I didn’t join Mountain Man on Opening Day. In fact, I put off joining him on the slopes for as long as I could. I made a lot of wild excuses, and I think he was beginning to see through them. I was afraid that if I revealed that I barely knew how to ski, he'd leave me. I would just have to keep pretending, I thought. If I pretended hard enough, fantasy would become reality, I thought.
But you can't pretend to know how to ski when you ski with someone who hasn't missed a ski season in ten years.
Around mid-December, Mountain Man finally convinced me to come up to the mountains with him. I don’t remember exactly which day it was, but I know it was before Christmas because he gave me new skis for Christmas, on the basis that the ones he’d seen on our first trip to the mountains were “worthless.”
In any case, we went to Kirkwood. It was snowing when we arrived, and I was worried sick because I had never skied in powder before. Nonetheless, I followed Mountain Man to the lift and got on it. As we rode to the top, my anxiety increased proportionally with our elevation. But when we passed over a powder-dusted cliff face sporting black and orange signs declaring “DANGER” and Mountain Man pointed to a steep-sided bowl just to the left of the cliffs and said, “That’s where we’re going,” adrenaline surged through my veins so fast that I thought I was going to throw up.
But I didn’t throw up. Instead, I went into a fear-induced stupor. When we got off the lift at the top, I felt like Frankenstein’s monster. I scooted across the mountaintop to join Mountain Man at the top of the slope that would take us to that perilously steep bowl, listening as a little voice in my head said, nonchalantly, “It doesn’t matter which route you do—eventually, he’s going to learn your secret.”
What I didn't know at the time was that I was now perched at the top of Kirkwood's run known as "The Wall." It looked steeper and even more treacherous than the bowl I'd observed on the way up. That's because "The Wall" is a double-black (click here if you are unfamiliar with the difficulty ratings for ski trails). I was about to traverse "The Wall" to a black run called "Headwaters," and from there, drop into "Eagle Bowl:" another black, which would deposit me into another bowl known as "Devil's Corral," which consisted entirely of double-blacks.
Mountain Man went first. I watched as he popped expertly over the lip and into the mogul field below. The moguls passed underneath him like potholes under a Wrangler—he was a human shock-absorber, knees bent nearly at ninety degrees, as he zipped through clouds of snow-spray. Then, he disappeared into the mist.
I didn’t know where he went, but in my zombie-like state, I wasn't about to try and figure out. Nope, I just tipped my skis forward until I slid off the top. I gained speed, despite my pizza-footed formation, until I was jiggling along like a runaway shopping cart full of watermelons on a cobblestone street. I bounced so hard my teeth clattered together, but I didn’t care. I almost wanted to wreck—maybe he would feel bad for leaving me to maneuver a black diamond alone if he had to take me to the hospital. Maybe I wouldn’t have to ski for the rest of the season.
Then I remembered that he didn’t know that I hadn’t skied in ten years. God, I was dumb.
I found him waiting for me at the top of the bowl that he'd pointed out from the lift, but just as I came to a sloppy halt, he bunny-hopped into the bowl and in an instant, he was at the bottom, where he whipped around with a neat, sharp turn that sent snow billowing majestically around him. He waved a pole at me, grinning with a jolliness that made me feel sick.
Annoyed, I pushed myself into the bowl. I didn’t even have time to get nervous because on the second turn, one of my skis hit a patch of ice and my legs slipped apart. The next thing I knew, I was tumbling, head-over-heels, down the mountain. I felt my skis detach, I saw my phone and a few other random items from my backpack sailing downhill on either side of me. With a whump, I came to rest in a tree-well. I probably looked a lot like the snow monster in that Scooby-Doo episode from the original series (Scooby-Doo Where Are You?), as seen at about 1:11 through the end of the following video:
Lying on my back with my legs tangled in the tree branches, snow falling in my eyes, I became aware of a strange, booming sound. I tried to sit up, but moving only caused me to sink deeper into the snow, so I flopped onto my back again.
I realized what the booming sound was, then. It was laughter. Mountain Man was laughing.
An elderly, veteran skier rescued me from the tree well. She didn’t mention my guffawing boyfriend, but I knew she understood exactly what was going on. She helped me gather all the things that had escaped my backpack, made sure I wasn’t hurt, got me back into my skis, and sent me on my way.
When I finally reconvened with my boyfriend, he was still chuckling. As we took the groomers back to the bottom of the mountain, he skied up next to me, elbowing me in the ribs playfully. He said, “Total yard-sale, huh? Way to send it! Siiiiick, bruh.”
I spent the next three hours sitting in the lodge by the fire, brooding and drinking bloody Marys, while I waited for my wet clothes to dry. A discontentedness of unprecedented proportions was brewing inside me.
Mountain Man was better than I was at skiing. If I’d been paying attention, I would’ve understood this long ago, and might’ve even avoided humiliating myself by becoming a human snowball right in front of him. But I hadn’t been paying attention. Instead, I misconstrued the simple fact that he was better at skiing with the conspiratorial notion that he was trying to one-up me.
One-upping me wasn’t going to fly. Nope, we had to be the same, or I had to be better. Rock climbing, cycling, poop jokes—he’d taken those from me, and that’s all he’d wanted. I’d discarded my other skills—swimming, drawing, painting, etc.—because they meant nothing to him. I had nothing left to give him.
As December 2015 melted into January 2016, I could see only one possible solution: I had to make up the difference. I had to keep feeding on him, even if he wasn’t feeding on me anymore. It was just a game of who was the bigger badass, and I wasn’t going to let him win.