For full effect, download the soundtrack to “The Art of Flight” and play at maximum volume throughout the duration of this post. Followed by a rewind clip to the winter of 2010 where this story begins.
It was an early Saturday morning and I was running on fumes of a 2-hour nap and a six-pack of Red Bull. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes from the backseat of my car, my two good friends Mark and Madi were just pulling in to the Brian Head ski resort where a menu of fresh-fallen powder, boarding helmets, and hot chocolate was awaiting us. It is interesting what one will sacrifice in order to get those euphoric rushes that come from flying down a mountain at 30+ speeds. It’s a frozen addiction that takes over my life every year from Thanksgiving to Spring Break.
I would like to mention that in the two weeks prior to this trip, my dear pal Mark had not shut his emo-covered face about how uncommonly talented he was when his feet were strapped to a freshly-waxed snowboard. On and on he went, detailing some of the most glacial gambols that he had ever taken in his young career, searching for a friendly acknowledgement of how superior he was to us at the sport of snowboarding. In his days he had landed Super Mindy 180’s, Canadian Bacon 360’s, flips both front and back, and was particularly skilled at Stalefish grabs coming off of a 50-50 slide. (For those non-shredders, this just means that you’re really, really, REALLY good at snowboarding). Perhaps his tales were mere embellishments, however we had finally come to the point where he would now be forced to walk the walk.
Sliding off of the first lift, emotions were running high as we unloaded, buckled up, and I tossed yet another empty energy drink into the garbage.
Mark: slapping his gloved hands together “Alright, let’s do this. You guys ready to jump on some sick slopes and see my wicked skills?”
For the record, I would like to note that despite the appalling amount of stimulants in my system from my breakfast of Red Bulls, Mark still appeared to have a substantially larger amount of energy than I did.
As we coasted our pioneer trail down the hill, Mark seemed to be living up to the mountainous stories he had been building up for the previous two weeks. He seemed to be coordinated, balanced, not a pro by any means, but I could see him being fairly decent at carving, switching styles, and perhaps even landing a few of the jumps he had been grandstanding about for the past 14 days. For all I knew, this kid was legit.
And then we got to the park.
Again, for the non-boarders, the park is where a grouping of jumps and rails have been put in to give the boarders a place to perfect their skills, and elevate themselves meanwhile tossing a few tricks into the mix. Apparently this is where Mark had been living for what sounded like years, in order to nail down his skills and become a semi-pro at this sport. This is also where one of the biggest disillusions was finally brought to justice.
Mark’s emotions were in a rush as he sped down the hill at an alarming rate. I followed, a good 50 feet behind in hopes that I would be able to catch a glimpse of his greatness on the first and largest jump on the mountain. He approached the launching pad with such confidence, such poise, that even I got a tingly feeling that I was about to witness greatness, and have a story to one day tell my own posterity; the day I witnessed the great Mark “shred some sick gnar” at Brian Head.
Nearing the base of the jump, a rush of euphoria about to explode off the tail of his Never Summer, he abruptly slowed his pace to a crawl, turned his direction to the side of the jump, the point where the snow had barely begun to be raised, crouched down into an unneeded bracing position, and slid off the side of the jump.
Mark: “Wooooooooooo!” he yelled as he carved down the rest of the hill.
Cue boggled stare of confusion by Swamp Thing.
Reaching the bottom of the hill, Mark unbuckled his bindings and spouted off about the jump that he had just “nailed”.
Mark: “Dude, did you just see that? I got some sick air on that kick man, it was wicked.”
Swamp Thing: “Uh…yeah man, you uh…sure did. That was pretty umm… sweet. Right Madi?”
Madi: “Uh…yeah, it sure was. You sure are a pro.” The two of us exchanging stunned glances through our goggles.
Cue awkward silence for the next lift ride to the top.
Now this wasn’t just some random accident by any means. For the rest of the day, this is how Mark approached every jump, every rail, every level of snowboarding that was barely out of a beginner’s class. For every Beef Curtain 360 that he thought he landed, a six-year old sat and made fun of him for getting no air. Every time that he thought he was near lift-off into the stratosphere of snowboarding heaven, his mediocre skills crawled him a good half-inch off the side of a jump. It was a shaming display of what this kid thought should win him a gold medal at the next X-games.
I would like to add that I am not a professional snowboarder. I am a tall, gangly creature whose high center of gravity and lack of experience has placed a lifetime broken tailbone in my rear for the many times that I haven’t landed a jump. However, if the two of us were to go up head-to-head in a skills-on-the-slopes contest, more than likely I would stop my descent in sympathy and shake my head at what my dear friend thought were the sickest skills west of the Virgin River.
As the three of us drove back home I couldn’t help but chuckle inside at how distorted his perspective was. He talked and talked the whole way back, reliving all of the fictitious flips that he had been landing all day. Every inaccurate line he spilled out, I just sat back and laughed in my head. To think that people feared brain surgery would ruin my interpretation of life. This kid had never gone under the knife and his tales were getting taller by the hour. Either he had some demented understanding of the basic laws of physics and gravity, or my after-surgery imaginary symptoms were just starting to kick in.
About halfway home I nearly had enough of his shenanigans, and was about to put a harsh end to the erroneous snowboarding dreams that he had been caught up in his whole life. As I opened my mouth to correct him, he paused and shut me up with one of the truest forms humility known to modern man.
Mark: “Hey thanks guys, I had a lot of fun with you today. You sure are some good friends.”
Breathing out my accusation, I turned up the music and drove away down I-15. As skewed as it may have been, this kid’s take on life was a glorious picture, and he was starring in some of the greatest winter action scenes possible. In his mind, Shaun White had an up and coming challenger that one day might rival him in skill. Yeah, so what if this knucklehead was barely landing one-inch jumps; in his own eyes, he was on top of the world.