By Foxfire Gautney
From Radiance Winter 2001.
y very first snowboard was a sheet of metal that my friend Doron (a snowboarder himself) and I had found under a snow-covered junk pile in the middle of a field near his house. It looked as though it had belonged to an old oven or cabinet, so it was extremely durable and able to take a beating. We dusted it off and trudged back to his father’s tool shed, where Doron and I cut and banged and clanked on the metal until one end turned up like the tip of a ski.
Doron, his sister Aria, and I drove to Suicide Hill to try out our invention. Because our feet weren’t attached as they would be on a real snowboard, the second we tumbled off, our metal board would rocket through the sagebrush and come to a rest somewhere out of sight. After repeated treks up and down the hill, we agreed to use the sheet of metal as a sled, which worked out perfectly, until our last run of the day. I limped away with a bruise on my bottom the size of a one-pound coffee can, thanks to Doron’s knee driving full force into me.
It took four weeks for the bruise to heal, during which time I decided that it was best to convert the sled to a snowboard again. By strapping two bungee cords to four conveniently placed holes in the metal, I was able to secure myself to my board. I tried it out in our driveway where snow had been piled up, and when I fell, I smacked my bruise. That was the end of that snowboard.
Lucky me, thirty miles from my house there is a ski resort just over the New Mexico line. Doron’s dad had four season passes to this resort, and one day Doron asked if I wanted to try a real snowboard for a change. Being active in sports such as basketball, baseball, and rollerblading, I decided that a winter sport would help to keep me fit for the next spring and summer. I had a free chair lift pass, a free instructor (Doron), and so, what the heck?
y left foot was still cracked from a run-in I’d had with a trunk, but, pain-lover that I am, I entertained the idea nonetheless. A question slipped out of my mouth: “Will the chair lift hold me?” Doron and his friends all had a good laugh about that. Apparently, chair lifts are built to withstand the weight of several people. “Well, will I break the board?” They snickered and assured me that it would be downright impossible to break the board unless I collided with a tree at a high rate of speed. Simply standing and falling my first day out would do a snowboard no harm, and they guaranteed that was all I would be doing my first time. I didn’t quite believe them about the board or the lift, but I finally agreed to try.
Ski Rio rented a snowboard and boots to me and wished me luck. Doron strapped my cracked left foot to the board and told me that my first challenge was getting to the top of the bunny hill. The bunny hill lift is a constantly running cable with orange handles placed every few yards. The idea is to grab one of the handles and let the cable gently pull you up the hill until you let go and magically glide out of the way of people coming up the hill behind you. When it was my turn to grab a handle, I snatched hold and nearly let the cable rip my arms from my body. It couldn’t budge me. As tiny children passed me on miniature skis and were gently tugged up the hill, I stood there horrified in my plus-size jeans and thought to myself that the chair lift really would buckle under my weight and my rented board really would splinter like a weak toothpick and my friend really had brought me up here so that he and his pals and the entire population of New Mexico could have a good laugh at my expense.
“Here,” the lift operator said, “let me show you how to do it.” He had a friendly smile, and I recognized him from my town. “Before you grab the bar, lean back so your weight’s on your back foot. When you grab the bar, don’t let go. Just hold on tight.” I took his advice, grabbed the orange handle, and let the cable drag me about thirty feet uphill until I lost my balance and fell. Deciding to give it one more shot, and thankful that the flimsy-looking cable could actually move me, I unstrapped my binding, trudged back downhill, and stood in line. The lift operator congratulated me and said he hoped I made it to the top this time. I leaned back on my board, picked out my handle, grabbed it, and let it yank me most of the way up the hill. When I gracefully flopped to one side, Doron and his buddies came over and showed me how to strap both feet to the board. I hate to admit it, but being 240 pounds, I could hardly reach my bindings, much less fasten them.
efore the guys left to attack the mountain, I had them show me a few basic techniques. On my first attempt, I glided about twenty-five feet downhill, panicked, and fell. I repeated this several times until I got up the courage to fly all the way down the bunny hill—right past the ski school and straight into a sideways triple somersault. The entire bunny hill and one chair lift let out a resounding “Ooh!” I got right up, brushed myself off, and thanked God that three inches of soft, powdery snow had fallen the night before. I was obviously ready for the chair lift.
