X’d out of the Games
Roy arrived on the bus back to Carbondale in a state of excitement. He and two friends had been invited to appear in a television commercial for the X Games the next day. They were to be taken on shoots, given lunch and VIP passes.
“Well,” I said carefully. “Let’s not count on it. This kind of thing usually doesn’t pan out.”
“Oh?” he said, lifting his chin. He opened his pack, pulled out a commercial contract, and pointed: “I just need your signature.”
That was two years ago. Both of my sons had gone to the X Games – to prevail again at Buttermilk next week – every year, becoming even keener as they reached preteens and teens, the demographic bull’s-eye.
My spouse, who dislikes crowds, bailed after the first year, but I always enjoyed the scene and events, especially hiking up and down the 500-foot ramps alongside the halfpipe. It helped me stay warm, and provided the thrill of seeing the underside of someone’s skis a few feet away as he rocketed 20 feet into the night sky.
Four years ago, I saw 50 Cent perform at the X Games, a highlight, but that year was sort of the beginning of the end for me.
As I’d boarded the shuttle to the games, security people poured out the thermos of hot chocolate I had packed for tromping around in the cold; my only other option was taking it back to my car, which was parked practically in the next county. At Buttermilk, crowds were shoulder-tight, cigarettes smoked in my face, and views elusive from within the throng. Only individuals wearing special passes could enter better, nicer viewing areas.
Worst, the half-pipe ramps had been cordoned off. Though my friend Andrea and I queued up, the proctor cut the line off at our turn, with 40 minutes to wait, standing on the snow.
“Aw, just two more?” I whined.
“You argued with him!” Andrea said afterward, shocked.
Well, I guess I did. You see, I was once in the X Games myself, the summer ones, as a climber. So it felt a little weird to be shut and roped out. I once had a pretty good pass around my neck, too.
The vigilance with which the limited-entry areas were protected made the subsequent occurrence all the more astonishing.
Roy and friends that year were enamored of creeping and slithering into all manner of X Games nooks. They hiked up through trees to the start of the half pipe, receiving high fives from Shaun White before they were discovered and sent grinning back down the hill. They edged, miraculously, into the vast office encampment within the inn at the base of Buttermilk. Roy and two other boys were peeking shyly into a TV studio when the unthinkable happened: they were invited in.
The next day the three were whisked around the mountain, their mission to act as if looking for each other. A few hours later they were released in grand possession of VIP badges.
I drove up that afternoon to fetch them. With temperatures in the teens, I tromped stiffly around on diamond-hard snow slickened by thousands of boots, seeing little, and no one that I knew.
High above me, Roy sat in an armchair in the four-story tower erected above all the arenas, eating from laden trays and viewing the performances. On one side of him blazed a heater, and on the other reclined the beautiful Canadian ski champion Sarah Burke, sleeping.
I texted him. He and friends wanted to stay longer. I texted again: They weren’t ready at all. “It’s the X Games!”
I re-entered the packed Bumps restaurant, searching for a seat; stood in a snaky line for the restroom, where a gray-faced waif next to me swayed and then vomited.
My texts grew insistent, and eventually I collected the boys. That night at home our family watched Shaun White on TV, and saw the commercial, an inventive montage interspersing music and great sports footage with glimpses of Noah, Tanner and Roy all texting and then finding each other.
The next year Roy didn’t go to the X Games, nor did I.
Last month, driving up to ski and passing all the snowblowers blasting the halfpipe and other courses, I reminded Roy of his commercial.
“Yeah, that was my glory day,” he said. “That was it.”
He shook his head, and I knew what he meant.
– “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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