Colbert: The loneliness of snowboarding
November 13, 2015
Rabbit Ears Pass — In many ways, snowboarding is a lonely sport. This is especially true when you are a beginner.
As I stood atop the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass on Thursday and watched stranger after stranger grind rails and perform spectacular aerial tricks, I felt that loneliness sink in.
Part of it had to do with me, a born and bred Kansan beginning my first Colorado winter, being an outsider in this snowy, mountainous world. It’s a world I know little about, but one I have so desperately desired to be a part of for most of my life.
And in my eyes, being a part of this world, this culture, requires certain skills on a snowboard. I don’t have any of those skills. In fact, until this week, I had never even been on a snowboard; or on a mountain in the winter; or heard the names Travis Rice or Sage Kotsenburg.
My first time snowboarding was Tuesday on a loner board — symbolically labeled — given to me by my roommate, Devin Patrick Lightheart. I was wearing a mountain bike helmet, a cheesy reminder to everyone present that I was the newbie and was very much lacking in proper equipment.
When I returned home Thursday after my second day of snowboarding on Rabbit Ears — I had upgraded to a loner snowboarding helmet by then — my aching body surely cursing at me from within, that feeling of loneliness reached its peak. It wasn’t because I obviously wasn’t going to be X Games ready by January, but that my lack of skills was keeping me from becoming truly integrated into Steamboat’s winter society.
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I’m a quiet person. While I feel I have a delightful sense of humor, I’m no comedian. I’m modestly handsome on my best days, less so on all the others. I don’t have much luck with the ladies. I’ve certainly never considered myself to be one of the cool kids. And it’s for all these reasons I desired to be a snowboarder.
Being good at snowboarding is simply cool. Sure, there are plenty of people out there who detest the culture, the clothing, the way of life. But most of the Hollywood movies and documentaries you see depict the sport as nothing short of exciting, fearless men and women flying down the sides of mountains to be greeted by high fives and an immediate acceptance from everyone.
This is what I wanted. And two days in, I didn’t have it.
I got up Friday morning feeling more beat up than after any CrossFit or Mixed Martial Arts workout I’ve ever done. I was headed back to Rabbit Ears with a few friends, new and even newer, to take pictures for an upcoming story I’m writing about snowboard and ski culture. Most of the people I was with were talented, at least at a recreational level, on a snowboard. For obvious reasons, my desire to get back on a board myself was fleeting that morning.
But by the end of the day, so much had changed. It’s difficult to pinpoint where or why, but by the time I returned home, before this column ever had words to it, I knew I was in love with snowboarding.
The biggest revelation probably came on the drive down from the pass, when I realized there was nothing lonely about snowboarding. I was in a car with three people I had become much better friends with through the course of the day and was leaving behind dozens of other friends whose names I didn’t even know.
That’s because snowboarding — and I’m willing to include the skiers, even though I’ve not tried the sport — inherently brings people together. Before the Steamboat Ski Area opens for the season, these people flock to places like Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Pass with their boards, looking for even the smallest taste of powder. Maybe I couldn’t grind rails or get sick air, but I was there. I had a board. I wasn’t good, but I wanted to get better. I had the passion, and that’s all that matters.
Being a snowboarder, being part of that world, isn’t about skill. It’s about that unquenchable urge to get up each morning, ignore the cold and the sore limbs, and hike back up those hills for another run with your friends. Friends you probably didn’t know you had when you climbed out of bed.
When I climbed out of bed Friday, there was a loneliness inside me I thought was because of snowboarding. But as I climbed back under the covers Friday night, I knew I wasn’t alone and that dozens of my friends would be waiting for me today. They would be there for the same reason I would be, and that was to share their love for snowboarding with anyone willing to accept it.
No, I wasn’t alone anymore, and I have snowboarding to thank for that.
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