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The Rule of Firsts

First Tracks
posted: 08/20/2003

Riding the palmer quad last august, watching the country's best ski racers arc turn after turn on the flanks of Mount Hood, I saw a kid who was clearly tired. He was late, straight, barely making his gates. Then he rocked back on his tails, careened hard left, and barreled from snow to sulfur. His skis stopped; he didn't. He tumbled helmet over boots for about 20 feet into a rust-brown rock field: a near-perfect double-eject tomahawk.

In true teenage form, he got up, slammed the one remaining pole in his hand against an igneous chunk, and trudged off to collect his gear.

I saw all this before I had laid ski to snow for my first turns of the season.

Among skiing's firsts—first chair, first descent, first tracks—the pre-eminent first is first turns. The confusion (are these the right socks?) begets the alien (have my skis always felt so heavy?), which gives way to the exciting (damn, this is fast!).

It's not as easy to find snow in September as it is in January, but it's out there—Mount Hood, Blackcomb, South America. And terrain can be limited, but who's ready for top-to-bottom runs at Jackson before Halloween, anyway? No matter what the vertical, when you glide off your first chair of the season, you'll feel that familiar adrenaline buzz that you just don't get chasing a golf ball.

I expected my first run of the year would be reminiscent of last season's bliss: effortless carving, warm wind in my face, thrilling speed. But I had forgotten the laws of The Hood: The snow at 6:30 a.m. is steel-plate firm, the pitch is deceptively steep, and there are rocks. Acres of 'em. And despite harboring the soul of a teenager, I am well beyond adolescence. When I fall, parts break.

I skied those first runs like I dance to reggae—all the moves, none of the rhythm. Eventually, I managed to lock into a decent arc, snapping my skis across the fall line as my eyes chased the pitch. I'd gotten my groove back, which paid off some weeks later when I hit big mountains and big snow.

Even better yet, on the chairlift in early December, when other skiers asked, "So, is this your first day out? I had the trump answer: "Naw. I've got a few days in already. You?

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