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Craniums, stems and other vegetables

Mark Maynard

When we decided to do a “Point/Counterpoint” type of column pitting skier against snowboarder, I was at first hesitant. How could I debate on the same level as a snowboarder and yet still compile a column that would be intelligible, readable and fit for human consumption? Then I realized that deep inside I had to deal with some irrational feelings that have festered since that day I first noticed someone cruise below the chairlift, feet strapped to single piece of split-tailed, laminated wood. I knew that these “snowboarders” were different than I was, but how?

First of all, there is the matter of physiology. Why would a bipedal mammal that can otherwise walk upright, chose to partake in a sport where the lower limbs are constrained from moving independently? Obviously this is a matter of physiology. Since skiers and snowboarders appear to be similarly constructed on the outside when viewed in their natural, snow-covered habitat, the answer had to be inside. I was right, for the answer was all in my head.

The normal human brain is comprised of a large domed cerebrum at the top, the smaller cerebellum, and the brain stem (which in turn consists of the medulla oblongata and the thalamus.) Scientists have mapped various functions to the various parts of the brain. From the cerebrum comes reasoning and intelligence, the cerebellum aids balance and posture and the brain stem (a near-duplicate of the reptilian noggin) controls things such as breathing, heartbeat and vomiting.

The dissected brains of skiers and snowboarders have shown marked differences in the structure of these brain components. The skier’s brain is typically dominated by an abnormally large cerebrum that fights for space with an oversized cerebellum. There is just enough room for the stem to enable breathing, heart rate, and life itself. This anatomical distribution of brain matter makes the skier perfectly designed for the millions of split second calculations required to control independent appendages at a high rate of speed. Skiers have the capacity to do all of this while the brain independently works on doctoral dissertations, the composition of concertos for string quartets and writing the Great American Novel.

The snowboarder’s brain typically shows marked differences than that of the skier’s. The oversized stem competes for space in the skull, winning out over the cerebellum and cerebrum, each about the size of a walnut. The large, melon-sized stem wins out, regulating basic life functions as well as the aforementioned vomiting, grunts of joy and the production of mucous which is often evident as a near constant stream of spittle on the lower lip. While this makes boarders an overwhelmingly happy group of beings, much of the happiness is derived from basic physical sensations that can be enhanced by wearing soft, comfortable boots that don’t cramp the feet or constrict the supply of blood that is stored in the boarder’s feet for use by the brain stem.

Once I understood these differences in anatomy, I was willing to embrace boarders and accept them into my life, as friends, co-workers and even family. I have found that despite their baggy trousers, unkempt appearance and tenuous grasp on social conventions, boarders can be as rewarding and lovable as a favorite family pet.

That said – I am willing to continue this ongoing dialogue with an open mind and a compassionate heart. For whether our heads are crammed completely with cerebellum or simply stuffed with stem, we are all creatures of the snow.


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