Talk: October 2011 with Nate Abbott

Talk: October 2011 with Nate Abbott




Words and photo by Nate Abbott; as seen in the Volume 14, October issue of FREESKIER Magazine.

FREESKIER welcomes submissions of stories, opinion and art for Talk. E-mail to [email protected]

Mayhem has broken out around a rail near the bottom of the park. It’s spring and once you kick out of your skis, your boots sink into the slush that has, in just the past week, broken down from fresh and cold to small clumps of ice with water running freely through it. Girls in the “attainably attractive” class are handing out hot dogs and specially branded flip-flops like somehow the combination of indigestion and the fresh evening air on your toes—blackened and bruised from the season—will remind you that Spring is Cool!

An overachieving Euro with a grim face is attempting to perfect his 450 onto the small rail. Other sweaty and disheveled competitors hike endlessly, only slowing to shake off the shock of edge-catching body slams. Pat is head and shoulders above the rest of the contenders, trying and sticking new tricks every couple of runs and hiking faster than the rest, his crazy eyes and pants dirty with the metallic grey of steel park features. The crowd heckles constantly but with positive words, “Ooh, that looked like it hurt. But get back up there. Hurry, you’ve got it next time.”

It’s too warm for gloves—they only serve to suck up the moisture of the granulated slush—so most uncovered hands hold a glove that hides the label of a beer. The announcer seems to know each competitor, and as he wanders the crowd—at times hiking next to the rail jammers to do a quick interview—a constant buzz of personalized remarks echoes through the park. Each time a snowboarder poaches the rail, a flurry of snowballs flies at him in feigned hatred. “Oops! Sorry dude,” says one snowball tosser under his breath after his snowball actually hits one of the snowboarders.

A couple of skiers, too accomplished, too cool or at least too indifferent to actually ski in this rail jam, place hash marks on pieces of cardboard (one titled Shit List, the other Ballin’ List) to denote good tricks, while they laugh and flirt with the ladies. The competitors are listed on the cardboard pieces by name only if they’re friends with these judges. Otherwise, they’re denoted by a defining characteristic; Green Hat and Tan Jacket both have no hash marks, Jiberish hoody has three and Euro Flannel has five.

Finalists are selected and a 15-minute super jam commences, but everyone knows who will win. The only point now is goading the remaining skiers into doing something just enough beyond their ability to make it exciting without anyone getting too beat up. When the finals wrap up, Pat takes the season pass awarded to the winner with a shy smile and nod. The party dies down, and spectators and competitors alike filter home or to a happy hour down in town.

300_0.jpgThe overcast sky has broken, and the sun is just above the peaks to the west, but since the lift is running late into the evening for spring, a group stays behind to get as many laps as possible before they have to take the bus back to town. Eventually the call “last lap” comes from the liftie at the base. The five men hop on the lift before pausing at the top of the park. There’s no hurry to get down now. Deep shadows move with almost perceptible speed across the landing of each jump and make creepy shapes that leap into the woods from each rail.

A conversation that began on the previous run becomes more heated. They’re bordering on their 30s, perhaps more interested in hiking away from the crowds, but the slush has brought out the backflips. The question, “How many can you do in one run?” has become a challenge. Ian, the most accomplished backflipper, is heckled. A mark is set by five voices, “You can totally do 10,” “Fuck that, he can’t do 10,” “Nah, he’s got 10 no problem,” “Too old. Maybe he could’ve done 10 when he was 22,” “Look at all those jumps, for sure he has ‘em.” Money is offered to up the stakes although everyone knows no bills will ever change hands.

Seemingly impervious to the imaginary line his friends have drawn in the snow, Ian drops in. He sets perfect backies on the first three kickers before doing a low speed land-and-stop-special as he cuts across to the drop-in for the rail line.

Number five comes off the kicker next to a small rail. One in the group goes ahead and tries to build a little extra pop into the kicker for a small wall ride feature. They’re all in this together now, pulling for him, cheering him on in the deserted park. He takes off next to the wall ride, way too much slush flying from his skis that sank into the takeoff. Two grunts ring out, one as he tries to pull the flip around, another as his chest smashes the ground after his tips catch the landing. Laughter rings for a second before the group begins to build hope again. “You’ve still got enough features if you just do a double on the last kicker in the park.” “I haven’t done a double all year,” is Ian’s deadpan response.

The seventh feature is a small step over gap, and he has no problem flipping that or the final two kickers. He does another on the lip next to the final rail in the park. 10 features and Ian sits at nine completed backflips—maybe even nine and a half if you want to give him credit for how close he came next to the wall ride.

The group clusters around him. They stand at the exit of the park, five friends, maybe a hundred barely sloping feet between them and the end of the snow with no features in sight. Each is pointing out some imagined bit of transition and explaining how he can definitely get enough speed, enough pop, enough balls to win the ridiculous bet he never actually took. Despite a couple voices still prodding him, Ian takes off, without a word. He pops a little shifty on a bump and pushes to the empty, dry deck where he kicks off his skis. His friends ski down to join him, loosen their boots on the deck and gather their gear. They exchange a round of satisfied high fives and fist bumps before walking away together.

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