When you go snowboarding for the first time, you will fall down, and then you will fall down again and again and again.
If you’re smart, you will do much of your falling on the bunny slopes, where you can learn how snowboards work. Well, actually, if you’re really smart, you will take a lesson before you even get on the bunny slope. Either way, once you understand your snowboard, you will make your way to a green run, and slowly work your way up to the blues and the black diamonds, likely over many, many days.
This is the safe and responsible manner that I recommend.
Now, if you are not smart — if you’re a fool like me — you will go about it a very different way, in a most irresponsible way, a way that will leave you sore for a month afterward and covered in bruises. In fact, for two weeks, your entire left arm will be just one big bruise — a spectacular mix of black and yellow and green and blue and purple, so swollen you can feel your heartbeat pulsing through it.
This is that story.
It happens a few days before Christmas at the Snowshoe Mountain resort in West Virginia, where five of us go for a weekend to attend a bachelor party. The groom-to-be, Matt, loves skiing, for some reason.
When we arrive, we check in at a building labeled ‘Top of the World,’ and it’s accurate. We’re so far up the mountain that we actually watch the sun set into the clouds, which stretch out below us like a sweeping gray and orange ocean. It’s one of the most breathtaking things I’ve ever seen, and later I’ll be stunned by how a mountain that can make something look so beautiful can also make me hurt so badly.
I’ll also be stunned by how dumb I can be.
The next morning, I don’t so much as take a snowboarding lesson. I’m trying to save a few bucks and I’m feeling confident because I’ve surfed and skateboarded before, and I’ve watched some instructional YouTube videos, and Matt’s older brother Chris is a good snowboarder and says he’ll teach me all I need to know.
I don’t wear the helmet that comes free of charge when I rent my board — a gnarly Burton painted in green and black swirls — because I don’t like helmets and also because I have an awesome, comfy hat I want to wear and it doesn’t fit under the helmet. (This is likely how I ended up with the black and blue bruise over my left eyebrow the first evening, with no memory of how I got it.)
I spend maybe half an hour on the bunny slope, and then I believe Chris when he says I’m fine, and again when he says that I don’t want to start with a green run because they are too flat and too easy and too boring.
So we skate on over to a blue. Advice from one of my instructional YouTube videos flashes to mind: Don’t listen to your friends. I ignore it. Stupidly, I also fail to acknowledge that I can still only barely brake, and I don’t really know how to plow yet. I mean, I know how, but I can’t exactly do it yet. Also, because I’m not very good at turning yet, either, the best way I’ve found to stop myself from crashing into a tree or a pole or a little kid so far is to just fall down.
But yeah, sure, let’s do a blue. Let’s do a run rated just below black diamonds.
When we get to the top of the blue slope, it becomes clear that this is a terrible mistake. This blue isn’t not flat — it looks straight down. My insides suddenly feel hollow, like my heart’s gone missing. I’m afraid like I haven’t been afraid in a long time.
That sounds a little dramatic, I know, but allow me to explain: I live with clinical anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. That’s what the professionals tell me, anyway. And that first blue run of my snowboarding career was about to spark up the worst case I had experienced in a long, long time.