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Would You Mind Carrying This?

In the annals of sandbagging, this one came from the first page of the first chapter of the first sandbagging book ever written. I’d just gotten off the lift at a big western resort, just skied over to the patrol shack, just introduced myself to a patroller/writer I’d had a phone relationship with for years, just said, “Hey, we’ll finally make a run together,” and had just straightened up from buckling my boots when I saw his diminutive figure about a half-mile down the fall line, his short legs pounding through rock-hard bumps like pistons.

There was no question what was unfolding: Through speed, line choice, and lack of waiting, he clearly was throwing down the gauntlet. With aggression and rudeness, he was proving his worth, his manhood, his whatever, and giving me the option of doing the same. “Here we go again,” I thought.

There was only a split second for me to decide what to do. If I was gonna buy into his chest-thumping, macho-posturing, I’d have to hustle. But that seemed silly, pointless, and emblematic of the crotch-first mentality that plagues our society. Far better, at least symbolically, to just ski away, to ignore him, to prove that I was above such petty displays of insecurity and testosterone poisoning.

When it came right down to it, though, the fact is that no matter how much I use my brain, no matter how much I might be inclined to get in touch with my feminine side, I’m still a man driven by basic male instincts. As such, I’ve never ever walked away from someone trying to sandbag me. Even when I’ve gotten spanked, I’ve at least still joined the game. So, like a golden retriever who can’t not play fetch, I responded to the speeding patroller in simple Pavlovian terms: “Stick! Me chase stick!”

Although it’s nice to think otherwise, the fact is that sandbagging is as much as part of skiing (or male skiing, anyway) as snow. Although they might not realize it, most people’s first time on skis is a sandbag: They’re hauled to the top of the hill by their more-experienced buddy or boyfriend, given a few tips on snowplowing, and shoved into the fall line. If that’s not a sandbag, I don’t know what one is.

The most common sandbagging—caused by “stoke blindness”—is innocent: The sandbagger is so excited to show off their home terrain that they can’t see they’re pulling the sandbagger in way over their heads. Less common but extremely prevalent at the upper end of the sport is the “attempted crush,” in which insecure little dweebs (who may or may not be your closest friends) try to prove their superiority.

Whatever the intent, when you’re in the midst of being sandbagged, there are only two rules. One, maintain your dignity. Granted, this can be difficult when you’re, say, out of your league and sliding headfirst on your back through tight trees, as I was during one epic Telluride sand-baggage. But you’re nothing without your dignity. Two, never acknowledge that you’re being sandbagged. Don’t be a victim, victim.

Following the patroller through the bumps, it was all I could do to hang on. The moguls were big, hard, arrhythmic, and irregular. In the name of pride, I felt I had to not only keep up with the patroller but to close the gap. As I linked one recovery after another, I thought, “This is stupid, this is stupid.” If I enjoyed nothing else about the run, I could at least enjoy the irony of knowing that I knew better.

From top to bottom, through bumps and around trees, we charged, one finely tuned machine with a wheezing one close behind. The whole thing was nonstop, as all good sandbags are, and my shaking legs and I were relieved to hit a groomed section just above the lift corral, where I could take some huge breaths and get the rattle out of my breathing. Somehow, when we zipped through the empty corral, I was only 50 feet back. We slid onto a chair. For a while, neither one of us said anything. Then, about the time we got to the first lift tower (and against my better judgment), I cleared my throat and prayed the words wouldn’t come out as an indecipherable croak.

“Nice run,” I said. “Have time for another?”

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 27.2, October 1998. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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