The first part of the problem is that I enjoy flying through the air on a snowboard but I don't practice enough anymore to do it without hurting myself.
The other part of the problem is that I'm unwilling to abandon my flight time altogether, so I satiate myself with the small kiddie jumps.
To make matters worse, all of my gear is at least eight years old and slathered with "C.U.S.T." decals from my days on the University of Colorado Snowboard Team. At first glance, I look like a bad-ass. However, due to my lack of practice and the fact that terrain parks are becoming bigger and crazier every year, I'm starting to feel more like a confused old man who stepped onto a roller coaster thinking it was a bus to the bingo hall.
The question seriously arose when I rode through the terrain park at Snowmass the other week - am I getting too old to do any of this? The first obstacle looked like a standard metal rail - no worries there. I came into it with some speed and hopped on ... Yikes! It was a good thing I was balanced because the rail I slid down was positioned over wooden stairs to mimic a real handrail.
A bit jittery from that surprise, I slipped off the next rail. My butt slammed down on top of it and my guts felt like a sack of potatoes dropped on the floor.
Humbled, I turned off the course and skipped a bunch of metal contraptions I didn't recognize. Soon designers will be adding lava pits to give freeriders that extra thrill and little room will be left for intermediates.
The biggest hazard to my health is that I'm still good enough to do some tricks well. I got my confidence back near the bottom of the run ... and then face-planted from a high handrail.
"Ooof. I'm 30 years old, all right," I mumbled to myself in a daze, rubbing my jaw.
I looked at the monstrous jumps and realized I will probably never be good enough to enjoy them again. Still not content to keep my board out of the air, I sought out the little jumps set up for 5-year-olds. Standing in the mix of tiny-tot snowboard lessons, all decked out in CUST stickers, I towered over their hard-shelled bobble heads. I might as well have had racing stripes with a "#1" printed on my helmet. The two instructors looked at me quizzically as they explained the basics of hang time to their students.
One by one, the flock of kiddos hopped six inches into space from the lip of each bump. I started losing patience when another class came up. It looked like I might not get a turn.
"Mind if I get in here?" I asked the instructor. The look on his face suggested, "What the heck are you doing here?"
I'll tell you what I was doing there. Small jumps are key for honing technique. I wanted to practice my backside 180, switch 360 and cab 540.
I dropped in and started spinning. I landed everything clean - which translated into a lot of speed at the end - and I had to make a sharp turn to avoid the group of kids sitting in the way.
"Take it easy!" the instructor yelled.
My first thought was that it wasn't responsible to have those kids sit in the jump line. They should not have been there. Then it hit me - maybe I should not have been there.
What am I to do (besides get rid of those stickers that add to my embarrassment)? I'm not good enough to do the radical stuff, but I'm too radical to do the little stuff? Suddenly I'm not so welcome in a place I know so well.
Is it so bad for a grown man to have the joy of a child?
Society seems to think so.
- "Open Space" appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.