Being carried through the trees on a bench that’s hung by a single bolt is interesting, but getting off the chair lift is, in my book, something entirely unwelcome. You’re supposed to leave one foot bound to your snowboard when getting on the chair lift. When the chair reaches the top of the hill, the chair is to gently push you down a small snow packed mound and then swing around to head back downhill with the other chairs. Theoretically. If you ask me, having only one foot strapped to the board when getting off the lift is treacherous, and as for the “gentle” push the chair gives you—ha! Needless to say, the chair lift and I did not get along.
Throughout my first snowboarding season, I fell and fell and fell getting off the chair lift, and sometimes I just carried my board in my lap and ran off the lift to safety. This peculiar behavior led me to be both laughed at and cursed by countless lift operators.
Sometimes it would take me an hour to get down the mountain, and my path would be marked by long streaks in the snow where I had fallen and skidded a good twenty feet on my rump. The first few times I went snowboarding, people on the chair lifts were surprisingly supportive. I would daringly zip under them at what must have seemed an amazing speed, and then, once out of their sight and well into the trees, I would panic and crash to the ground. It wasn’t until rather late in the game that I learned to stop without injury.
got through that first season with a sprained tailbone and aching legs and arms. Doron and his buddies would stop only briefly on the slopes to laugh at me, to challenge me, or to see if I was really cut out for snowboarding. Almost everything I learned, I learned on my own.
During the summer I bought my own snowboard and boots and straight-leg jeans for the upcoming season. Doron introduced me to the practice of snowboarding on the dunes during the summer. Each week, I would grab my board and trudge through the endless seas of sand to get to the top of the dunes. I’d strap on my boots and basically thrust myself off the dune, expecting it to feel like snowboarding through snow. How wrong I was! Working in the sand was fifty times harder. Nevertheless, my summertime excursions kept my legs in shape for the upcoming season.
After battling with strap bindings this past year, I got smart and put “clicker” bindings on my board. These bindings, which are what fasten your boots to the board, click onto metal pieces jutting out of the bottoms of my boots. There’s little bending and grunting when all I have to do is step onto the board to secure my boots. Unfortunately, the chair lift operators won’t let me attach both feet to the board before getting on the lift, so I have to attach my second foot while I’m dangling in mid-air. That’s where the clicker bindings come in especially handy.
This season I’ve concentrated on getting off the chair lift, maintaining my balance, and avoiding rocks. Injuries motivated me to shoot for these goals. In January, I fell off the chair lift, popped my right knee, and stretched the hell out of the inside ligament. I doped up on pain medicine, slept on the couch for two weeks, and retained a good fifteen pounds of water. When I was able to walk again, I hit the slopes, determined to get off of the chair lift without reinjuring my knee. I clicked both feet onto the board, got off the lift perfectly—to the amazement of the operator who had always laughed at my falls—and I haven’t fallen off the lift since. That dude doesn’t laugh anymore.
Avoiding rocks hasn’t always proven to be possible. I recently hit one that was buried just out of sight beneath the snow. It forced my board to a complete and sudden stop as my body did a full lay-out back flip. I landed on my side, did a sideways somersault, and slid partway down the hill on my stomach. Kids on the chair lift above screamed, “Major wipe-out! But it was a good wipe-out!” I’ll say it was good: I walked away from it, and it hurt to pee for only a week.
may not have accomplished all of my snowboarding goals this season (and there’s always next season), but I have proven to myself that people accept me not as a 240-pound snowboarder, but as just a snowboarder. Just one of them, which is something I think we all would like to be: just one of them. I’ve had the time of my life, and, ladies, if you decide to give snowboarding a shot (which I highly recommend), know this: the board won’t crumble beneath you, the chair lift will carry you to the top, and sometimes thin people really are nicer than we often give them credit for. ©
FOXFIRE GAUTNEY recently quit her dead-end job as a motel desk receptionist and is currently concentrating on an active, healthy lifestyle in preparation for professional wrestling school. She spends her free time gardening, riding her mountain bike, lifting weights, and jumping on her trampoline. She lives in San Luis, Colorado.
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