The Agony of Defeat
Mike was “Mr. Ski Club.” We stood atop a hill at Brandywine ready for the first run of the day for him and my first run ever.
He was checking down with all that I needed to know and I just ya-ya’d him, impatient and ready to go.
Finally, I said, “Got it!” And shot downhill like a bullet.
I heard, “But …” and nothing else as my friend’s voice faded.
I sailed so fast over the snow, straight down the hill, that I freaked out. I could not turn, stop or even slow down!
As I bore down on a man skiing up ahead, I cringed. He crisscrossed effortlessly, kicking up powdery white stuff. I was sure he was going to be knocked from here to eternity when I collided with him in about two seconds flat.
Why didn’t I stick around to listen to Mike explain how to turn, or better yet, how to stop?
As others described later, it looked like I was shot out of canon and about to kill somebody. They watched from above in horror, waiting for my impact with this unsuspecting stranger. Precisely at the very last moment, everyone closed their eyes or took a deep breath, and I woosh-wooshed around the man. In two quick movements with my feet, I skirted disaster – barely. My friends said the guy stood straight up, shocked by the brush back but was otherwise uninterrupted.
When I got near the bottom, I managed to wipe myself out to stop along a flat straightaway.
Mike came down the hill like a pro. This was baby stuff to him. Near the bottom, he hit a raised area to get fancy in the air. When he came down, he injured his ankle. Go figure.
Later in the day, the guys either thought I was ready for the meanest slope at the resort or were willing to see me die for laughs. As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?
The ski lift got to the top but I was snagged and couldn’t shift myself to get off. The chair turned and rose higher off the ground, circling the control shack at the top. I mentally foreshadowed the humiliation of returning to the bottom of the slope, alone on a chair lift.
I flung my body in a pathetic but successful last attempt to free myself. The problem was that I was not as close to the ground anymore but I landed on my feet, and then fell to my butt with quite a thud.
The lift stopped and a guy popped his operating shack door open yelling, “You alright?”
Laughing uncomfortably, I said, “Ya.”
He laughed, said “crazy,” shook his head, shut the door and started the lift again.
Looking downhill, it was clear that this course was not for beginners. In fact, it looked wickedly dangerous for someone like me. My depth perception was off. The slope was laden in terrain characterized by a large number of different bumps, or moguls. Not only that, but this slope was the steepest by far. Much like the beginning of the day, I became a human, heat-seeking missile.
Unlike earlier in the day, these moguls posed a different experience altogether. Quickly, my knees vibrated violently up and down at high speed. I should have wiped out, but instead I found myself lying straight on my back but upright on the skis. I could see the lift chairs overhead, off to the side, even though my head bounced violently off the never-ending moguls.
From my friends’ perspective, when my skis finally turned in on each other and I wiped out, it was like a scene from “The Agony of Defeat,” which was an infamous ski jumping sports clip gone oh-so-wrong. When I tumbled, it was bad. My body looked like a rag doll plummeting down the slope amidst an avalanche of snow and debris. By everyone’s account, they thought I broke every bone in my body. I lost both skis, poles, one boot and the other had every buckle burst open.
Mike was the first to get to me. “He’s conscious!”
The others gathered my stuff strewn all over the slope.
It was all we could talk about the rest of the evening as everyone recalled, in vivid detail, my spectacular flight down the slope. The laughter roared like the fire we perched in front of with hot cocoa.
I never skied again.
By Rocco Satullo, author of a memoir and novel