Tuesday, October 5, 2010

a sad sad song

Let me tell you about my friend Jake. The man himself is not a problem, but he sure knows how to find them. He has a sharp personality, and is perpetually caught somewhere between being offensive and defensive. He doesn’t demand respect, he just gets it. He was the one that got me back into skateboarding, and got me serious about snowboarding. I have been snowboarding for 9 years now, but only in the last 3 that I have known him have I been willing to do whatever it takes to go slide down a hill on these wood and plastic sticks. This story is about a problem he had at our local mountain, The Arizona Snowbowl. But this event transcends to something much deeper, an ill-rooted difference between skiers and snowboarders. A bias on both sides that makes absolutely no sense.
I would say we’re pretty good friends, although he might claim otherwise. We originally met through his girlfriend, one of my close friends from high school. Last winter, when the gods decided to look upon Northern Arizona for a place to get rid of snow, we were living in a decrepit cabin in the woods together. I could write a whole story about the cabin itself, but all you need to know is that it was an A-frame, with two lofts for bedrooms. Downstairs, there was a non-functional kitchen, except for a refrigerator (which kept us constantly supplied with nice cool beverages), a bathroom without a shower, and a living room with two oversized couches. The only way for us to heat this whole place was to build fires everyday, and we built some big ones during those cold lonely nights.
Jake’s original plan for that winter had been to move to Tahoe. However, he had to give up a lot to do this, and he returned home after a couple weeks. He could not bear to be apart from his girlfriend. When he showed up at the cabin, asking me if he could crash for a bit, I was more than obliged to help him. I was not sure I would be able to survive the cold dark winter out in the woods by myself. I’m certainly not responsible enough for that.
The winter brought immense loads of snow. At one point, we had 7 feet in 3 days. I remember looking at the NOAA radar during that period, and the largest single-cell storm I had ever seen was blocking out Northern Arizona for a solid 5 days. Needless to say, we were stoked. We snowboarded as much as we could, regardless of how B-rate our resort was. Snowbowl had two main lifts, not including what serviced the bunny hill. One lift took everyone to the top of the mountain, and the other lift serviced the terrain park/intermediate slopes. These were slow, 3 seaters. This was good old down-home country snowboarding.
Jake was on an absolute do or die save money to move to Tahoe budget, so he refused to pay for lift tickets. What he would do was go up about mid-day and find someone in the parking lot who was headed home. He would ask to see their ticket, and would proceed to “clip it,” attach a new zip-tie and head to the lifts. This process of ticket clipping was how he snowboarded all winter long. Until one day in mid-March.
I was at work when I got a call from Jake. He had been on the mountain with our friend Ryland, and he had a lot to say. Apparently, they had an awesome day, as they usually did. On his last run before he had to go to work, they took the lift to the top of the mountain, as was the norm. There was a fun gap over a snow fence that they liked to hit. It was not out of bounds, or an avalanche control fence or anything. It was there to simply keep the wind from blowing all the snow off the ridge. Jake had ollied over the fence, completely clearing it, when he caught R.J., the head Ski Patroller’s eye. He had his headphones in, so he could not hear when R.J. told him to stop. He ended up looking back and seeing a flustered middle aged man in a red jacket coming like a bat out of hell towards him. So, he stopped, took out his headphones, and spoke to him.
“Sorry, this is my last run of the day. I have to be at work in 30 minutes, I’m going to leave now. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
With this, he started again down the mountain. He got down about halfway until he saw R.J., following him still. This time he was talking into his radio. He stopped again. R.J. was furious.
“You told me to go fuck myself! You told me to fuck off!”
“No I didn’t, I was being polite! I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I think we’re gonna have to call in a code zebra on this one.”
A code zebra is what ski patrollers use to describe a situation where one patroller needs a lot more patrollers to help escort somebody to their car, where a police officer would then meet them. It had only been called in once before that season, when two moms got into a heated catfight in the cafeteria over a position in line.
“You’re in trouble, pal.”
“I don’t think you can call me that. I’m not your pal. Do you want to clip my ticket? Here, take all of them!”
He motioned to the pile of stolen tickets on his jacket, but R.J. paid him no mind.
