The Downhill Report, December 1996
They're but four syllables. Three, really, if you account for redundancy. They form a pedantic, infantile schoolyard taunt, the kind of thing that most adults, unless they happen to be phys-ed teachers or securities traders, have been able to avoid for decades. Which is why I'm chagrined to admit that they almost caused me to give up my favorite sport.
The phrase in question, for those who haven't had the pleasure of being ridiculed for their skiing style, is the rather indelicate "no falls, no balls." I heard the words repeatedly on my very first outing, as a quivery pre-teen struggling to keep up with friends on California's Mammoth Mountain. Years later, the phrase would mock me as I followed a pair of masochistic college buddies down Mad River Glen's absurdly named Paradise, basically an endless succession of frozen ten-foot waterfalls. Later still, the invocation was actually uttered in an attempt to comfort, as I skied from the top of Snowbird to a first-aid station at the base with an inch-and-a-half-long gash in my noggin, blood trickling down the side of my face in crimson testament to the stupidity of false bravado.
Enough. Thankfully, the epiphany came just as I was about to seek refuge in telemark, cross-country, or some other sleepy snow-based pastime. Not, as they say, that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that I've come to realize that the reason I love to ski has nothing to do with being able to take whatever abuse the mountain can dish out. Rather, it's the warm fuzzy
stuff--the peace, the air, the views, the trees. And, of course, the speed. Ultimately, whether I express myself by clinging to a 50-degree face or by carving GS turns on a mellow, milelong thoroughfare is my own damn business. I'm a cruiser, an aficionado of the Sno-Cat, a denizen of boulevards black, blue, and green. A steep and narrow chute? No thanks. A field of head-high
bumps? Why bother. An impeccably groomed top-to-bottom blitz, wind stinging the face, pine and fir sweetening the air, faux-Tyrolean village whizzing into relief as rooster-tails of powder arc from my skis over the splayed remains of those who so vainly believed they had something to prove? Thank you, sir, I'll have an another.