She's great because she always makes sure to describe how miserable the conditions were that day. She knows that it wouldn't have made any difference, but she throws that into the story, as if to protect me, every time she tells it.
It was the winter of 1998 and we were still dating. We decided, on a whim, to load up with some friends and drive to Ruidoso for a ski weekend. My two buddies wanted to try snow boarding and two of her friends couldn't wait to get on the Apache Bowl again. My wife had been a skier since she was a kid so she too was anxious to get there. Everybody was pumped up and excited about getting to the mountain. Everybody, except for me.
They knew I'd never been skiing before but they talked me into it. "C'mon, it's easy!" they'd say. Then they'd try to flatter me.
"C'mon, you were an athlete."
Then they'd challenge me.
"C'mon, little kids do it, WITHOUT POLES."
So I agreed. We got into town late on Friday night and got to the ski rental shop as early as we could on Saturday morning. Everybody scattered to find their boot rentals and snow boards and perfect skis so I was trapped with one of the young hippie rental guys that knows WAAAYYY more about skiing than you or I ever will.
"What size do you need?"
"I don't know."
"What about rocker type and camber and turning radius?"
"Do you know your waist width?"
"What's your flex?"
Finally my wife came back. "He just needs some beginner skis, nothing fancy."
The little hippie ski guy looked disgusted but shuffled around and found me a pair. I got some boots that fit and we were on our way up the mountain.
It was beautiful up there. The snow was falling, really hard, and everything was covered in white. My wife was trying to talk me into taking a lesson, but my pride (coupled with my friends laughing at me) wouldn't hear of it. "You don't need lessons, you'll be fine," they said.
We put on our boots, bought our lift tickets and then snapped the skis on. I was just trying to figure out how to walk when she pushed me down.
"What the hell was that for?"
"You have to learn how to get up, it's the first step in learning how to ski," she said.
I tried to pull myself up. No dice. "USE YOUR POLES!" they were all yelling at me. "I CAN'T USE MY POLES," I yelled back. I just couldn't do it. I was struggling around on that snowy ground like an upside down turtle, trying to get up, when our friends got bored and left. They wished my wife good luck as they hurried off to the lifts.
She finally helped me up and asked me again if I wanted to take lessons. No way. I could see all those kids on the bunny slope and there was no way I was going there. She tried to give me a few pointers to get me started. Weave side to side, point the tips inward when you want to slow down, but most importantly you have to turn or you'll get going to fast.
Ok, ok. I've got it down. Let's do this.
We made it to the lift for one of the greens and hopped on. When we got to the top to jump off I immediately fell and couldn't get up. She struggled to pull me up as the bodies piled up behind us. It was a sprawling mass of skis and legs and little pink snow bunny ear muffs. Fortunately a guy came out of the little cabin and pulled me to my feet, and the traffic jam cleared up and I was off on my first run.
I discovered pretty quickly that I can ski really, really fast in a straight line. I tried to do all the things she told me but none of them worked. I'd get up to what felt like 80 or 90 MPH and had no idea how to stop, so I'd just wipe out. I don't know how I didn't break something, but I did it over and over again.
We continued the routine for most of the morning. I'd shoot like a rocket straight down the mountain and then wipe out in a glorious ball of skis, goggles and bibs. I remember laughing so hard every time I did it because I knew it had to be the most ridiculous spectacle taking place in all of New Mexico that cold Saturday. Then she'd help me get my clothes back on straight and find my skis and poles and we'd catch the lift again.
I'm a pretty big guy and with full ski attire, in all black of course, I'm hard to miss. So it was helpful for the little guy in the cabin at the top of the run to see a huge ball of black storming up the lift. By early afternoon, he'd be out of his chair waiting for me to try and help me get off without falling.
But it never helped. I'd always fall anyway and cause a huge pileup of people behind us. There were people cussing at me and falling all over the place, every single time. It was awesome.
The weather kept getting worse as the day went along. The wind was really blowing and at times it was snowing so hard there was very little visibility. It didn't stop me though. I kept charging back up that lift, falling, getting up, and shooting down that mountain like a rocket. Then I'd purposely wipe out because by this time I'd totally given up on trying to figure out how to slow down. It was masochism defined, and it was fun as shit.
I finally got the nerve to try some blues, even though my wife was leery. She kept trying to teach me some technique, but I was long gone by that point. Just get me off that lift and point me in the right direction and I'll see you at the bottom, babe. She shook her head in what has become her usual response to my idiocy, and sped off. She got down the mountain about 150 yards ahead of me, but then for some unexplained reason she stopped to look back and see how I was doing.
Somehow she forgot I was a great skier, as long as I was going straight and fast. And I was going really fast on this blue trail. And I was heading straight for her. And I didn't know how to turn. And she was right in front of me. And I was closing really, really quickly.
When I smashed into her I heard the wind leave her body and as we flew through the air I was asking myself a lot of questions.
How many ribs of hers did I just break?
Did I break her arms?
Are her legs broken?
Is she going to break up with me because of this?
Where are the ambulances?
Who's gonna help me up?
We tumbled down the side of the mountain for a little while and finally came to a stop. She didn't break anything but she was pretty sore for a few days and I was reluctant to ask her about her hopes and dreams for a couple of weeks. I decided at that moment that my ski session was complete for the day and let her go off and ski the black diamonds with her friends, where there was much less danger of her getting mortally wounded. I spent the afternoon in the lodge drinking beer and when the lifts closed we took the winding road back down into the village.
Watching Texas Tech struggle these last few weeks has reminded me of that trip from so long ago. This young team and young staff don't know how to point their skis inward to slow down or reduce mistakes. They can get going really fast, straight downhill, but for now you know a disastrous wipeout is always looming. They need help from their friends and from their loved ones and from that little guy in the cabin to help them get back up.
The difference between Kingsbury and me is that he will learn how to do it. He will learn how to turn and stop and how to fix a struggling defense, and fill gaps in special teams and shoot rooster tails (I don't even know if that's a skiing thing but it sounds cool). He'll get the right equipment and know what type of camber he needs and field an explosive, exciting brand of football for years to come. Because he's always going to keep getting up and getting back on the lift until he has it perfected. He's not going to blame the weather or the lack of experience or the fact that no one told him it was gonna be like this. He's just gonna keep getting back on that lift.
In the meantime, let's enjoy the masochism and mass of bodies piling up behind us and see how fast we can get going before we have to abort in an exhilaratingly hilarious, dangerous mess. I want to be that little guy in the cabin, helping the mess get back up.
Because like my one and only ski trip, Texas Tech football is fun as shit again.
USE YOUR POLES