A defining moment with Seor Fuentes | VailDaily.com

A defining moment with Seor Fuentes

Scott Willoughby

Seor Fuentes was visibly restless. “My greatest fear in life is to become dull,” he said.How could you become dull?”I am uncertain exactly, but there appears to be no shortage of ways. People seem more dull these days.”It’s all this marriage business, settling down.”Perhaps that is a part. But I know some very stimulating couples, and the most self-absorbed individuals who bore me to no end. I suppose it depends upon what excites you.”I considered it for a moment. Seor and I had shared the greatest of adventures, each more exciting than the last, or so it seemed in my mind. But in between those epics, it often felt as if what once was exhilarating became suddenly blas. Like graduating from cerveza to tequila, then sobriety.It is the cycle, I decided. At a certain point, it becomes a matter of what scares you least. For most, dullness is not a rational fear.But then, Senor Fuentes is not like most. His indulgences are unique, and I felt privileged whenever I could accompany him on his quest. Particularly given my own history of close calls.Perhaps they are part of the reason we still seek one another’s company, however. We learned to savor the agave together.I recalled an adventure earlier in our relationship.”You realize, Senor Fuentes, that my entire life has been building to this moment,” I told my companion as we postholed toward the chair lift.”Si amigo. And you are well-prepared,” he agreed.We were in Ketchum, Idaho, at the base of Sun Valley ski area the day after my 30th birthday. It had snowed hard the night before, was still snowing hard as our party made its way up the mountain for early morning ski and snowboard runs. In the blustery cold, the destiny became obvious, a moment of clarity slicing through the thick, foggy residue of the previous day’s fiesta.I’d been training for this February day even before my first snow-slide on a cafeteria lunch tray. I was born in snow, my parents taking test drives to the Minnesota hospital just to make sure the car would run at 50 below zero. Horse-drawn sleigh rides became birthday tradition during a five-year stint in Massachusetts, eventually developing into more adventurous toboggan rides through the forest and wild aerial sledding excursions over steep knolls that tested the name “Flexible Flyer.”I returned to the sleigh-riding tradition for my birthday, only this time piloting a horse of iron. Seor and I packed our glorified lunch trays into my trusted Iron Horse and pushed the odometer toward 200,000 miles in California’s northern Sierra. There we were greeted by our old friend Todd Reaser a musical carpenter we knew as the ZigZag Man his dog, Cascade, and a three-day storm that left 60 inches of fresh snow. We used every one of those inches skiing Squaw and Alpine Meadows, but greater things awaited. Somehow we knew our destiny lay to the north.While Senor indulged himself in strong drink and his favorite Macanudo cigars, the ZigZag Man and I alternately discussed old times and times to come. I took to referring to him as my “associate,” dubbing myself a member of the “associated press.” The ploy was worth a handful of lift tickets and an invitation to explore the Sawtooth Mountains by snowcat. I broke out the snowboard to tune up for the day ahead.When it arrived, our group had swollen to six associates, some old, some new, but all eager to celebrate life with a large day on the deep white blanket. I was most eager, knowing full well that I was invincible. After all, I had already survived 30 years.We romped through the fresh powder fields, moving into wooded runs where I taunted the trees with my immortality. Surviving the trees, we found kickers to launch ourselves over, reminiscing those sledding days gone by. All my life’s training came into play, pointing still to the day’s final run.We hiked to a hidden powder stash near the ski area boundary where few riders had been all day, Senor Fuentes and I jumping in first. Near the bottom, I skirted a tracked-out gully by taking a higher line off-piste. A jump-turn later, I discovered the line was actually a cliff band about 20 feet above the run.”Whoa,” said my associate looking up from the base. “I’m thinking you want to take off your board and climb down.”Senor Fuentes simply scoffed. We both knew it had come to this moment. After 30 years, the planets had aligned perfectly and I was destined to triumph.I eased slowly into position, spotting my landing between a large rock and tree below. A quick slide onto a lower ledge and the drop to terra firma was less than 15 feet. I nosed the board over the cliff.I hit the ledge perfectly, snow pluming out from beneath my board to expose the rock that would rip its metal edge out of the sidewall. Suddenly, I was riding on Velcro, my board fastened to the stone. Still I managed to stick the landing, with my head.All my life leading up to a faceplant in Idaho.It took a while for the stars to clear, but when they did I heard the familiar voice of Senor Fuentes.”My friend,” he said stoically, “you have much to look forward to.”Scott Willoughby is an under-stimulated freelance writer living in Minturn. He can be reached at snowrite@vail.net.

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