By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
Snow is in the forecast this week for the mountains of northwestern Colorado where one of my good friends manages a ranch, which means there’ll be winter sports under way there again soon. A couple years ago when he and another friend insisted it would be fun if I went skiing with them, what they really meant was, fun for them.
Ski runs are graded for difficulty and speed by color. A black run is the most challenging and will be named something like “Royal Flush” or “Cyclone.” Blue runs are a notch easier and have names like “Ramrod” and “High Noon.” Green runs are the simplest and get the back of the designer’s hand with names like “Slowpoke” and “Chowderhead” but I’m here to tell you, no matter how they appear looking up from the bottom, it’s a different story looking down from the top.
Mt. Werner, in Steamboat Springs, Colo., peaks at 10,565 feet above a 6,900-foot base and is one of the preeminent skiing locations in the world.
After my friends, who ski often and own their own equipment, got me outfitted with gear from a rental center we rode a gondola to Thunderhead Peak on the mountain’s western face. After nearly a full minute of instruction from the two guys, during which one talked on his phone and the other said, “If you want to slow down, do your skis like this,” they judged me trailworthy and we set out on a green run named, aptly enough, “Whynot.”
It wasn’t long until I could have told you exactly why not, but it wouldn’t be fit to print in a family newspaper. Over the course of the many spectacular crashes that followed I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the sport, including the fact that apparently, skis are supposed to have a metal edge running down the side. In theory, these edges help you do things other than streak down the mountain at twice the speed of sound. It was evident the edges of my skis had seen what was up early on and opted to stay at the open air bar at the bottom of the hill, grabbed a table and told their fellows to get their cameras ready.
High school physics lessons have an odd way of cropping up at times like these. My friends, who weighed in at about a buck fifty each and were skiing under control, had the same surface area in contact with the snow as me who tipped the scales at 295 plus breakfast and was not.
Three quarters of the way down the mountain and three hours after we’d begun I was considering which of Newton’s laws best covered this situation when I rounded a bend and found myself bearing down on a 30-pound kid riding what looked like his grandmother’s ironing board. I’d undertaken this adventure with the knowledge I might break some bones, but I did want any bones I broke to be my own.
Deciding discretion was the better part of valor while closing on this target at flank speed I laid it down one last time, scattering gear and body parts across the better part of a half acre. About the time I decided I was, in fact, still alive, a ski patrol officer pulled up on a snowmobile and started hollering at the two guys with me.
“Thank God,” I thought. “Maybe he’ll arrest us and I can ride the rest of the way down on something besides the back of my head.”
It turned out the ski patrolman was sympathetic and gave me a ride to where my ski edges had been all along free of charge, and the next time a snow skiing opportunity should arise, I’ll take a lesson from the rental gear, leave the sliding to the professionals, and stick with the part of the deal I already do best.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.