Published March 5, 2010
I am a very lucky person, my recent broken back notwithstanding.
Twelve years ago I joined the Yellowstone Club in Montana as the Director of Skiing. Nine years ago we started building our dream home on the side of a ski run here. I lie in my bed between drug injections and watch skiers and snowboarders sliding by within 100 feet of our bedroom window. I’m lucky enough to look out the window of my upstairs office, right at the Big Sky ski resort and see skiers and snowboarders moving down the south side of it. The mountain is one of the best in North America and is full of ski lifts.
I’m five weeks into the curative process and every day is new and better. I admit I’m getting tired of sleeping as much as 17 hours a day, but the doctors say, “That is part of the healing process. One week for every day in the hospital.” That’s a long time to be feeling punk…but my wife says I can’t whine anymore!
The night that Laurie helped me check into the hospital I said, “This is not fatal, it is curable and I will be better tomorrow.” I know I might not get out on my skis again before the lifts shut down for the winter, but hey, the day after I broke my back and couldn’t ski, that was my first missed day of skiing due to a ski accident since my first day of skiing in 1937. That’s a pretty good safety record for over 60 years of traveling the world with a camera and skis.
As I fade in and out of sleep, I recall stories that will now be included in the biography that Mort Lund is writing with me. I wanted to have it finished by this spring, but so far together we’ve only written the first nine years and I have yet to do my editing. It has been a fabulous life so far. Whenever I recall an incident the folds of my brain open up and I can recall a month or two of what happened on each side of it.
I recalled my three-and-a-half year, World War II Navy career and thought about the 24 hours we spent in the South Pacific, fighting a hurricane in a 110-foot wooden hulled sub chaser. I wrote a couple of pages about it and someone suggested I write in more detail. The end result was 46 pages of howling winds, mountainous seas, poor damage control and eventual safety aboard another vessel in our same convoy.
During the recent Olympic TV coverage, my brain switched to my career of speed skating in high school. When I was a senior, the Los Angeles evening newspaper, The Herald Examiner, was holding championship finals. That was the year that I paid a hard-earned $28 for a pair of custom made speed skates with offset blades and trained twice a week at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Unfortunately, a month before the event I fell while training and it took 12 stitches to put my kneecap back together. Two weeks before the race I went to a ballet costume store on Hollywood Boulevard and laid down $4.50 for a pair of black ballet tights. Everyone laughed when I appeared on the ice for my event where I managed to qualify for the “B” division. The race lasted about a dozen laps in which I finished third and never skated again. I had just entered college, the war with Japan was three months old, and all I really wanted to do was go surfing. I registered for the draft and then wisely entered a Navy officers’ training program, getting three semesters of college and a commission as an ensign.
I’m rambling, as Laurie says, “Beware because he changes his mind at the drop of a syllable and never ruins a good story with the absolute truth.” I don’t really have to tell the absolute truth anymore because most of the people in the stories have been dead for a decade anyway. Who really cares whether the rope tow broke on Saturday or Sunday? We missed a day of skiing and can never get that one back. About a week after that rope tow broke is when I bought 160 acres at Mammoth Mountain, sight unseen, over the telephone. The first time I visited the property I found out it had the biggest earthquake fault in the county. But that’s another story for another time.