Column
January 14, 2015

The Mountain Journal: A ski buddy: friends and buddies on the mountain

By Tony Crespi

The two young skiers boarding the chairlift were smiling. Then everything changed. As my wife Cheryl and I moved through the final turn in the maze and prepared to load, we observed that the young man on the second seat seemed awkwardly balanced as the chair moved up and away. As the chair rapidly gained altitude, he suddenly began slipping as he attempted to grasp the seat encompassing the outer frame. As we watched this awkward moment, the lift attendant quickly hit the stop mechanism, halting the lift while also creating a lurching action as the massive chair ground to a halt. Still, the young man suddenly and inescapably lost his grip, dropping some 12 to 15 feet to the soft snow below. As onlookers gasped with worry, his partner leaped to offer assistance, screaming out, “I’m coming, buddy!”

We heard one woman shriek!

As the attendants scrambled to help both young men, who, fortunately, appeared embarrassed but free of injury, the crowd smiled. Watching the two youths brush away the soft snow and pick up their scattered gear, I contemplated the various “ski buddies” I’ve skied with over the years. Like many who spend time skiing and riding in the mountains, I’ve enjoyed a fair share of ski partners. Understand, as a young man I lived for a time in the high alpine in Colorado, skiing virtually daily and often hiking, as part of a four-man team, for deep powder. Those partners, fortunately, were strong and knowledgeable, and we enjoyed many days together in the high country. Since that time, I’ve enjoyed a vast array of ski partners. Watching the two young men tramp away from the lift toward the lodge, it was clear that partnerships on the mountain can vary markedly.

I’ve seen travel partner nightmares. Some partners can’t balance their speeds. Others disagree on terrain. Sometimes one partner looks frigidly cold while other is hoping for another run. Some partners savor the quiet, while others seem to crave ear buds and loud music. Truly, not all mountain partnerships are ideal.

In many cases, speed, terrain, and snow conditions can make or break the day and the shared adventure. A year ago, skiing with a group led by former Olympian Pam Fletcher, I was the slow guy. While Pam tactfully suggested that given my skills there was no apparent reason I could not easily ski faster–even on the slick double black diamond we were enjoying–I knew that as an aftermath of a serious injury suffered years ago, if I ski too fast I invariably will crash. My solution? I suggested the group enjoy a few high speed runs without me and that we meet for lunch.

With Olympic racers I’m not embarrassed to be the slow guy.

Ideally, of course, solid friendships and solid ski partnerships can last decades. As illustration, a few years past I journeyed West with my long time ski friend Keith Morris–a southern New England black-diamond skier with whom I have enjoyed countless annual, weekly escapes during the course of my work as a ski writer. While this was his sole Western escape–a special trip we enjoyed before staggering health issues began to erode his ability to ski–we realized that we have enjoyed a rare balance as friends and skiers. Reflecting on our adventures, as we sat in a mid-mountain outdoor “ice bar,” we recalled figure 8s we’d cut in fresh powder here in New England, and we joked about several weeks when we had counted some 100,000 feet of vertical.

Still, seeing one friend jump out the chair to join his buddy took my breath.

Watch the groups on the mountain. Who hasn’t seen one friend waiting for another? Who hasn’t waited–or rushed–to catch a partner or group? Who hasn’t wanted to ski one trail while a partner preferred another? Who hasn’t wished to stop earlier or later than a partner? In truth, finding an ideal ski partner isn’t always about matching comparable skills. Sometimes speed is key. Sometimes it’s not!

Sometimes it’s the dialogue. Mulling this over recently–and watching the two mountain climbers on El Capitan in California–I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that finding an ideal ski partner–like finding an ideal partner in life–is part luck. In truth, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve enjoyed a great many ski partners. Some relationships, such as virtually every escape with my wife, Cheryl, have thrived. When the partnership is right, it’s more than about the snow. I’ve skied powder with my wife. And ice. On one escape with my friend Keith we saw a sign above a trail we’d not skied, marked by the mountain as “unique.” Indeed, what was “unique snow?” We didn’t know. But he smiled, and I started down the trail.

Buddy! I’m coming!

As you plan your escapes this winter, may you and your ski partner–your ski buddy–enjoy a good day. On and off the mountain. In my case–and my wife’s–we’ll not quickly forget the young skier who leaped off the chair to help his buddy. In their case, it was most fortunate that no one was injured. No one hurt. Of course, we don’t know what they thought that day. I do know, though, that I admired their caring and their friendship. I could see the camaraderie. This winter, may you and your ski buddy enjoy your adventures. Savor the powder. Savor your lunch together. Savor the memories. From that first run, to your last run.

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