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King of the Mountain

Here on the icy summit, I don’t mind telling you what’s flashing through my mind: Do my legs still have it in them?

After all, it’s been almost 20 years since I last put on skis, and now I’ve gone and roused my glutes, quads, and hamstrings from their Rip Van Winkle slumber. But I’m determined to take this slope top-to-bottom – that’s ski talk for going all the way down the mountain without stopping – and it starts here, at the top of the expert black diamond run.

I push up to the edge and look over. Forget about skiing down slowly in a wide-angled snowplow. The drop is way too steep for that. Nothing to do but attack and hope for the best. All right, then, let’s see what these old bones can do. Okay, now… Ready? Let’s shred!

Faster, now, faster, until you make that first cut… Keep those boards together, and slash hard as you slice into the turn… Now grab some air as you pop over the mogul, and kick up some spray as you dig your edges in hard… That’s it, cut hard again, now you’re doing it, now you’re schussing like lightning.

Oh, yes, looks like I’ve still got it. Man, how I’ve missed this. And right about now, you’re probably wondering the same thing I am. Where have I been the last 20 years? What happened to skiing?

You know the answer, of course. Life happened, pure and simple. The last time I was on a mountain? It wasn’t just years ago. It was a lifetime. And just as my legs start to remember their old cues as I blaze down the hill, it all starts to come back to me.

We were just a bunch of young guys back then – scruffy, unattached, and looking for any excuse to hit the slopes. Our skis were old and stiff, but our time was plenty flexible, and we didn’t mind heading out before dawn, burning up the mountain as hard as we could, and then sleeping on a floor somewhere at the end of the day. Nothing got in the way of a ski trip, even if it meant doing something crazy.

Which reminds me of the ficus tree. I still remember the going-away dinner at the Chinese restaurant for our friend Cynthia, who had decided to leave the big city and relocate to Albuquerque to start a new life. The moving vans were coming in two weeks, but there was just one problem: She wanted to take along the ficus she’d owned for many years, but she knew it could never survive the long-distance trip inside a dark truck.

Jim, Mark and I looked at each other. Aren’t there some great ski resorts in New Mexico?

It took the three of us only five seconds to offer to deliver the ficus ourselves – a 2,000-mile, cross-country road trip in a rented van big enough to hold a mattress, all our ski stuff, and the tree in the back by the window. It was a triumph of spontaneous, single-guy, go-for-it thinking. Cynthia would get her tree, and we’d get to ski for a week. Besides, what a great story to tell all the ladies we’d meet along the way. You know, the selfless act of kindness and generosity bestowed upon our female friend in need? Yeah. Women love that stuff.

And what was there to stop us? Gas was cheap, our bosses would sign off on leave time, and my schedule was clear except for a visit to a neighbor I’d penciled into my date book. She was new in the neighborhood, owned a dog that never stopped barking, and had recently asked to use my phone to call the locksmith after she’d locked herself out of her apartment. I figured I’d drop by when we got back.

I still smile and shake my head when I think of that great ski adventure. I’ll never forget Cynthia’s face after we drove straight through – a full 32 hours in all – to bring the delicate ficus, alive and well, into her new living room. Then we skied for five days straight on some of the biggest, fastest mountains I had ever seen. And the guys still razz me about our après ski evening down at the mountain spa in Santa Fe, where I found myself engaged in deep conversation with two lovely locals who sold jewelry in town. Did I forget to mention that all three of us were naked at the time?

Like I said, a lifetime ago. And I haven’t put on skis since that trip – until now, that is. Because life happened. Speaking of which, here she is now: my little girl, skiing today for the first time in her life, pressing her legs out into a snowplow (now they call it a “pizza slice”) and squealing as I come up to cruise alongside her.

As we ski down together in perfect sync to the lodge, I think back to my last day on that enormous mountain so many years ago. My pals and I had no idea how much our lives were about to change. Once home, I would finally lose a love that had gone on way past its prime. Jim soon moved away to start a new job and ski new hills. Mark, then in training for the Foreign Service, left for a diplomatic post in Europe. And Cynthia, in the most surprising twist, decided after only a year to move back East. This time, she left the ficus tree behind, and even now I like to think of it sitting in some sunny window in view of those great, snowy Sandia mountains.

And what of the neighbor with the dog that never stopped barking? Guess I forgot to mention.

I married her.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. The father of two, Tony has written the DadZone since 2009.
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