“You’re about to be banned for the season, you know that?”
“I don’t care! This resort is Bush-league! This is why I tried to move to a place that respects snowboarders, like Tahoe!”
“FINE! You’re banned for life! ”
Jake was obliged to obey when he saw 6 more ski patrollers come in towards him. Ryland had more or less disappeared at this point, he had a job at the resort to worry about. They made their way down the mountain, and Jake was greeted at his car by the Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers. Since Snowbowl was in a national forest, they got federal police. They wrote him a ticket for disorderly conduct, and asked to search his car. After he said no, they went ahead and searched it anyways. They found an empty jar, containing what they said was “marijuana residue.” Jake told them that he had not smoked weed for over a year. He used to, but since he was trying to make it as a snowboarder, he had quit. He never cleaned out his car, however, and this was his achilles heel.
Regardless, they wrote him another ticket for possession of marijuana, although there was none in the container. This ticket said that he was to appear at federal court on a given date, but did not state the fines. The patrollers dispersed, and R.J. walked off, triumphant. The L.E.O.’s got back into their Tonka Truck police machine and drove off. Jake called me.
Jake is a smart person. Fortunately, he had some money laying around that he had been saving for his move. Unfortunately, he had to hire a lawyer. Federal court is no joke. Although he had been antagonized unfairly by the ski patrol, there was nothing he could do. The judge was close friends with both R.J. and the officer that wrote the citation. It took over $2,000 of his own money to keep him from going to jail. He received a very over-exaggerated slap on the wrist and was left with little more than a place to crash.
There were other solutions, however. Had R.J. realized 10 years ago how big of a sport snowboarding has become, he could have realized that jumping over a tiny fence is no big deal. In fact, I have seen skiers jump that same fence with him right there. He did nothing but occasionally cheer them on.
Jake also could have submitted more to the authority of the Ski Patrol. He may have been a little standoffish, but that’s more of an issue regarding pride than respect. One must realize the feeling that snowboarding can give you. It can make you feel invincible, as if you have the world strapped in between your feet. To come off of this proverbial “cloud nine” and immediately into a situation such as this must have been a real buzz-kill. It’s not inherent in human nature to submit to authority in times like this.
Another solution that would have been completely unfair to R.J. would have been for Jake to complain. Of course he did on the hill, but off the mountain he could have written letters to the editor, to magazines, and to the owner of the resort. He could have done everything in his power to see that R.J. lost his job. But that is not how my friends and I act. Although we may face injustices, we shrug them off and roll with the punches We do not start fights, instead it is wiser to defend ourselves.
The resort, being the size that it is, has had tough financial times over the last few years. A severe drought almost crippled the town’s winter economy. A long standing debate between the resort owners and the Navajo Tribe (to whom the mountain is sacred) has postponed setting up snowmaking operations almost indefinitely. In times like these, it would seem that a resort should be doing all they can to make money. Nobody spends more money on their sport than snowboarders and skiers. I would argue that snowboarders spend more money, though, because although the gear is relatively cheap, we buy more of it. Snowboarders will visit any resort they can, providing its affordable and fun. Snowbowl would have a lot to gain if they just made their resort more snowboard-friendly. It wouldn’t take much, just a few improvements to the terrain park and to employee attitude.
Jake did not deserve to get banned for life. Snowbowl is our home mountain, where we learned to snowboard, and learned to love snowboarding. If anything, R.J. should have apologized to him, and realized that he had made a human mistake. He should have congratulated him, and thanked him for not hitting his fence. He should have embraced the future when it arrived on his doorstep in the form of snowboarding, instead being a crusty old man about it. We all understand that there isn’t a huge difference between skiing and snowboarding, after all, it’s only one stick versus two. I have no problem with skiers, but there seems to always be a tension. Many skiers either absolutely despise snowboarders (and vice versa), or they try to be snowboarders, stealing fashions they think we’ll miss. The real smart people just don’t care. We can have fun in our respective sports and not disrespect the others. After all, it’s just about having fun, isn’t it?

1 comment:

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