An Open Letter to Jimmy Chin or How Did the Chicken Get Egg Off Its Face?
JAY, VT – Dear Jimmy:
Hey, it’s Jay. You remember me: that sports writer at the Masters that time that wrote that the greatest comeback from injury in sports history wasn’t Tiger Woods at Augusta, but Renan Ozturk at Meru.
It got the reaction from the golf writers I expected: sometimes I got “Interesting,” but all too often they asked “Who’s Renny Osmond?”
The climbers and skiers liked it, though. So, I had that going for me.
Anyway, Jimmy, I need your advice. And I hope you’ll forgive my temerity for asking for it in an open letter, but I figured the opinion you’d give would be so universal and useful you’d think it a good idea. Here’s my problem – my life has become a sequel to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Call it “Monty Python and the Face Chutes of Jay Peak.”
Let me explain: I’m a money-whipped, steer-job, Jerry-fied, give-up artist.
Let me further explain: I had a chance to ski the infamous Face Chutes at Jay Peak, and I flaked. I let my fear overcome all my bravado, my five decades of experience, my seemingly unquenchable stoke, and my sense of duty as a ski journalist to experience their iconic majesty. I was right there, on the summit, almost ready to drop in. But no, I tucked tail and ran.
My quest for the Face Chutes is well known in my column. Six prior times I visited Jay Peak, and all six days the Face Chutes were closed. There were wind holds, there were sub-Arctic temps (minus-15 at base lodge!), there was bulletproof ice. You name it, it cockblocked me from the Face Chutes.
“I’ve never heard of anyone having such bad luck here in my career,” said former Jay Peak PR maven J.J. Tolland, and he was right.
But finally, this March a magical day came. The Face Chutes were primed. It was gorgeous weather, even a bit warm for Jay! All systems go! IT’S SUMMIT DAY! The joy I felt was overwhelming. My stoke was indomitable.
Ha! I’ve never been so horribly horribly wrong on a mountain.
All the way up, my guide and colleague, Big Creech himself, the unofficial ambassador of the mountain, and regional skiing/boarding royalty, scouted out which chute was best. He chose the Pump House Chute, furthest away from the Tram. His expert eye determined that it had the best snow and clearest entry.
Excellent! Better still! I thought. The Pump House Chute has, perhaps, the most cache of the various chutes due to its pitch and distance out on the ridge, the wildest and most primal terrain at Jay. I was still primed, ready, committed. And then the doors to the Tram opened.
As you well know, mountains on the ends of ranges tend to brew up their own storms. Lenticular clouds form, I believe they are called, and in the time it took to get through the line for the Tram and up to the top – call it 40 minutes – a storm out of the Book of Revelations materialized out of nowhere, and howling winds lashed the summit, and the sky darkened with cloud.
The way to the Pump House Chute entrance involved walking a narrow spit of windblown snow. The world fell away in every direction – left, right, and ahead. I don’t often get vertigo, (outside of my Lyme Disease attacks, which have been bad lately), but an onset began as I struggled to follow everyone to the chute entrance. I was getting dizzy and weak.
Along the way, I fell in the snow four times. The wind continued to scream. First it nearly blew my skis out of my hand, (and over the cliff), and then it started to blow me off my feet. Again and again I had to struggle to my feet.
Finally, as I tumbled over a fifth time, I decided that was it; I quit. I gave up. I tucked tail and slunk away to a bench. It took 15-20 minutes to clear my head so I could ski down to the lodge, lick my wounds and wallow in frustration…at myself.
A few minutes later I met an 11-year old girl. She made it down the chute right after I bagged, no problem.
I suppose I should be happy for her, but really I’m even more pissed.
I’m mortified, Jimmy. A few loud winds, a few dark clouds, and I turn into a frightened little Hobbit. I’m half expecting Gandalf to start calling me and asking me to take a ring to Mordor for him.
The jokes are bad enough, they practically write themselves. Like “Hey Jay! I thought your college mascot (Trinity) was a rooster. Turns out it’s a chicken! BAWK BAWK BAWK BE-GARK! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”
Or how about, “Hey Jay! I hear you’re playing Sir Robin in Monty Python’s Spamalot! The guy with the chicken on his shield! Cue the minstrels!”
Brave Sir Jaybar ran away
Bravely ran away away
When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled
Yes Brave Sir Jaybar turned about
We guarantee, he chickened out
Bravely bravely bravely beat
He beat a very brave retreat
He is glowing in the spiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine
Maybe I’m being a bit hard on myself. After all, I don’t just have Lyme Disease, I have two shorn off rotator cuffs, I get epidurals in C4-C5 in my neck, and I have chronic kidney stones so large, my doctor says they are in the 98th percentile in size. They’re zapping me later today, actually! And you should have seen the golf ball they laser beamed out of me in 2021! It was like Atari Asteroids size. Or maybe a Titleist.
[Editor’s Note: As we go to press, Jay is recovering comfortably at home from his kidney stones that got zapped today. They were, respectively 12mm and 10mm in size.]
Through all that, I persisted. I was barnstorming my Indy Pass all season. I was mining double black diamond after double black diamond. My skiing star was in full ascension.
Until this. I spit the bit. I had my shot and I gagged it. Now I’m left with a gnawing sense of failure.
I lost that day. But I don’t have to like it.
Facing everybody since then sucks. I told my snowboard instructor girlfriend, “I figured you’d prefer a live chicken to a dead lion.” She was cool about it. After all, it means she’s still the best athlete in the family. Big Creech was sympathetic as well.
“If you weren’t feelin’ it, not sending it was the right call.”
Okay, fine. Maybe. But still: How does a chicken get egg off its face? It skis the Face Chutes of Jay, of course. Like Conrad at Meru the first time, I had barely left the mountain before I started planning my return…and my revenge.
Now I sound like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. “Jay Peeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaak!!!! We have unfinished business!”
But here’s the question: how do I find the fortitude that escaped me last time? And how do I shoo away all the negative thoughts of this last experience? And how do I suppress all the anger and frustration as I wait and wait and wait for redemption?
This is more than just about skiing a ski run – that’s just a metaphor for a larger, more important question about what I’m truly made of, and what I can muster in the clutch. I have big dreams, Jimmy. I want to shred Tuckerman’s Ravine and Mt. Baker. I want my shot at Corbet’s Canyon. And Japan and Chile. Dadgum it! I want to ski the Atlas Mountains of Morocco!
Still, I can plot and plan and dream all I want. I can map it out on paper and in my head all I like, but all that counts for exactly zero if I can’t be counted on in the clutch.
So what can you teach me…us…about bouncing back in the face of abject failure? From where can I dig that 110th percent?
I know what my Dad would say. He’d agree with Creech. Maybe you do too. After all, making a summit bid when you’re not ready can cost you your life. Dad was always about safety first. But he’d also tease me.
“Afraid of heights, son?” He once asked me with a grin. Maybe a bit, but I’m not afraid to try again, and not afraid of Dad’s zingers. My father’s ghost will never haunt me.
Neither will my mother’s ghost, but for a wholly different reason. Her sense of direction was so famously bad, if she tried to haunt me, I’d be more worried about the neighbors next door.
So that’s it Jimmy. I need some wisdom on how to make that quantum leap, the leap from merely good to truly great. And in return, I have three bits of wisdom to offer my readers: 1) If I can’t laugh at myself, I can’t laugh at anyone else; 2) we all love a good redemption story; and 3) we’re going to spend the rest of our lives getting less dumb at this sport no matter who we are, even a money-whipped, steer-job, Jerry-fied, give up artist.