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Straight Priorities

It was the trickle of cold rain that snuck in my collar and rolled like an ice cube between my shoulder blades that convinced me that trying to ski West Virginia at Christmastime was a stupid idea. This wasn’t the first notion I had that something might have been amiss. The puddle on the chair, the fog, the rocks, the muddy slopes, and the sepia snow—each had made me pause for a second in contemplation. But that rain down the back, that was the kicker that told me I wasn’t simply an optimist, I was just plain dumb.

I had good intentions. It was Christmas, a rare visit to the East Coast, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to ski with friends at the old stomping grounds of scenic Snowshoe, West Virginia. How could I—Snowshoe was where I jetted to when the demands of college were too great. It was the site of my first turns, of legendary crashes, mythic hangovers, epic losses and occasional Pyrrhic victories on the battlefield of love. Too, Snowshoe was where I spent the spring break that I punted on a book report on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which led to my failing sociology, which led to my changing majors from business to journalism, which led to that little job at the New York Times, the Pulitzer Prize, fame, fortune, and, of course, this job.

So you see, I had sentimental reasons for going back to Snowshoe.

I was practically the only one willing to go. Dave, who’d been making turns by my side for so many years, said he had to alphabetize his albums. And Chip: golly, but he had to detail the cat’s litter box. Only Scott would go, blessed Scott, who was a rabid intermediate, undaunted by wind or rain or threat of slush.

So we steadfastly headed off into the night in my parents’ Ford LTD station wagon. It rained the whole way out of Washington, across the Blue Ridge, the Alleghenys, and into the Appalachians. It rained on the access road. It rained halfway up the mountain. Would it be snowing at the summit complex? Of course not.

And the next day it drizzled, and there I was, sitting in a puddle on a triple chair, feeling sorry for myself and feeling pretty darn stupid, too, when I started eavesdropping on the two guys sitting next to me.

They must have been about 25 or 26, and they were dressed in jeans and windbreakers—soaked, of course—and, as I noticed getting on the lift, each had a tin of chewing tobacco wedged into a back pocket, the bleached denim moon evidence of many a dip of Red Man. They were good ol’ boys, and their drawl was from somewhere south, way south. The far Carolina, it turned out, and they’d driven 16 hours to ski at Snowshoe.

“Man, did you see the air I got off the bump?! I musta had 10 feet. Haw! Haw!”

“Yeah, but you landed on yer head!”

“I know! Haw! Hey, this is great skiing, huh?”

“Yeah, way too good to go home already. One day’s not enough.”

“No way.”

They were silent for a minute, ruminating. The first one spoke up.

“Let’s not go back. Let’s stay another day! If we skip dinner we’ll have enough for another lift ticket. Think we’d get fired if we missed a day of work?”


“Let’s do it!”

“Yeah! Haw! Haw!”

The chair deposited us at the summit a few minutes later, and the boys madly pushed off into the mist. I stood there for a second watching them go, then glanced at the warm lodge, back at them, back at the lodge. I heard a whoop and holler as they disappeared, and that was all it took. I zipped my collar up tight and skated off after them.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 19.6, February 1991. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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