Ewe First

Sunshine Village is a ski resort near Banff, AB. It has a mountain called Goat’s Eye. Goat’s Eye has a run called Ewe First. The hotel bar at Sunshine has an awesome lamb burger with cranberry chutney.

However, the lamb burger, the mountain and the run have nothing to do with this story. It doesn’t even have anything to do with sheep, except that, like a sheep, I will do just about anything as long as someone else does it first. “Ewe first.” Get it?

I digress, and I haven’t even started yet.

I’ve only got one good skiing buddy. What I mean is I’ve only got one friend who is foolish enough to try and keep up with my midlife crisis endeavors on the ski hill. “You first” is a commonly uttered phrase in our outings, and I’m usually the one who does indeed go first.

So a few years ago my skiing buddy, Craig, called me up on a random Thursday night in March. “It’s barfing down snow at Sunshine. We gotta go.”

“Hang on,” I said, and checked the calendar on my BlackBerry to see if the Friday meetings were of their typically useless nature. A couple were indeed mindless and I wouldn’t be missed, but one was with the boss.

“Screw it,” I finally said. “I’m sure he won’t mind. I’m in.”

“They’ve had over two feet in the last two days, and it’s still spewing. We should stay overnight.”

That required a degree of marital begging and promises of foot massages that I’d rather not get into, but I managed to convince my wife to do the single parent thing for a night so I could go have a couple of alcohol-infused powder days.

The pleading portion of my evening complete, I got my gear together. My wife gave me stink-eye the entire time.

Come morning I was going to call the boss and leave him a voicemail, but I came up with a better idea. I copied Sunshine’s snow report into an email and sent it along with the subject line, “We need to move our meeting to Monday.”

A couple of hours later, as my friend and I were going up the gondola, my phone buzzed with his one-word reply: “Prick.”

I knew he’d understand.

I was promised epic, and epic it was. It literally did vomit snow throughout the night and the result was some of the most amazing powder I’d ever experienced: light, fluffy, more than knee-deep and with temperatures around -10C. The Ski Gods had decided shine on us; the sun had come out for a crystal clear blue sky day in the hills.

Were I of Viking decent, I’d have thought I’d died and gone to Valhalla.

I don’t want to make you hate me by describing the level of sheer awesomeness, so I’ll fast forward to lunchtime. We had been cutting freshies hard all morning, so a colossal grease-fest of Philly cheese steaks with sweet potato fries washed down with plenty o’ beer was in order. I mention this because the beer factored into the poor decision-making of the afternoon.

Now before the narcs freak out on me for drinking and skiing, let’s just say this whole story is a work of fiction, okay? *wink*

I’m a Warren Miller wannabe, but rather than be a dedicated ski bum I decided to go the route of marriage, mortgage and minivan. I think I made the right call, especially since my knees are still in good shape.

Nevertheless, there are days when I fantasize about being better than I really am. Such days usually involve alcohol.

Going up the Standish chair at Sunshine I’ve often looked longingly, or perhaps masochistically, at a cliff with at least a twenty foot drop and said to myself, “One day…”

Sometimes I haven’t said it to myself. Sometimes I’ve said it to Craig, who usually replies with, “Are you on crack?”

Here is the “descriptive” view of the cliff as seen from the chair:

We didn’t target the cliff on purpose. We were doing some tree runs of areas we hadn’t been though in a while, and just sort of accidentally ended up at the top of the aforementioned cliff. I swear.

But there we were. We had found the entrance to the cliff that involved skiing through a narrow corridor of trees at a speed high enough to clear the rocks below and land in the deep, fresh powder below and hopefully not break something. Seriously, if I’d gone home in a body cast my wife would have been super pissed.

I leaned out, looked over the edge and said, “No. Fucking. Way.”

This is the view from the top:

And that should have been the end of it. Remember, I’m the family guy suffering a midlife crisis. I’m the one who goes first. If I say we shouldn’t do it, then it doesn’t get done. This fact has less to do with bravery or lack of cognitive ability regarding potential consequences than it does me not being the one who has undergone six knee surgeries (Craig and his orthopaedic surgeon are on a first-name basis).

“Wait,” Craig said, and he fumbled through his ski coat. After a moment he pulled out a silver flask. “Here we go.” He took a long drink and then made a face like my high school prom date when I suggested I kiss her goodnight.

He passed me the flask. “Drink.”

I thought about asking what it was, but knew that such a question would make me the object of much derision. I drank.

All I could taste was pain.

“What the hell is this, napalm?”

“Cinnamon schnapps. Courage in one-hundred proof form. Have another.”

Against my better judgement, I did. Definitely napalm.

I passed the flask back to him and he took another long drink then secured it in a pocket. I looked over the edge of the cliff again, mouth burning, and still didn’t feel like doing it. “You first,” I said.

Uncharacteristically, he said, “Okay.”

He took a moment to position himself, ensuring he had enough of a run at it to clear the rocks below, then did a hard double-pole and launched himself towards the cliff.

I’d love to tell you he pulled it off, but in reality it was a legendary yard sale.

I leaned out and yelled down to him, “Holy crap! Are you okay?”

Amongst the discarded equipment and clothing an upraised thumb appeared out of the snow, then a head. “I’m good… Go for it!”

Of course, I couldn’t just go for it. I had to wait for him to get all his gear out of the way first. Once that was complete I fell to the task of psyching myself up.

And I had help with the psyching. Through the trees I had a clear view of the Standish chair, and the people on the chair had a clear view of me.

“Jump! Jump! Jump!” and “Go for it!” and “Do it, yeah!”

I’ve always been a sucker for peer pressure. I went for it.

I think I almost pulled it off too, but I submarined into the ample powder, lost one of my skis, and that was it: Yard Sale Two-Point-Oh.

“Woo hoo!” and “All right!” and “Pwned!” came the calls from the chair.

Pwned?

The good news is that I wasn’t so badly damaged that I couldn’t be healed by an evening of beer while soaking in Sunshine’s massive outdoor hot tub.

And now I no longer look at that cliff and wonder. I’ve done it. Even if my middle-aged ass did get pwned, whatever that means.