It had been seven years. Seven years since I reached my tipping point. Seven years since the DNFs got the best of me. Seven years since I sold as much race gear as I could on Ebay and shipped it all far, far away.
But there I was. Back in the start gate and ready to give my local beer league hell, on the hill in Vermont where it all began.
Everyone was in full speed gear: suits, arm guards, bent poles — all that. I, meanwhile, had no idea the league was so competitive and showed up in an insulated jacket and pants, big-basketed backcountry poles, and soft all-mountain boots. Nothing about me was fast. My only saving grace was a pair of 2012 Fischer GS skis that’d been gathering dust in my mom’s basement since, well, 2012.
I placed my clunky, five-inch-diameter baskets over the start wand, awkwardly kicked out of the gate, and immediately remembered what it’s like to pummel down a mountain on 193-centimeter speed machines. During my seven-year hiatus from ski racing, I floated turns on pontoon-boat-esque powder skis, so race skis felt like supercharged rocket ships.
My intention was not to take the beer league seriously. Then I looked at the results. Fifth place. Fifth? I called my mom again for a more detailed inventory of my dusty gear, and later that night, found myself rummaging around for a suit and arm guards — the latter being particularly important because my limbs were painted in bruises.
I got super into the beer league over the coming races — noticing my flaws and bringing improvements every week until I got faster. I’d win a race, I’d get beat, then win, then get beat. The competitiveness was invigorating — something I’d missed while skiing aimlessly out west for so long. Not to mention, the camaraderie felt special both at the races and at the bars afterward.
My wife, Hayley, joined the beer league with me, too. She was a far better racer than I was back in the day. In fact, I clearly remember her beating me without mercy when we met through ski racing as young kids. Nonetheless, she didn’t get obsessed with the league like I did — remaining far more clothed and relaxed than me every week.
Everything for her was casual until, one day, she hit a rut and bounced off course, sending her straight onto her bad shoulder — the one that pops out even if she sleeps on it wrong. I skipped my run, hurried down to her, and we put the old thing back into place. Then we stood there for a few minutes in silence. She noticed me peering longingly back up at the course.
“Go on,” she said — like a mother letting her child spend 15 more minutes at an arcade.
I scrambled back to the top and, sure enough, hit the same rut as Hayley just a few turns into my run. My body went flying straight into the next gate — dismembering a panel along the way. In a daze, I stood up with the panel wrapped around my arm and reached down to grab it, but my thumb extended in the complete wrong direction — making an audible, clicking noise.
It was official: beer league was taking a toll on us.
Hayley called it quits with the league that day. We were simultaneously talking about starting a family and decided together that throwing her precious cargo down an icy race course needed to move to the bottom of our priority list. But I still wanted to finish the season on a strong note. So I jumped into a few more races — bruised all over, barely able to hold a pole with my tattered thumb — and I continued to rise and fall off the podium.
The final race of the season was bigger than the rest — a full minute long with a decent pitch up top, opposed to the usual 30-second flat course. Everyone was extra fired up that day — ready to put it all on the line in the name of skiing and beer. I laid down a smooth run — a run that sent a metaphorical FU to all the stress ski racing once gave me. And I won by just a few glorious hundredths.
Seven years after my so-called retirement, I learned to love ski racing all over again. I’ve got a clicky thumb to prove it and a daughter to tell all about it.