As a family we ski quite a bit in the winter. We’re about two hours from Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine and the kids love it. A couple years ago, I would regularly launch off a series of ski jumps in the terrain park. It’s exhilarating. Drop down to approach the ramp, race up to the lip of the jump and sail high to a smooth landing on the downhill other side. Fifteen feet? Twenty? I probably exaggerate but it feels really far. If you get the speed right it’s smooth, easy and fun. I could do it all day. What a blast.
As a big treat, I attached a ski trip to a business obligation in Denver and took our boys Charlie (10) and WIll (8) out to Breckenridge, CO to see the big sky, ski the big mountains. We met some good friends living there and headed up to Summit County for a few days. On the first day of skiing, I was riding up the chairlift with my friend Greg, and as the lift was passing over the terrain park below, which included a series of substantial jumps, Greg remarked, “I’ve always thought that looks fun but I’m not sure I want to try it.”
What a setup. Of course I say, “Oh, it’s no problem. Just get the speed right and it’s easy. I’ll show you. I do it all the time.” I spend the rest of the chairlift ride talking about how the key is to commit to it. Own it.
We skied down to the jump and I positioned myself to attack it. Maybe it was oxygen deprivation at altitude or a function of being forty, but in that moment I recall being supremely confident. This was a piece of cake. I dropped in, gained speed, and sailed smoothly off the jump.
Too fast. I hit that way too hot. I soared far over the easy downhill landing zone, arms pinwheeling like Wile E Coyote stationary above open air. I hit hard. I still remember the fall, but the next few seconds are blurry. Evidently after fifteen seconds or so, I wobbled to my feet and turned to see Greg had skied down next to me. Eyes big, he gestured and said “Sit down!”
I sat down and a blink later a Patroller was in front of me looking at me closely, and asking, “Where are you from? What day of the week is it? What did you have for breakfast?” Stunned, I turned and looked blankly at Greg, “I have no idea what I had for breakfast.”
Next the Patroller says, “I want you to remember these three things, OK? Blue. Monkey. 22. Got it?”
And I’m thinking, “No way, he’s doing that thing to me!” I have friends who are EMTs, ski patrollers, field trauma experts, and I knew he was performing a concussion assessment on me. There is no way I’m going to blow this. Blue. Monkey. 22. Oh, I got this dialed.
He asked me a series of questions about my kid’s names, who the President was, and so on, and when he came back to the three things I definitely nailed it. But still he said, “We’re going to put you on the sled, give you some oxygen, and take you down.” At eleven thousand feet, I remember the oxygen felt really good.
We went down to the patrol hut, Greg and the kids following. I got another look over, and some advice on how to behave. I suddenly felt pretty far from home, and when my son quietly teared up I felt embarrassed at being such a fool. Another Patroller came in and, after hearing my story, peered at me sagely and said, “The terrain park is a young man’s game.”
Blue Monkey 22 became code for “Do you really think you should do that? Maybe think it through first.” Lesson is: what works on the home court doesn’t always translate on the road. Or: with home in the rear view mirror, objects are closer than they appear.
It’s just another reason I stay off the jumps these days.