explained that in snowboarding terms, “goofy” means right foot first and “regular,” the more common stance, is left foot first. Most right-handed people are regular and vice versa, but in this case, Brad, who is left-handed, boarded regular, and Heather, who is right-handed, was goofy.
“How do you know if you’re goofy or not?” I asked.
“If you’re pushed from behind, it’s whichever foot goes forward,” said Sean.
“Here, push me, I want to see if that instructor was right,” said Heather.
Because I was buzzed, Sean made it to Heather’s back before me. “But I want to push someone too,” I whined, and hiccupped. Sean gave his wife a little shove, and sure enough, her right foot goofily lurched forward in search of stability. “Push me, push me,” I said. I expected I’d be like my older sister, that my right foot would go forward. I even thought about intentionally putting my right foot forward. But when Sean pushed on my shoulders, there went my left foot. Huh.
“So, Barb, when are you going to try it?” Brad asked. “Tomorrow?”
“No, no,” I said. “How ’bout never?”
“Why not? Come on, you’d love it.”
“It does look like people have fun,” I said, “But I’m not into it — all that cumbersome equipment, getting cold and wet.”
“Yeah, you fall at first, but it’s so much fun once you get going,” he pushed.
“I prefer my tailbone to be the color God intended, thank you,” I said with finality.
Like childrearing, snowboarding can yield such elation that people are willing to undergo intense pain for the promise of joy and the sense of fulfillment that comes from mastering nature. As with most transcendental experiences, snowboarding breeds evangelists. I imagine this is because misery (like its giddy cousin ecstasy) does, in fact, love company.
“My first run with Brad was the highest I’ve ever been,” said Jenny. “I was so happy I did so good, I was walking on air. It was just awesome. But my second run, I was literally in tears. I kept falling and lost my confidence because I fell, and then I couldn’t do anything right; it was like I forgot how to snowboard. A lot of it had to do with fatigue — when you fall, you get more tired, and then you fall more and you lose confidence, and then I couldn’t carve as well. I seriously was crying because I fell so hard on my head.” Because their feet are attached to the board, boarders tend to fall on their asses with such force that their heads whip back and hit the ground. My sister and her man had years of experience, and they still fell. A few brief moments of elation are hardly enough to convince me to take up a sport in which one of the main features seems to be bashing your head against the ice.
“Really, Barb,” Brad persisted, “You shouldn’t knock it till you try it.”
“Sounds to me like it’s the other way around,” I said. “Thank you, but no. I much prefer cuddling inside and watching the snow through a window than being in it. Now, how ’bout I get you some wine; I hear it goes great with Motrin.”