Biff America: A punch in the gut
The only defense against a punch to the ribs is to block it — unlike blows to the head or midsection — which you can either slip or absorb.
It is particularly difficult to defend against a rib strike when it is issued as a sneak attack, in the middle of a loving embrace by your wife.
My mate, Ellie, can be a little emotional; she can cry at the drop of a hat. (I mean that literally. I once dropped her new ski hat in dog poop and she started bawling.) But in addition to soiled wool, the thought of a ravaged forest, suffering animals or emptying the dishwasher can bring her to tears.
We were driving home from skiing a few weeks ago when we saw our friend Donna wrestling with a snow shovel, trying to clear her walkway, a task her late husband used to do.
We stopped and helped clear a footpath; the job took only a few minutes. Donna was stoic but she had aged in the six months since her husband passed. She only mentioned him once and only in reference to how late she was in getting her taxes done.
After arriving home, while taking our skis off the roof rack, I looked over at Ellen and she was crying.
“It’s sad to see Donna alone,” I said.
Ellen grabbed me, squeezed hard and said, “Don’t you dare die! I don’t want to live without you.” She shuddered and added, “I love you … I hope I die first.”
There were many things I might have said to make her feel better. I could have mentioned that we are both relatively young, in good health and careful. I might have said that we had many years left together. Instead I replied, “I love you, Ellie. I hope you die first, too.”
That is when she punched me in the ribs.
My mate and I spend a fair amount of time (almost every day) skiing, mostly in the backcountry. Due to winds, warm temps and a weak snowpack, the Colorado backcountry has been as stable as Pat Robertson at a gay wedding.
It has always been our contention that no matter what the conditions are there is always someplace safe to ski. Admittedly, “safe” isn’t always the most “fun,” but we are OK with that.
The next day we skinned/climbed up to a ridge where we could either ski higher or lower off the ridge. Every few minutes we heard the “whumphing” sounds that indicate a weak, unsafe snowpack. There was a fair amount of wind-loading, and the Avalanche Information Center forecast called for a “considerable” avalanche risk. We decided that the less steep but shorter line would be the cautious choice. While traversing the ridge the wind died down and the sun came out. The closer we got to the less steep terrain, the better it looked.
I was happy that we made the choice to be restrained. We had seen a fair amount of tragedy in the last few years. I just renewed my AARP membership, and the memory of Donna standing in the cold in front of her empty home was fresh in my mind.
It was agreed that I would go first and stop where it was safe and wait for Ellie. The pitch was less than 30 degrees, but the snow was light and fluffy, perfect for elegant, easy short-radius turns.
Though the skiing was fun, after about five turns into it I was regretting not opting for the steeper, deeper pitch.
About halfway down I avoided what I thought might be a buried stump and turned sharply to my right. As I did so I saw the entire right side of the bowl let go, far enough away from us, but still sobering. Had we skied our first choice it was very likely that one of us would have been on that slope when it slid. Tears of gratitude were running down my legs.
We skied down through the trees and got to our car safely. As we took off our boots and cleaned the snow off our skis, Ellen said that she was terrified watching me ski and knowing that had we made another choice our lives might have been forever changed. For the second time in recent memory she said, “We have to always remember to be careful. I don’t want to live without you.”
I answered, “Well then next time, you ski first.”
It really hurts getting punched in the ribs in the same spot twice in less than a week.
Jeffrey Bergeron, aka Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com
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