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How did I end up here?

Neil Smith

United States

About ten seconds passed between the moment I thought I was a competent skier and the moment I had to question how I dug myself into the side of double black ski run near Salt Lake City. In these ten seconds, I chose to avoid an exposed rock and that choice had the consequence of falling down the mountain head over toe. Snow never seemed so soft.
I’m sure if you grow up around skiing, someone teaches you how to to stop yourself on a steep slope if you find yourself without your skis. But no one I know skis. I come from the middle of the U.S., somewhere between 12 hours to a plane ride away from the nearest mountain. The only intermediate lessons I’ve experienced were through ski magazines and movies, and the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it is infinitely better to be a local than to be an outsider.
I’m not qualified to pinpoint where the conflict is between locals and visitors, but I have always noticed that local skiers and snowboarders range between the nicest and the most closed-off people I’ve met. Since it is a range though, I’ve always tried to camouflage my outsider status until it comes up naturally. This particular day was the day I stood out as a non-local. I made what I consider to be one of the biggest rookie mistakes of them all: I didn’t zip my jacket and my phone slipped from my pocket above a run I wasn’t ready to ski down.
So, here I am tumbling down the mountain trying to recover instead looking for my phone. I’m way above my technical skill level, digging my heels into the side of the mountain, and I finally stop with one ski 25 feet above me with and another ski 25 feet below me. The phone remains nowhere to be found.
While I provided the entertainment for the lift’s continuously cycling onlookers, I could not help to feel a pang. There was an actual sharp abdominal spasm from the climbing, absolutely. There was rush of embarrassment for looking like a non-local in front of a host of people. There was also an feeling of accomplishment because, despite the fall, I was skiing better than I’ve ever skied before. As I slid pack to the base of the mountain, I understood the pride locals have and I’m envious that they endure these unglamorous and real things seasons to season. In those ten seconds of helplessly falling, I experienced something that everyone who considers themselves a local has already done more than once. I experienced something at least local-ish.

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