When you're 47 years old, you sometimes hear a small voice inside you that says:
"Just because you've reached middle age, that doesn't mean you shouldn't take on
new challenges and seek new adventures. You get only one ride on this crazy
carousel we call life, and by golly you should make the most of it."
This is the voice of Satan.
I know this because recently, on a mountain in Idaho, I listened to this voice,
and as a result my body feels as though it has been used as a trampoline by the
I am currently on an all-painkiller diet. "I'll have a black coffee and 250
Advil tablets" is a typical breakfast order for me these days.
This is because I went snowboarding.
For those of you who, for whatever reason, such as a will to live, do not
participate in downhill winter sports, I should explain that snowboarding is an
activity that is popular with people who do not feel that regular skiing is
These are of course young people, fearless people, people with 100 percent
synthetic bodies who can hurtle down a mountainside at 50 miles per hour and
knock down mature trees with their faces and then spring to their feet and go,
People like my son. He wanted to try snowboarding, and I thought it would be
good to learn with him, because we can no longer ski together.
We have a fundamental difference in technique: He skis via the Downhill Method,
in which you ski down the hill; whereas I ski via the Breath-Catching Method, in
which you stand sideways on the hill, looking as athletic as possible without
actually moving muscles (this could cause you to start sliding down the hill).
If anybody asks if you're OK, you say, "I'm just catching my breath!" in a tone
of voice that suggests that at any moment you're going to swoop rapidly down the
slope; whereas in fact you're planning to stay right where you are, rigid as a
statue, until the spring thaw.
At night, when the Downhillers have all gone home, we Breath-Catchers will still
be up there, clinging to the mountainside, chewing on our parkas for sustenance.
So I thought I'd take a stab at snowboarding, which is quite different from
In skiing, you wear a total of two skis, or approximately one per foot, so you
can sort of maintain your balance by moving your feet, plus you have poles that
you can stab people with if they make fun of you at close range.
Whereas with snowboarding, all you get is one board, which is shaped like a
giant tongue depressor and manufactured by the Institute of Extremely Slippery
Things. Both of your feet are strapped firmly to this board, so that if you
start to fall, you can't stick a foot out and catch yourself. You crash to the
ground like a tree and lie there while skiers swoop past and deliberately spray
snow on you.
Skiers hate snowboarders. It's a generational thing. Skiers are (and here I am
generalizing) middle-aged Republicans wearing designer space suits; snowboarders
are defiant young rebels wearing deliberately drab clothing that is baggy enough
to cover the snowboarder plus a major appliance. Skiers like to glide down the
slopes in a series of graceful arcs; snowboarders like to attack the mountain,
slashing, spinning, tumbling, going backward, blasting through snowdrifts,
leaping off cliffs, getting their noses pierced in midair, etc.
Skiers view snowboarders as a menace; snowboarders view skiers as Elmer Fudd.
I took my snowboarding lesson in a small group led by a friend of mine named
Brad Pearson, who also once talked me into jumping from a tall tree while
attached only to a thin rope.
Brad took us up on a slope that offered ideal snow conditions for the novice
who's going to fall a lot: Approximately seven flakes of powder on top of an
18-foot-thick base of reinforced concrete.
You could not dent this snow with a jackhammer. (I later learned, however, that
you COULD dent it with the back of your head.)
We learned snowboarding via a two step method:
Step One: Watching Brad do something.
Step Two: Trying to do it ourselves.
I was pretty good at Step One. The problem with Step Two was that you had to
stand up on your snowboard, which turns out to be a violation of at least five
important laws of physics.
I'd struggle to my feet, and I'd be wavering there and then the Physics Police
would drop a huge chunk of gravity on me, and WHAM my body would hit the
concrete snow, sometimes bouncing as much as a foot.
"Keep your knees bent!" Brad would yell, helpfully.
Have you noticed that whatever sport you're trying to learn, some earnest person
is always telling you to keep your knees bent? As if that would solve anything.
I wanted to shout back, "Forget my Knees! Do Something About these Gravity
Needless to say my son had no trouble at all. None. In minutes he was cruising
happily down the mountain; you could actually see his clothing getting baggier.
I, on the other hand, spent most of my time lying on my back, groaning, while
space-suited Republicans swooped past and sprayed snow on me.
If I hadn't gotten out of there, they'd have completely covered me; I now
realize that the small hills you see on ski slopes are formed around the bodies
of 47-year-olds who tried to learn snowboarding.
So I think, when my body heals, I'll go back to skiing. Maybe sometime you'll
see me out on the slopes, catching my breath. Please throw me some food.