Check Before You Wreck

ben kindlon

A looming dark gray-filled the sky overhead. Teamed with strong winds and a temperature well below freezing, I was feeling less than confident as I strapped up.  I was at Jay Peak, Vt, with my girlfriend at the time, and had just split up from her to go and take some park laps while she went to warm up with some hot chocolate in the Tram Haus Lodge.

Icy conditions are customary in the life of an East Coast rider.  Infamously known for their ability to acclimate, I felt I needed to play my part as an Ice Coast ripper, and go big despite the frigorific kicker lips and frozen-over landings. Go big or get out, right?

Well, lesson learned, sometimes it’s better to just get out.

I hit each feature in the park without a problem, blowing my ego well past the point of confidence, entering the realm of cockiness.  Up until the last jump, I was conscious of taking off and landing on the flat base of the bottom of my board, careful to avoid catching an edge on the slippery ice.  After hitting every trick in the line I had planned from the top of the run, I got ahead of myself, thinking I was Torstein Horgmo status.

The last jump, about a 25-foot gap with around a three-second hang-time was positioned at the end of the park with its landing leading back to the chairlift line.  This makes it a classic “Hollywood” or “money-shot” kicker, allowing the skier or rider to show off for everyone in line for and on the lift.

I got myself in line, and watched the two riders before me hit straight-airs over the gap (no spin or grab).  Being the arrogant, 14-year-old little shit that I was, I smirked and made the point to one-up them both.

To signal my drop, I raised my green-jacketed arms to touch my black mittens together above my head. Grabbing the rim of my resting on my forehead, I positioned them down around my soon to be watering eyes. I took off toward the jump without another second’s hesitation.

Picking up speed, I could feel the fierce, nasty wind slicing against my unprotected cheeks.  My board slid over the hard-packed, icy ground like Frank Zamboni’s ice-resurfacing machine over the Ranger’s hockey rink.

The lip of the jump was just before my eyes; it was time to take off.  I wound my shoulders up for a spin, and carved back my board for proper rotation. I came off the lip, but with no rotation.

Next thing I know, I’m flying 10 feet over the Earth’s white, snow-covered surface. Unfortunately, the next thing I realized was that my feet were far from under me.  The position I took in the air was reminiscent to a position Homer Simpson would take on his couch after a few too many Duffs.  My butt was down with my legs stretched out in front of me like they were resting on an ottoman.

Time slowed like the sandman just hit the switch from the “bunny-rabbit” to the “turtle” setting.

All of a sudden, I heard, and felt, the snap. Coming down on the “knuckle” of the landing ramp, is one of the greatest fears a park rider has to deal with.  The knuckle is the part of the landing where it rolls into a down ramp for the rider or skier to land on, after clearing the flat, which is the gap.  Coming up short and landing on knuckles is a good way to tear your ACL, bruise your heels, or wreck your back from compression stress.

I hit the landing’s frigid, impenetrable knuckle full force.  And I didn’t stomp down on it with my boots, but instead, on my tip of my tailbone.

Needless to say, I was pretty much done for the season.  I went from wrapping up a mediocre trip with sights set on the next powder day, to not being able to sit without squealing like a dying pig.

Ever since taking that fall I’ve had a mental block when it comes to hitting big jumps. I spent what felt like hours replaying the fall over and over again in my head, totally psyching myself out for seasons to come.  Whenever I was faced with a big jump, I opted out and went to jib metal instead. Although my rail-game dramatically improved, I lost the aptitude I had originally possessed on jumps and failed to regain it for a number of years.  To be honest, it’s still not really where it was before that confidence-wrenching ass smack.

Injuries tend to be a turn off, but it’s important to not let a slam deter you from the ultimate goal of progressing.

This response to injuries is a relevant approach to every day life.  If something gets you down, you don’t let it keep you down.  That’s when it’s time to overcome.

Now when I fall (if I can still get back up and keep riding), I make a point to repeat that trick until I land it again.  It’s similar to the idea of not going to sleep when you’re still in a fight with your partner.  If the last thought I have of doing a kickflip is rolling my ankle, I hesitate to pop one next time I’m skating.  So I make it a point to end the day landing that shit bolts, so when I come back to shred I know what I’m capable of and am able to repeat it.

I learned this trick from a buddy of mine, a SUNY New Paltz alum, Wes Hoen, who has been a rock climber for more than nine years. A couple years back, Hoen missed his crash pad after falling from a boulder in the Shawangunk Mountain Range, snapping both of his ankles on impact. He was bedridden for at least two months, but still remained optimistic and eager to climb.  Once healed, Hoen returned to the same boulder, confronting the ankle-breaking slab of rock head on.  He sent that route and conquered a mental block would have been destructive to his overall prowess and progression as a climber.

Snowboarding, like most sports, is about pushing yourself and extending your own comfort zone. As important as it is to push yourself, don’t go so hard that you get hurt.  Ride for you, not the other kids in the park, and not for the gapers watching you from the lift.  It’s a lot cooler to have fun and ride the way that makes you happy than it is to try and show off.

No one has fun with a kid who has to chill on a donut.

Until next time — East Coast, beast coast.  Later skaters.