Finding the Joy in Skiing with the US Snowboard Team – by Mike Alkaitis
Last week I had the pleasure of skiing with a few members of the US Snowboard Halfpipe Team (Coach Rick Bower and riders Matt Ladley, Gretchen Bleiler, and Ellery Hollingsworth). I was invited by the Team Physician; Tom Hackett, M.D. from the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, CO. Tom failed to mention we would be skiing with the team members (I was skiing as I am terrible on a snowboard). I arrived at the base of the gondola for first tracks at Vail to both a great surprise and opportunity. The next few hours were inspirational and helped me rediscover the joy of skiing.
My initial apprehension at riding with the team quickly dissipated as I realized they were all here to have fun and enjoy a few hours on the mountain together. I followed the team down our “warm up run” (Matt hit 68 mph). I was mesmerized by the ease and fluidity with which the riders moved. I noticed how they would pop off any little roller, bump or cat track. They did not do this to show off or draw attention to themselves, but simply to have fun. They would throw tricks when they wanted (which were quite impressive) but more noteworthy was that they were simply enjoying the experience. They were just out having fun with their friends.
Rick started a contest with Matt to see who could do the best donut carve (make a full carving circle on the snow). This inspired Matt and after they each pulled back side, switch donut carves, I was utterly amazed. Gretchen and Ellery simply flowed down the slopes and enjoyed making the entire mountain their play area. They hopped onto the sides, pulled floating 360’s and found the most elegant lines to ride. They did this all while chatting and catching up on life with one another. They were amazing and inspiring to watch.
During the morning I found myself letting go a bit. I went off the rollers, caught a bit of air off the cat tracks (no 360’s for me), tried to complete a donut carve and kept a huge smile on my face the entire time. I noticed Dr. Hackett enjoying the same freedom on the mountain. We must have looked like a bunch of kids on a snow day from school because that’s what it felt like.
It was inspirational to ride with this group and I cannot thank them enough for helping me find my inner child on the slopes again. I always enjoy skiing, but sometimes get caught up in thoughts like, “I wish the snow was better.” Doug Coombs said it best, “There is no such thing as bad snow, simply bad skiers.” It was great to take a step back and remember that even if the snow is “bad” we are still sliding down the hill with sticks on our feet and that is FUN.
I was able to ski fresh powder at Vail the next weekend with my son Oz and a few of his buddies. It was great to take the energy I got from skiing with the team to my son and his friends. According to them we had the “BEST DAY EVER,” and I am inclined to agree. It wasn’t simply because the conditions were great that we had “the best day ever,” it was because we were out there to have fun and enjoy the act of skiing together. We had smiles on our faces for the entire weekend and enjoyed every aspect of the skiing and camaraderie. The great attitude from the US Snowboard Team members carried over to my next ski outing. I plan to carry it on for the rest of the season and beyond! Here is a clip from “the best day ever!”
Have fun and be safe out there,
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