In the winter of 1993, I was in my 29th season, age 55 and still in that happy state of benign self-deception when I believed I skied better each season than the season before.

On the Gon at Mammoth.
Credit: Sarah Sherman/ MMSA

A lifelong wage slave, despite passionate longings to the contrary, I had never given myself the luxury of a ski-bum year. As a weekend-warrior, a good year would be 20-25 days.

It was late May and all of my usual Tahoe destinations closed. I decided to take a solo road trip to Mammoth to close the season. The sun was warm and the slopes covered with corn. I quickly racked up formidable verts and boarded the old Gondola at mid-station for what was to be one last run. Three 20-somethings joined me in the cab, regaling each other with boasts of what a fine day they had all had. “Good show!” I offered, “Now we can all relax and coast down on that good old last run.”

“Oh? Why last run? I can handle more,” one guy responded.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think so,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Well, it’s 2:20, now,” I began to explain. “Lifts stop running today at 2:30. We’re still at least five minutes from the top, and it’s a long way down, so… hey!”

“Yeah, well, whatever,” the guy said. “I suppose if I were your age, I’d see it that way, too.”

That smarted. Damn whippersnappers, can’t they show a little more respect… then I thought how I must look to these guys… gray hair, faded parka, scuffed-up red boots… Ah, hell, they’re just kids, who cares, anyway? Still…

At the top, we exited and quickly descended the stairs. I clicked into my skis as fast as I could, and checked my watch – exactly 2:27. No way… BUT… I glanced over my shoulder to see the three guys ready to shove off; they hollered, “See ya!” Then, rather than my usual cautious chicken-slow entry onto the slope, I launched straight out into the air, off the cornice, into the most direct route down.

What the hell am I doing? flashed through my mind. But, to my mild surprise, I nailed the landing, then hauled ass through those soft steep moguls all the way down to the wide groomed outrun. Already flying, I tucked all the way. A hundred yards ahead, the attendant had already started to pull the “CLOSED” rope across the entrance. I waved my poles and shouted, “HEY! HOLD ON!” By the time he looked up, I had scooted through the gate. “Oh, OK,” he smiled. “You’re the last one.” Grateful as hell, and breathing hard, I proceeded to the loading platform and boarded the last gondola of the season.

As the car left the station, I looked down, and saw the three youngsters from the last ride, approaching the now-closed lift entrance. Unable to do otherwise, I opened the window, stuck out my head, and hollered, “SEE YA!”

At the top, I exited slowly, took a long time drinking in that glorious view of the Minarets, Mono Lake, the whole beautiful scene, then coasted down, easy, stopping every few turns to admire all that grandeur, one last time, in all my quiet solitude.

2017-2018 will be my 54th season. I turned 80, last week. It’s been quite a few years now since I last believed I skied better every year. But that passion is still there, and I have no plans to quit, any time soon.

Mammoth’s season goes past Memorial Day in snowy years.
Credit: Peter Morning/ MMSA

3 Comments

  1. Roger
    Great story!!! Even if we aren’t sking better each season it doesn’t mean we don’t love it just as much.
    Don

  2. If anything, I think we appreciate each season, even each run, more. (But secretly, we still think we’re better than last year!!)

  3. John Whitney says:

    Even if we don’t ski better than last year, we learn to appreciate different aspects of the sport as we age — the gracefulness, the beauty of the winter scenery, the social side of the sport. It’s a slower, more contemplative enjoyment. Yet for me, that’s a big part of why I still feel so fortunate to be a lifelong skier.

    And hey, with luck we can still turn on the jets once in a while, too.

    Thanks for the nice memories, Roger, and for the inspiration to look forward to my 80’s ski self.

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