We had all gone to summer camp together to paddle canoes, play baseball and run races. We had also slept under the stars on out trips by the warmth of roaring fires. Now we had assembled, all these years later, to resume our common affection for the sport of skiing and more importantly, for each other.
Still, as I stood at the summit, I noticed the wind was whipping at Big White and a biting mist speckled my ski goggles reducing visibility to the bare minimum. It was cold, my boots were too tight and I, unlike all of the others, had no helmet.
I was scared out of my wits!
But as one of the senior members of our crew pushed off with a grin as wide as the cat that ate the canary, he looked back and shouted out some last second advice.
“Point those tips to the bottom boys,” boomed my friend, “Big Al.” “And if you can’t put on the brakes just yell, ‘I’m coming in hot!’ Then hope like hell that everyone else gets out of the way!”
He was off and the rest of us followed.
Mike, the youngest, danced nimbly. “Newdy” veered to the right in search of fresh powder amongst the trees. He doesn’t say much, but I had a sneaking suspicion that he was the most competitive of our gang members.
Geoff who is dubbed “The Silver Surfer,” crouched low on his snowboard and like a rocket began to chase after “Big Al.” The most stylish may have been Ian. We call him “Easy,” which is a reflection of the effortless tendencies he exhibits on snow.
Billy is the professor I spoke of earlier. He claimed that he hadn’t put on a pair of skis in 25 years. As I watched him sweep by, carving out expert turns, I knew that he had been “sandbagging” us but also that he had always been a gifted and natural athlete.
Meantime, I kept the prime mover of this unlikely reunion, and my best friend of 37 years, Tim, close at hand. Wherever he went I traced his route and at times, I drew alongside. He would flash a wicked smile and urge me on, pretending to race me, as was the case when we were cabin mates all those years ago.
It was all rolled up in that feeling of finding my form as well as the imaginary finish line at the bottom of the hill. The others were waiting expectantly - none daring to take the chair up until all of us were safely down.
And then there was the customary post-run analysis.
“Hey, I almost had a yard sale in the chute!” Mike admitted. “Did you see the big air I got on the last jump?” Tim asked.
“I felt just like Hermann Maier!” I roared, in a fake Austrian accent. They all threw back their heads and laughed, patting me on the back. Instantly, I had a new nickname and they called me “Hermannator” for the duration.
At night, we ate and drank together as if it were the old days. Each of us took turns bragging about our talent and even sometimes, quietly reflecting on the shape our lives had taken - our families, the economy or the state of our health.
We didn’t watch any sports on TV over the course of our five days at Big White - nothing beyond our own performances and that of our teammates carried much meaning … not the Super Bowl, the Raptors or even the Leafs.
Most evenings we retired early in our chalet by the mountain - a more palatial affair than the ones we inhabited as kids on the shores of Gull Lake. Nevertheless, some of us slept in bunk beds and familiar chuckles relating to juvenile toilet humour serenaded our impending slumber.
The mist and wind of that first day were soon replaced by a brilliant sunshine that bathed the mountain in subliminal warmth. I purchased a black helmet and pasted a sticker on it, which pictured a skull and crossbones as well as the caption, “Bad to the Bone!”
“Now you even look like The Hermannator,” “Easy” proclaimed, as he led the charge down a challenging run known as Kalina’s Rainbow.
The value of our adventure became crystal clear as I wove my way with abandon through my very best friends on that magnificent descent. All of us were moving at high speeds and we were full of the joy of youth because we were still able to carry it off without killing or maiming ourselves.
We understood we were safe in the company of each other while pursuing a thrill that only sport can offer.
To me, it was sufficient to quiet the chaos going on in my brain and it allowed my heart to race.
It was enough to enlighten me and illuminate the big picture at Big White.
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