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Forever Youngish: Snowboarding in Big Bear, California

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

In regards to how I wear my pants, I do not take fashion cues from plumbers. I have never played a TV-delivered video game other than Pong; I have only visited YouTube to research conspiracy-theory documentaries; and I do not have a Facebook profile or hang out with people who do. I find the bubble-headed starlets and their debauched exploits sad and
tedious, not fascinating and worthy of examination. I have never referred to something that happened mere weeks ago as “back in the day,” nor do I think that last year’s model of anything should be called “old school.” When recounting a previous conversation, I prefer to use a construction such as “Then he said, ‘No, that’s not true,'” rather than “So he was all like ‘Ain’t that the truth, bro.'” I am not generally considered a stick in the mud, however, and I have more than a handful of years before AARP starts courting me. Yet I am no longer a kid, not as spry as I used to be, not as resilient and not as bold.

So why did I recently find myself strapped to a snowboard?

Fifteen years before this latest foray into the chilly realm of baggy clothes and “boarding,” I had sampled the sport at Grande Targhee Resort in Wyoming. I was an expert downhill snow skier at the time, and I was so humbled – and embarrassed and bruised and stiffly sore – by my boarding experience that I returned the rented board, clicked into my skies and entered a race, just to stoke my purpling ego. For what it’s worth, I won a silver medal.

I never considered snowboarding again until I made a winter visit to Big Bear, California, just a few hours east of my home. Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, this small mountain town is a primary escape hatch for Los Angelenos who are trapped in traffic, smog or the workings of their daily lives. The outdoor recreational options are numerous, and I intend to pursue many of them, now that I’ve reacquainted myself with the region. RVers will find more abundant camping options during the summer and shoulder seasons, but Big Bear can accommodate RVers looking for winter fun.

And fun I was about to have. Or so I tried to convince myself as I headed toward the lesson area of Snow Summit, one of two resorts that are collectively known as Big Bear Mountain Resorts. Yet if grins and giggles were on the agenda, why did I feel such apprehension? Was it the fact that, along with my boots and board, I also carried a helmet?
Was it the fact that my back is bad, and memories of all that long-ago Wyoming face-planting and tailbone thumping seemed not to jibe with the chiropractor’s directives? Or, in addition to lost hair and limberness, had I simply gotten old and was afraid to admit it? Or was I simply afraid?

Nick Conte, the Snow Summit Ski School instructor assigned that morning to teach the beginners’ class, immediately allayed my discomfort. He did not call me Pops, make reference to a Kanye West lyric or point out that I was likely
more than twice as brittle as my fellow students, if age and fragility are directly proportional. I had been told that Snow Summit’s instructors are first-rate, and Nick easily lived up to the billing. He began at the very beginning – showing us how to set down our boards so they wouldn’t escape, demonstrating the proper stance and, after telling us we would do plenty of falling, revealing the proper way to greet the snow, both fore and aft. Not yet connected to our boards, we practiced falling. Then walking with one boot in the binding. Downhill, then up. There was method to Nick’s meticulous madness, and I would soon appreciate his bag of tricks.

Because I couldn’t get up. I hadn’t fallen, so I can’t even use that joke, but there I was, struggling to reach the rail of my board so that I could hoist myself forward with one hand while pushing off the snow with the other. I huffed and I puffed, and I almost blew myself right off the hill and into the lodge, because I obviously had contracted some debilitating ailment that morning, something dire and most likely beyond the scope of modern medicine, since I’d become decrepit overnight. Nick – who, as far as I know, is not a doctor – prescribed a different technique, and I was soon standing. This upright position allowed me to progress through the rest of our paces without mishap, and we students were soon riding the chair up, up … okay, it’s the beginners’ chair, so elevation gain is minimal. The slope we would soon attempt to conquer turned out to be perfect.

My board was painted black and had some ominous reference to shredding on it, though no mention of Fawn Hall and Oliver North. Or was it thrashing? Anyway, I neither shredded nor thrashed but did manage to make my way down the hill in short spurts, as Nick instructed, negotiating the gentle slope both forward and backward. Unlike my Wyoming instructor, Nick imparted a technique for beginners that saved us undue and violent contact with the snow: the falling leaf. Instead of traversing across the mountain, then attempting to keep the front of our boards in front of us by turning our bodies and boards, we simply let the front of our boards turn slightly uphill, then reversed our course, leading with the rear of our boards. This simple tip allowed me to maneuver down the slope time and again without a single fall. I did as well as anyone in the lesson. I felt good about my progress – and almost felt young again.

After the lesson, however, I took a few runs on my own. I tried a real turn, and I splatted hard on my backside. At that moment, I was like very old school, bro.Man wearing green shirt and glasses sitting against truck bumper

For more information:

Big Bear Lake Resort Association, (800) 4-Big-Bear, www.bigbear.com.

Big Bear Mountain Resorts, (800) BEARMTN, www.bigbearmountainresorts.com

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