My heartbeat quickened, my legs shook, I started to hyperventilate. I couldn't keep up this deceptive charade any longer. My mountain hosts would soon find out I was a fraud. Struggling to stay vertical, I managed to make a couple of gorilla turns, but soon the snow proved too heavy. I couldn't move my feet. My speed increased exponentially. I fell. ¶ That was 10 years ago in some powdered glades just outside Grand Targhee, Idaho. The air was arctic. The snow was dumping. It was the kind of bitter day when I prefer to be in my lair watching cable. And yet here I was, faced with a skier's dream: three feet of powder. A total nightmare.
You see, in a nutshell, I suck. Okay, "suck" is too strong. But after 25 years on the slopes, I couldn't be more, well…mediocre. I can't do bumps, I don't do steeps. I'm nothing but a terminal cruiser—and that does rhyme with "loser." The problem isn't a lack of physical ability. It's that I'm a nervous wreck—my head constantly gets in the way of my feet. I'm especially lame in powder. Powder calls for confidence of purpose, and, above all, the ability to relax and enjoy the ride. Nope and Nope.
To make a long story short, I was there as a ski writer (of all things), and I thought I was supposed to impress my Jackson Hole—based hosts. Their names escape me, but I can still picture them, typical Jackson daredevils who warm up on Corbet's Couloir. The problem was, they didn't know how bad I was. In fact, they had every reason to believe I was a ski god. At least, that's the impression I'd given in the bar the night before. Not only did I wear the hippest new ski clothes, but, with a few drinks in me, I was Barney Fifing big-time, metaphorically polishing my guns and acting like I was the sheriff, not Andy. I explained to them that I'd been skiing for 15-plus years—which wasn't a lie. But then I said other stuff that I'd rather not repeat. Amazingly, they took the bait—hook, line, and sinker. They even made a toast to their brand-new extreme-ski buddy.
Of course, it's not all my fault. I blame everything on the bartender, who, I'm quite certain, slipped me a Mickey in that second beer. Or maybe it was in the ninth beer? Either way, it really threw me for a loop. I didn't exactly black out, but I sure ran my mouth off.
On the hill the next day, I stood up and, trying to appear casual, dusted myself off. I clicked the bindings back on. But alas, before I could get any momentum going, I fell again, kicking up a snow cloud like a polar bear sliding into home plate. Then I fell again. And again. There was little chance my hosts missed the carnage. They were staring right at me. And I just kept falling. I really felt like a schmuck. But then I realized something: They weren't laughing at me. They weren't pointing and guffawing. They were cheering me on. They yelled, "Hey, Brad! You can do it!" They wanted to see me succeed.
I'd be remiss if I said I didn't learn some important life lessons from this experience. I now realize that I don't have to be a poseur for people to like me. Most people just accept me for the piss-poor skier that I am. And you know what? I quit falling so much. And when I do fall, I now realize that it's just part of the game. Just look at snowboarders. They fall all the time. And you know what the really important thing is? People like me a lot better now. I find myself bathing more and I even quit drinking so much. I'm really a pretty neat person—all because I got over my fear of falling.