I had crashed two runs earlier, and my butt was still sore. I’d bounced off the rock, somehow whacking the heel of my binding into an astonishingly tender part of my posterior, and then pinwheeled into a tree, opening my arms to embrace it, hoping I wouldn’t find the sort of branch that would impale me and tear open a lung. I hadn’t, but my mouth still tasted like pine tree, and there were needles stuck in my boot buckles.
Now I stood on top of the rock band again, eyeing my options.
They slid down beside me, asking politely if they were in my way. I’m not sure how old they were — there’s a reason you can’t get your ID picture taken in ski goggles — but one of them had the sort of voice that pegged the group as high schoolers. We stood together, weighing possibilities. They asked about the landing, and I showed them the rocks I’d scraped off in my descent. We laughed at the impact my crash had left. Then one of them dropped, billy-goating into a line I hadn’t even seen before. He launched over my failed takeoff, stomping just past my crater. I looked at the other two young skiers. I was in their way if they wanted to ski the same line.
“You gonna do it? It’s better than it looks,” one said.
I don’t usually respond well to taunting. I’m not swayed by that sort of peer pressure. But younger skiers pushing me always makes me do dumb things. Maybe it’s frustration that I didn’t start skiing until I was almost done with high school. Maybe it’s that inherent pride that comes with being older. Maybe it’s the fact that I can legally buy beer and these kids can’t. But I hate being outdone by people younger than me. Which is sort of a bummer, because the kids are better than me at just about everything these days.
But I was in their way, so I took a deep breath and remembered that, while those kids bounce back and don’t get hurt, at least I’m old enough to have the sort of health insurance that will take care of me if I do, and I dropped. I bounced down the line ungracefully, reaching with my heels in the air, trying to touch down as soon as possible. None of them laughed as the next kid dropped, going bigger and cleaner than I ever will. I high-fived him and took off, reflecting on the phenomenon of kids who are better than me.
I sort of love to hate it. It’s one of my favorite things about this area. Going out for a big climbing day in the park? There’s probably a 12-year-old who has done your route faster. Thinking of dropping into Corbet’s Couloir for the first time? There’s a 9-year-old who has done it. Just learned a new trick in the kids terrain park and are ready to take it to the big jump line for the first time? There’s a middle school girl who will drop just before you and do a bigger trick with more style (true story). Think you’re hot stuff on your bike? The high school kids, braces and all, will ride you into the ground.
Once you get past the utterly ego-destroying nature of it all, it’s pretty incredible to live in a place with this many talented kids. It’s a testament to a great mountain playground and parents who have their priorities straight. I don’t want to live in a town with a bunch of kids who are really good at video games. I don’t want to live in an area where people list “eating at Buffalo Wild Wings” as a hobby. I want to live someplace where there are youth avalanche awareness events, where kids are mowing lawns to buy new mountain bikes and where their parents are pushing them to safely appreciate the mountains in the same ways they do.
And if that means the kids are going to be faster than me, go harder than me, go bigger than me, I’ll take it. But don’t expect me to sit around and let them ski all the good stuff without me.