Thursday, December 31, 2009

Grays on Trays or Old People Snowboarding

You could hear the snickering, sense the loss of independence and see the eyes rolling in all the kids when I announce “I’m going to learn how to snowboard while we’re in Europe!” Ann’s immediate reaction is a quick check of the life insurance policy and the healthcare power of attorney. Talk about a real vote of confidence for the hubby. Hey at least my midlife crisis doesn’t involve a convertible sports car, fantasy baseball camp in Florida or a blonde bimbo named Bunny, so I got that going for me.

The first trip into the “board shop” is like a walk into a mix of psychedelic Jimmy Hendrix meets SpongeBob Square Pants. The music is loud the clothes are louder and the “sales clerks say “Dude” and “like” so much I have trouble piecing together a sentence. The ages of the 2 sales clerks added together don’t equal mine. Naturally, the first question from the “board dude” is “Like, do you free ride or freestyle?” Sensing a moment to blend in with the herd I say “Like, maybe both!” He says “Well then you’ll need a board with some sick flex and a tight camber.” One look at Eamon and I know he’s thinking “Please don’t say anything stupid.” I am reminded at that moment of Mark Twain’s quotation “At 14 I couldn’t believe how dumb my dad was and at 21 I couldn’t believe how much he learned in 7 years.” The questions continued to be confusing “How many centimeters do you want for your board, shoe size 41 or 43 cm?” and my favorite “Are you regular or goofy?” I always sucked at the metric system; darn it I should have paid more attention to my 5th grade teacher Miss Yezzi. And as far as the last question, definitely “goofy” ask anyone who knows me.

I leave the snowboard shop called “Backdoor”, honest you can’t make this stuff up, with a 159cm board, rental boots and a “let’s make it happen attitude.” The gondola ride is beautiful and I am observing Eamon and Seamus as they make adjustments to their rental equipment and test boards and talk about stuff that is as foreign to me as the German the guys working the Gondola speak. What in the world is “switch riding?”As the gondola ride surpasses its 25th minute straight up the mountain I am thinking, “Maurice, you need your head examined.” Here’s to hoping it is still attached by the time I get to the bottom of the hill.

After the gondola ride there is a short walk to the next lift called, Oberjoch, which takes you to the peak. Now the fun begins. Up til now you walked in your snowboard boots. The first heartbeat raising challenge is to “strap in.” You can hear the commitment you’re making with each spine tingling sound of the ratcheting of the plastic strap as it tightens on your toe and around your ankles. One boot secured and now the fun begins as you inch your way to the lift on your flat epoxy clad wooden board with “sick” graphics. My board brand and model is called the Solomon “Answer” and I chuckle at the irony as Solomon was the wise man from the Bible and honestly I feel like the dope from Edgmont.

Getting “on” the lift is much easier than getting “off” the lift. I’ve been snow boarding a few times but not in Switzerland and certainly not above the tree lines. I know what I need to do and as we raise the bar, heart pounding and sweat dripping, I take comfort in knowing that the 3 person pile up that is sure to happen at the bottom of the lift will be all Glavin’s. Seamus and Eamon made the courageous decision of taking the first ride with their midlife crisis dad and some folks, especially my kids, just like to be close to the accident so they can see all the blood and guts. It won’t be “Call of Duty 4” blood and guts but it could be close. I think I see a bit of joy in their faces at dad’s unsure demeanor and less than perfect balance. What’s the saying “Payback’s are a B----!”

The moment of truth is upon me, as I “strap in” the left foot making a total commitment to myself and the mountain. Hoisting myself up proves more than difficult probably the result of too may pastries in Vienna. I get my first lesson in snowboarding as Seamus demonstrates the “roll and pop up.” Was that my shoulder cracking? And did he say “Just pop up?” The last time I just “popped up” there was an insect with 8 legs and a bed sheets involved. Did I know that “roll and pop up” was going to be the order of the day? Pearse is strapped in next to me and he seems much more confident and I quip to myself “He doesn’t have as far to fall.” He’s already had a lesson and he looks the part of the “little dude” and is already a fan favorite with folks all over the mountain.

“The first 20-50 feet are always the hardest,” that’s what I keep saying to myself. I am not sure what to take from all the people clearing away from me as quickly as they can other than they sense that the Red Coated freight train obviously has breaking problems. The look of terror on my face and the flailing arms might be another sure sign that anything in a 50 ft x 30 path is in serious jeopardy of becoming a Volvo Crash Dummy! As I make it to the first plateau I am relieved and grateful that all appendages are still attached and I’m not too concerned that snow grooming machine was following me rectifying most of my divots and replacing the snow that is now located in every hole in my jacket, pants, helmet, and body orifice created by God! Only 3 more plateaus to go and one is after the change from beginner trail to a “medium trail” and I wonder "Why is the 'medium' trail marked in the color red?”

Team Glavin streaks off down the mountain, the “dad entertainment factor” has officially worn off. I continue to assault the hill and my body but take comfort in knowing “roll and pop” is much easier after 30 times or so. I approach the steep incline, littered with bodies making it a human obstacle course. As I begin the descent I am pretty sure that the path is cleared not out of respect for the “Red Bullet” but more a survival tactic for kid, boy and woman alike. I am an indiscriminate collider. The hill is icy; it is mogul filled and changes direction 2x. It is a cruel trick to play on a guy making his first run down the mountain.

Fear is a funny thing; it can be motivating and paralyzing but I’ve never had both happen at the EXACT same time. Gravity took care of my issue, as a slight lean and 205lbs sent me hurtling down the icy sheet they call a trail. Since I don’t know how to stop without an all out body assault, I point the board down the hill and hope for the best. I don’t remember the first thump but I remember the last one as I clearly heard my mind and mouth say “Glad I wore a helmet.” The thud was loud and the screams from the chair lift above me were less than complimentary, “Dude, Bodmi is at the bottom of the mountain.” Bodmi is where they teach the 2-6 year old beginners. I look up at the moving graffiti on the chairlift and shoot them the international sign for “screw you,” too bad I’m wearing mittens, it’s like, a lot less effective.

Who says prayers don’t work, I make it to the bottom of the hill, legs burning, shoulders blistered from the “roll and pop” but essentially in one piece. I make my way to the lodge, board tucked under my arm getting a few nods and a few “What’s up dude?” and “Way to go.” So far so good and no one has called me the dreaded “poser”, the ultimate insult. I am not sure but I think folks are looking at me and giving me the “thumbs up.” Maybe just maybe they respect the effort. I get a spring in my walk and hobble up the steps to meet the family. They are having French fries and a coke for the bargain price of 22 francs. That’s 1 coke and 1 portion of french fries. As I turn the corner, feeling victorious, Pearse yells “Hey dad you okay, your nose is bleeding!” Now I know why I was getting the” thumbs up.” Nothing says commitment more than the red stuff. I look at Eamon and Seamus “Hey dudes, like, can you hand me a napkin!”