I am a very lucky person, recently broken back notwithstanding. Twelve years ago I joined the Yellowstone Club in Montana as the director of skiing, and nine years ago we started building our dream home on the side of a ski run here in Montana. I can lie in my bed between drug ingestions and watch skiers and snowboarders sliding by within a 100 feet of our bedroom window.
I’m five weeks into the curative process and every day is a new and better one for me. I admit that I am getting tired of sleeping as much as 17 hours a day, but the doctors say, “That is part of the healing process. One week for every day in the hospital.”
The night that Laurie helped me check into the hospital I said, “This is not fatal, it is curable and I will be better tomorrow.” Better, being an obscure word at the time. I am also lucky enough to be able to look out the window of my upstairs office, right at the Big Sky ski resort and see skiers and snowboarders moving down the south side of it. The mountain is one of the best in North America. I know I might not get out on my skis again before the ski lifts shut down for the winter, but hey, the day after I broke my back and couldn’t ski, that was my first missed day of skiing due to an accident since my first day of skiing in 1937. For more than 60 years of traveling the world with a camera and skis, that’s a pretty good safety record.
As I fade in and out of a deep sleep, I recall a lot of stories that will now be included in the biography that Mort Lund is writing with me. I wanted to have it finished by this spring, but, so far, together we have only written the first nine years and I have yet to do my editing of what he has written. In retrospect, it has been a fabulous life so far and whenever I recall an incident the folds of the brain open up and I suddenly remember more.
For example; I was thinking about my three-and-a-half year, World War II Navy career for some reason and thought about the 24 hours we spent in the South Pacific, fighting a hurricane in a 110-foot wooden hulled sub chaser. I wrote a couple of pages about it and someone suggested I write about it in more detail. The end result of more detail was 46 pages of howling winds, mountainous seas, poor damage control and eventual safety aboard another vessel that was in our same convoy.
A short nap after my Navy day’s thoughts and during the Olympic coverage, my brain switched to my career of speed skating in high school. When I was a senior, the Los Angeles evening newspaper, The Herald Examiner, was holding championship finals. That was the year that I paid 28 hard-earned dollars for a pair of custom-made speed skates with offset blades and trained twice a week at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Unfortunately for me, a month before the event I fell while training and it took 12 stitches to put my kneecap back together. Two weeks before the race, I went to a ballet costume store on Hollywood Boulevard and paid $4.50 for a pair of black ballet tights. It was hard to find a pair with skinny enough legs and everyone laughed when I appeared on the ice for my event where I managed to qualify for the “B” division. The race lasted about a dozen laps in which I finished third and never skated again. That was because I had just entered college, the war with Japan was three months old, and all I really wanted to do was go surfing while I was waiting before I had to register for the draft. That came soon enough and, I think, I wisely entered some kind of a Navy officers’ training program and got three semesters of college and earned a commission as an ensign.
My wife Laurie says, “Beware because he changes his mind at the drop of a syllable and he never ruins a good story with the absolute truth.” Most of the people who are in the stories I tell have been dead for a decade anyway. Who really cares whether the rope tow broke on Saturday or Sunday? We missed a day of skiing and can never get that one back. About a week after that rope tow broke is when I bought 160 acres at Mammoth Mountain, sight unseen, over the telephone. The first time I visited the property I found out it had the biggest earthquake fault in the county. But that is another story for another time.
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