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Snowboarding, or the New Religion

11 Feb, 2006
Posted at 22.08 PST

So I was recently conned into giving snowboarding a try. Snowboarding, for those who may have inhabited the dank bottomside of a rock the past ten years or so, is the so-called sport wherein one straps his or her feet to a plank of wood, and flings oneself down the side of a mountain. Reaching the bottom without planting your face in the snow, or getting eaten by a tree (more on this later), constitutes “fun.” But humans are weird that way. We also call plunging toward the Earth at terminal velocity with nothing but a big sheet tucked away in a backpack fun. And it’s claimed we’re masters of the Earth. Masters of a madhouse is more like it.

It sure looks fun, but I haven’t been on a skateboard in twenty years, and from the outside snowboarding looks an awful lot like skateboarding, only with trees and more gravity. And being 6’3”, I have a lot further to fall than most people. Physics is a bitch. Add in the fact I was contemplating embarking on a madly physical endeavor at the age of 36, and you can imagine the skepticism and trepidation with which I viewed the prospect. Crazy shit like this is for the young. Hell, a couple of hundred years ago I’d most likely be dead by this age, not trying out a new sport.

5.45 A.M. The word “ungodly” springs to mind. Fortunately, I’m not religious, so I hauled my ass out of bed anyway and a few hours later found myself at Crystal Mountain trying not to fall down yet again. Oh God please, not agai——Owwwwie! There’s a phrase snowboarders use to describe hitting the ground so hard that any bits and pieces on your body not strapped down go flying. It’s called a yard sale. I could have made a fortune. By the end of the day I was miserable. I can honestly say I have never in my life experienced such incredible pain. Oh, the time I hiked up Mt. Si at the beginning of the season and discovered (at the top, natch), I have a tendency to over-pronate my knees was worse in intensity, but it didn’t even come in a close second to the sheer volume of pain induced by learning how to fall off a snowboard. Ankles, knees, inner thighs, stomach, wrists, shoulders, neck…the list was dishearteningly endless.

And then there was The Humiliation of the Lifts. Using a ski lift, like the dentist, is one of those Things-You-Cannot-Avoid, as trudging up the mountain for an hour to spend ten minutes sliding down is just too depressing to contemplate. (You think life seems pointless now? Try–oh, never mind. The word you’re looking for is sisyphean). Getting on a lift is easy, even for a noob. It’s getting off the lift that proves to be somewhat…challenging…when one is new to the concept of snowboarding. Suffice to say that attempting an egress from the moving lift is yet one more way to get up close and personal with the concept of gravity as applied to moving objects, with the added excitement of hauling your ass out of the way of those behind you before they pile into said sorry ass. Isaac Newton, I hate you. That at no time did they have to stop the ski lift because of me I considered the greatest triumph of the day. I set small goals, what can I say?

I had a blast.

Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself as I spent the next week hobbling around half crippled. Regardless, a few weeks later I found myself out at Steven’s Pass. Now that I knew just how bad it could hurt, I really understood the meaning of the word trepidation. And the ski lifts I viewed with outright fear. Such a frame of mind is not exactly an auspicious beginning to one’s second attempt. Nevertheless, I let my friends convince me to brave the Humiliation of the Lifts™ a second time. And you know what? This time I really did have a blast. Strapping oneself to a plank of wood and flinging oneself down a mountainside is more fun than a sack of kittens. Still fell down most times exiting the lift, but hey, at least I managed it twice.

So here it is, two months later, and I apparently have a new religion as it were, spending mad amounts of money on gear. The tax return is already accounted for, and I find myself researching the relative merits of various boards, bindings, boots, and other sundry bits of ‘boarding gear. Boy is this sport expensive. Sigh. The amount of equipment required is mind-boggling, especially to a Southerner used to sports that require such things as: a swimsuit. But what are you gonna do when you have so much fun doing something that it invades your damn dreams? On multiple nights, no less.

And now, on to the man-eating trees, which is not a phrase I would ever have thought to find myself uttering. It seems that a very real danger to those out on the mountains is that of tree-wells, loose-packed snow which forms inside the protected area under a conifer’s branches. The danger lies in getting too close while flying down the mountain and plunging into these pits head first. Now I suppose every sport has its drawbacks, (sharks and surfing come to mind), but getting stuck head down in the snow and suffocating seems a particularly ignominious way for one to shuffle off this mortal coil. Eaten by a tree, as it were. At least sharks are an exciting way to go. Painful, to be sure, but you must get mad props in the afterlife for such a spectacular manner of death. Eaten by a tree? Not so exciting. It seems such a nebbish way to go.

On being informed of this gruesome risk (tree-wells, not sharks), to snowboarders by my friends, I of course promptly tagged such trees as carnivorous. Naturally, it didn’t take long for this to be shortened to coniforous. Once you add a overactive imagination to this juicy bit of knowledge, it rapidly becomes self-evident that this is–naturally–a particularly sneaky evolutionary adaptation by trees to insure themselves of a nice tasty snack of nitrogen and other fertilizing goodies come springtime. That other theory that the branches are wider at the bottom to get sunlight? Obviously a ploy to put us off the real reason. Build a tree-well, snatch yourself an unwary skier, and voila! Instant breakfast. Winter weather even conveniently preserves it for you until Spring thaw, right when you the hungry coniforous conifer begins sprouting new, suspiciously lush foliage. I bet you could spot the successful hunters by their rich leaves and unusual height compared to their less lucky siblings. Who knew trees could be so vicious? Winter Sports: Beware the Sarlacc Pits.

Just a thought. Enjoy the boarding.



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