My eyes open slowly to the sight of bright light streaming through my window. The clock next to my bed reads 10:30. It's Sunday, and I'm happy. I jump out of bed overjoyed, not able to contain the smile growing on my face. I have no homework, pancakes are being made downstairs, and best of all, I'm going skiing today. January 26th, the day marked on my calendar since early fall, has come. It is the first day of the season for me and the many other members of the high school ski club. We have that same Christmas morning feeling in our stomachs as other skiers have had much earlier in the season, but the same feeling nonetheless. I rush down the stairs and check Twitter on my phone. "Skiing flow >>>" says a tweet. "GOING SKIING TODAY #stoked" says another. I hastily put my phone down and after shoving five pancakes down my throat I slip into my khaki ski pants, throw on a hoodie, and jump into the car to leave for the hour-long drive to the glorious 30 trail, 1,003 foot vertical mountain awaiting our arrival. Everybody busltes through the rental lines, eager to get their skis and shred the day away. Then they do. The mountain is taken over by the joyous club with groups of teenagers here and there, recognizable by their pizza technique and gaper tuck, not to mention their smiles.
It is a perfect 30 degrees, a very cold day in the short Appalachians, and immediately after clicking into our bindings my group of 4 or 5 guys ventures into the terrain park, usually a foreign land to even the most daring of our club's skiers. After debating who would take the first run, a brave friend agrees to take the plunge first. He takes the left jib line as usual, successfully 50/50-ing two wide boxes before not getting enough speed on the in-run of the small jump and knuckling hard. We all laugh hysterically as we see him hike to the side of the trail to watch the next of us try our hand at the setup. I opt to drop in next. To the amazement of my friends, I take the right jib line, sliding a flat rail and then a rainbow box. On the jump, I grab safety on my right ski and land softly, skiing over to my friend who had crashed before.
He exclaims, "That was sick!" and high fives me.
"Thanks!" I reply happily.
Today is the first day I could show off my newly learned tricks from camp at Liberty Snowflex last summer. I awed them all by rotating 90 degrees onto a box, and then 90 degrees off. They were especially amazed at my ability to ski backwards on my mysterious "twin tips", which they would ask about constantly all the way down to the chairlift, in the long line, onto the chairlift, and while riding the chairlift.
As I try to explain the concept of freeskiing to my friends as we drag up the hill in the "high-speed" 6-chair, I spy a group of park rats standing at the top of the hill; they are about to drop in to the large jump in the advanced terrain park beside the one we had just hit.
"Watch this guy," I tell them (quietly because a middle aged man sitting next to my right is talking on his phone with what sounds like his wife, he is the only other skier on the lift with us).
"Holy moly! What the...?!" The man on the phone shouts after the first park rat jumps "Sorry, this guy just did a funky flip thing on a jump," he tells his wife.
"What was that?" A friend asks me in an astonished voice.
"Cork 7 safety," I tell him as we pass over the other park rats, my friends looking back at them behind their seats, jaws gaping. None of them ask what a cork 7 safety is, but it is clear none of them understand.
"Why is his sweatshirt so long?" another asks.
Needless to say, freeskiing is other-worldly to most Virginians. "Full Tilt" is some sketchy online poker site. "Bobby Brown" is a shitty R&B singer from the 90's that your parents still like for some reason. Newschoolers.com is pretty much unknown (gasp). We think 180's are amazing and Cork 7's leave us downright speechless. By these standards, everyone's jaw will be on the floor once the Olympics roll around and Goepper triples in slope and Wise and Torin throw dub 12's in the pipe. However the highly publicized events in Sochi could help shed light on freeskiing to regions like VA, creating more hype around the sport (Torin is on a damn Pop-Tart for Pete's sake). Consequently people could be inspired to learn more about the sport, like I was last year watching X Games for the first time. Maybe some would be so inspired that they attempt one of these crazy tricks, such as a rail slide. But for now, to someone living in Colorado or Vermont, these southerners are just your average gapers.
But who can blame them? Not because they don't have the means (nobody needs to remind the newschooler that Nick Goepper grew up on the Ohio River and Tom Wallisch in Pittsburgh; they have 4 X Games medals between them), because being a gaper is fun. In his mind, a gaper kills it in the park, "Did you see that?!" he yells back at his friend, stoked on the sweet air he got off that lip before the down rail. A gaper thinks he is a pro racer as he tucks his poles between his arms, almost straight lining right into the SLOW ZONE sign, pissing off the ski patrol guy who gets sprayed in the face by his pizza. The gaper feels like a total bad ass after pissing off the ski patrol guy who gets sprayed in the face by his pizza. But above all, these Virginia gapers are stoked to ski. Stoked to ski any day of the year, through any weather, with any size crowd. January 26th had in store for us half-hour lift lines, grass-riddled slopes, and icy conditions. It was the happiest day any of us had had all year. For every park rat like myself who's mad that they can't land their pretzel 2 off, there is an overjoyed Virginia skier stoked on his stomped straight air. For every northeastern powder hunter wishing they lived out west, there is a Virginian happy to be skiing in 50 degrees and raining. Who can blame these gapers for being excited for the greatest thing someone can do with a hill and a little white stuff? They're skiing, and that's what matters.
So don't hate on this bunch of guys and girls from VA, they have no complaints about where they call home. They love it here and they're stoked to get out and shred regardless of what mother nature throws at them or what some hot shot park rat thinks of them. When they're out there on the hill with the cool mountain air cutting through their Carhartt jackets and camo bandanas as they carve, nothing can bring them down except for the sweet, sweet gravity.