Yesterday, I took my snowboard & boots down to the Play It Again to see if I could trade them in for a pair of cross country skis.
I started snowboarding when I was fifteen, on one of our then-yearly family ski trips to Colorado. Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, Parents and Siblings all packed into a small rental condo for a few days, half of us sleeping on couches, every TV blaring a different station at all hours, four people trying to make a sandwich in the one-butt kitchen, three people arguing over politics and religion, someone always bundling up to hit the lifts or shops, grandfather snoring through it all, sunk deep and oblivious in an easy chair. I escaped the chaos at a tucked-away diner halfway between the condo and the slopes, the only cheap place to eat in a tourist trap of a town. I'd order cheese blintzes and hot cocoa and sit at the end of the bar watching the ebb and flow of regulars. This was where all the ski-school instructors came through after work. This is where all the raccoon eyed mountain bums inhaled black coffee and a bagel before hitting lifts. This is where it dawned on me that skiing is not what the cool kids do.
It is hard to get good at something one only does once a year. But I tried hard. I took lessons and then rode the mountain until I could hardly stand up. At night, I would soak in the hot tub, slip into a painful coma on my assigned couch, struggle awake before dawn to limp down to the lifts as the opening line formed. I nodded nonchalantly at knots of snowboarders in the lift line, copying their mannerisms, the way they wore their goggles, the way they surfed into the lift chute like they owned it. I tried to make eye contact with them, drinking my morning coffee at the diner waiting for the lifts to open. I pretended not to know my family of loud, embarrassingly inept skiers falling over one another, plowing into strangers while shooting home-video, sporting glaring neon bibs from another era. The snowboarders never gave me a second look.
When I was nineteen, we took our last family vacation to the mountains. On the third day, I caught an edge and slammed down hard, spiral-cracking the long bone of my left foot. I finished the run and did another, teeth clenched, before finally admitting defeat. I spent the rest of the winter on crutches. The next year, I got a snowboard and boots on sale in the spring, hoping desperately that ownership might be my ticket in. I have hauled that board with me from Chicago to Alaska to Utah to Texas and now back north again. In those six years, I have ridden it down a mountain once.
Now we live in the Interior of Alaska, on the edge of a town sporting a thousand miles of cross country trails. Half a mile from our cabin, cars line the road on the weekends, loading and unloading sleds, skis, snow machines and dogs. The sun is back and life here is good. The trials beckon. They are, after all, much of why we came.
But when I hauled my board and boots onto the counter at Play It Again, something inside me broke. That snowboard was my ticket, unredeemed. And I was about to scalp it for some skis. Why is it so hard to let go of a dream that never had any substance? I have never been a snowboarder, and I have certainly never been one of the cool kids.
But I do know what these things are worth. When they offered me less than a third of the value of my gear, I walked back out and put them up on Craigslist instead. Maybe some young girl will stumble on the listing, and learn to surf into the cool crowd like an old pro.
Ultimately, these are the facts: The board is beginning to rust. Skis will see a lot more snow. And given the propensity skis have for trails, they may actually help me get somewhere.