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On Visual Storytelling: Aspen Extreme

Hmm…I really need to tell the story of the time I played Little League baseball. That’s not today’s tale, but it’s one worth telling.

Suffice it to say, for now, that it ended catastrophically, and that at the tender age of six or seven, the end was enough to obliterate any interest in team sports for the rest of my childhood. That earned me a reputation for being “unathletic” — a reputation cemented by my academic achievement and my love of books — but it was never entirely accurate.

I loved walking, hiking — exploring, I called it — and through middle and high school I took trips at least once a year to go skiing or mountain climbing. Those were rare enough, though, that they did nothing to affect my reputation.

Then, my Junior year in high school, Dad organized a youth group ski trip to Aspen, Colorado. All my friends came along (except Dan, who was already off at college), and among them all, I was the only one with any experience. Thanks to my reputation, the fact that I skied blues told them — or at least the macho guys among them — that they could easily handle blues, and should probably be on black slopes by the end of the week.

I didn’t bother arguing, but I did what I could to try to teach them. The whole drive up, I tried my hardest to tell them what to expect. It didn’t really do much good.

Monday morning, first thing out the gate, the guys started picking which slopes they wanted to run. I picked the two among them I liked best — Brad and Brian — and decided to tag along and help them get down the mountain alive.

It was a beautiful day for skiing. I remember that. The snow was deep and fresh, and we rode up the lift with a bright, warm sun on our faces and a light, cool breeze in our hair. At the top of the hill, before we started downhill, I tried to show Brad and Brian how to ski in a slow wedge — called a snowplow — and how to cut across the slope in big meandering loops to keep in control.

That’s not really a terribly high priority for a teenage boy, though. Going fast, looking cool, and outperforming peers — those were the things these two wanted to do. And besides…what could I possibly know about outdoor sports?

When I realized the futility of my lectures, I decided to show them. We all three poled up to the top of the slope, and then I demonstrated just how good I was. I slipped over the edge, picking up speed quickly, then tucked and sped down the slope, dancing off some natural drifts and easily weaving among some of the slower skiers. A couple hundred feet down the ground leveled off briefly before disappearing over an even steeper ledge, but I shooshed smoothly to a stop at the landing and turned back to wait for them.

Of course, my effort had an opposite effect. Brand and Brian watched me run, decided it couldn’t be that hard if I could do it, and both came racing after me.

Brad figured out his mistake about halfway down. He slipped clumsily into a snowplow, but it didn’t slow him nearly enough at that point. I saw the resolution in his eyes when he finally just bent his knees and fell over onto his right hip, skidding to a stop a few feet from my position.

Brian was older, though — and a little bit crazier — so he had more to prove. He flashed past Brad and turned his head to laugh as he flew past. He didn’t slow any as he hit the level spot, either, and flew right over the edge and out of sight down the next slope.

A moment later we heard a shout of fear, followed by a horrific crash and clatter that shattered the morning stillness, and then a single ski flipped up high into the air, somersaulting in the sunlight before it finally stabbed back down out of sight. Followed, of course, by a yelp of pain from Brian.

The whole thing was like a scene out of a cartoon. It worked, though. Brad and Brian both spent the rest of the weekend paying close attention to everything I had to say.

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