Starting potentially dangerous sports when you’re young never seems like an issue. I remember the first time I went snowboarding when I was 25. Ten complete newbies heading up mountain in Andorra with absolutely no idea what bindings were, let alone how to get down a mountain on a piece of fibreglass and wood.
Didn’t even seem like an issue though. One of our friends had done it a few times before, he could show us how to do it, it couldn’t be that hard. It looked pretty easy on all the videos we loosely watched online anyway. It’s only snow.
For three days a bunch of idiotic youngsters fell off chair lifts, smashed into hard snow, shot down slopes with only a vague understanding of how to turn, and basically just hurt themselves. It was fun though. We tried jumps, we did switch without the vaguest understanding of which way we were meant to go down the mountain. I even fell into a bunch of people lined up doing a lesson and knocked them over like a set of dominoes. Yep, we were those people. The frat house clowns without a care in the world. We were annoying, dangerous, and pretty stupid. Apologies if you were there.
For the next few years I got more confident. I picked up speed, tried a few ballsy runs on a couple of pints of Wiese beer and hurt myself a fair bit. I came home with various bruises, a few good stories and the confidence to go up and try harder the following year. I should point out here that I’ve never actually been very good at snowboarding. The grand total of all the falls and risky attempts at getting better haven’t amounted to much save for an ability to get down a mountain with a modicum of dignity. I still loved it though. The enjoyment pulling a curtain of ignorance over my feeble skills.
That was a few years ago now. I haven’t actually been snowboarding for a couple of years. However a recent trip to Chamonix marked a mental shift in my ability to snowboard, one that I now remember began creeping in a few years ago.
Where once I’d head down a mountain with a sense of confidence to try things out, now there’s something in the back of my mind telling me to be careful. Sure, I’m a pretty sensible person. Even when I was 25 I was smart enough to be careful, but I’d still take a few risks. I may not have tried to break a speed record near a sheer drop, but I wouldn’t be worried about falling over. Now I am. As I head down the mountain picking up speed, something in the back of my mind keeps telling me to slow down a bit. Because now I am worried about falling over. Now I’m thinking about the fact I have an important meeting on Monday morning or I’m playing Tennis on Thursday. I even read insurance documents before I go to understand what I’m covered for. Just in case. Jeez, what have I become.
And it’s not that the fears and responsibilities stop me having fun. It just means my fun has changed. Where once I enjoyed a snowboard trip to see how far I could push myself, now I actually like the scenery. Now I like to stop and take a few photos then head to some mid-level bar for a beer and a pretzel. Stuff that my 25 year-old self would shake his head at before disappearing through some tree line and falling head first into a log.
To be honest, up until now the idea the of enjoying snowboarding without acting like some sort of crazed thrillseeker has never really crossed my mind. I always thought that there would be a point where I just stopped. Although I didn’t think that would be until I got much older – definitely not 34. And now I think about it, it’s not just snowboarding, this responsible stream of thinking is cropping up everywhere: running, fitness, work. I’m apparently becoming more sensible about risk. It’s just a lot more prevalent when you’re heading down a mountain with the possible risk of serious injury.
I have no idea how much longer I’ll enjoy snowboarding for. Maybe I’ll get to the point in five years where I’m heel edging down a mountain at three miles per hour wearing a grands worth of protective body armour. Maybe then I should probably stop.
Picture Credits: Kim Cook