i got my stick

Three weeks ago, S. spent a day with a family in North Carolina taking photographs. The father had a ponytail and took the three-year-old out skateboarding amongst the big kids at a playground. The father asked the boy, “You got your stick?” The little boy said, “I got my stick.” The father said, “What are you going to do?” The boy replied with a bit of grit, “Shred it out.” S. swoons when she talks about how cute he was.

I adopted the three-year-old’s motto this weekend at Vail after I clipped my boot into a snowboard, both excited and terrified.

It was my first time snowboarding since I took beginner’s lessons at Snowshoe in W. Virginia in February 2006. The time before that was eight years ago in Kitzbuhel, Austria over the Millennium New Year when I spent four miserable days teaching myself on shaky knees how to ride the edges, falling over and over again. On the last day of that trip, I had tears streaming down my face as I looked out the car window on the way to the Alps. I wiped them away discretely; I didn’t want my brother and friends to see how miserable I was. I called it quits at 3 p.m., went to the hutte at the mountain’s base alone and drank warm gluhwein.

But as the years pass, I am determined to like skiing and snowboarding. I love the outdoors; I love being athletic; I love hiking; I love the West; I love snow; I love adventure.

Eight years after my first snowboarding trauma, I was ready to face the big mountains once again. But first I had to get there.

I had flown into Denver at 8 p.m. on Thursday and waited for B., his friend from college, his sister and her boyfriend to arrive so we could rent two cars and trail each other to Silverthorne on the other side of the Eisenhower Tunnel. S. and J.’s friends were in a cozy condo we could stay for free. They had driven up on Wednesday.

But at about 10 p.m., we saw the neon signs above the highway. “I-70 closed at exit 228 due to the weather.” We looked at each other. Really? No. That can’t be. We kept driving until we were in a whiteout, our flashers on, cautiously driving 15 miles an hour through the blowing snow.

When we drove up to exit 228 in the pitch dark, semis were lined across the shoulder with their blinkers on. We pulled off and drove into the Super 8 parking lot. B’s friend ran in to get a room. They were booked — as was every hotel in town. Cars were haphazardly parked at the Sunoco gas station. I stood in a line of more than 20 haggard, tired women in hats and boots waiting for the bathroom and then stacked up on pistachios, a banana, a Cliff bar and water in case we were forced to sleep in the car.

About two hours later, we found a vacant room at a quiet lodge in Black Hawk, a small mining town. (I said, “I feel like we’re in a horror movie and a murderer is going to stalk this motel.”) The three guys slept on the floor without blankets, while B’s sister and I slept in the double bed. We woke up less than five hours later, amped up to get through the pass and hit the mountains.

Until we found out I-70 was still closed. Avalanche control. The patrol men in orange coats were shooting the mountain to bring down the loose snow.

So, we turned around and drove the opposite direction to Boulder – another two hours across snowy roads – and had brunch at Foolish Craig’s (I remember the name because it’s my ex-boyfriend’s name and it made me chuckle).

Finally, we heard the pass reopened at noon and we made it through the tunnel late Friday afternoon. When we got to the Silver Queen West condo, S. and J. had a fire going, cheese and crackers on the coffee table and a pot of chili on the stove. We sat around in our thick sweaters, warmed by full stomachs and Sierra Nevada beer, and passed out by 11 p.m.

The next morning after a big breakfast of coffee, pancakes and crispy bacon, we drove to Vail at 8:30 a.m. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful — sunny, blue skies and fresh snow.

I rented my snowboard and S., who sensed my angst, said, “You got your stick?” “I got my stick.” “What are you going to do?” “Shred it out.”

I stood up easily. It was like riding a bike, and this time I had a helmet and goggles. I started off slowly and easily and was unfazed when I fell.

By 1:30 p.m. we stopped at the Two Elk lodge at the top of the mountain. I had texted J., a friend of a friend I met in D.C. last weekend, who is from Indiana, is a cyclist, lives in Denver and happened to be at Vail. “I don’t have the gear, but am ripping it up on the board,” I wrote.

J. looks like a movie star (I still can’t place which one and it’s driving me nuts) and skies on the extreme slopes. We sat at picnic tables on the top of the mountain, sucked down hot chocolate, chicken soup and cornbread and agreed to merge our groups for beers at The George in Vail Village at 4 p.m. when the slopes closed.

On Sunday, J. came out by himself and joined me on the easier slopes in the bowls. I flopped over and over again in front of him like a helpless three-year-old, including falling off of a lift into an embankment. He stood near the lodge clapping as I emerged like a mole, took off my board and walked toward him. After seeing me bite it over and over again, he said with sympathetic eyes: “You’re the toughest woman I’ve met.”

I was thrilled with my progress. I caught on. By the end of the day, I was picking up speed and riding both edges smoothly. Sure, I had a sunburned nose (the snow must have washed off my sunscreen, but only on my nose), a bruise the size of my foot on my right hamstring, chapped lips and sore muscles from doing pushing ups over and over again to lift myself up.

But I felt accomplished, enjoyed the outdoors and soaked in the scenery. I can’t wait for my next chance to get my stick and shred it out.


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