Looking out the living room window, Itchy Butt was on fire, burning to get outside. Snow was hammering the window panes; you could tell the storm was going to be big, maybe a monster dump. But no matter how hard Itchy Butt stared at the storm, no matter how forlorn the look on his face, it wasn’t going to help: he was grounded. How long? No telling. An eternity for him, starting about an hour ago. He was in deep, something about torturing his sister.
It seemed to Itchy Butt that snow must be falling all over the world. And that he was stranded inside was unbearable. “I figure I was put on this earth to play,” he used to say. And winter was his favorite. To be a 10-year-old locked inside posed a serious health hazard, denying his true nature, he told his mother. She wasn’t buying it. And my being there beside him, bundled up and ready to go, wasn’t helping.
“Hey, Butt,” I said. Sometimes I shortened his nickname. “How much longer you in for?”
He just groaned – a sad sound full of suffering. “The judge says I’m serving two to four (hours).” Time was as good as frozen, each agonizing second grinding into the next. All that untrammelled snow in the yard. Pitiful.
Usually we’d be barrelling right into the thick of things. Out the door like a rifle shot, going as far and fast as a bullet before slowing down. Just dive in – it didn’t matter where. When we were small, over-bundled by mothers, we muddled around, making snow angels and snowmen, sometimes getting stuck in a drift, buried alive until rescued by Willis, our trusty avalanche dachshund. There was always plenty of danger and disaster awaiting us – man-eating polar bears that could crunch your skull like candy, snow tunnel cave-ins, ice-cracking crevasses at the South Pole. The worst – itching to death in grandpa’s woollen underwear with the flap in the back. Deadly. We were awfully good at dying and would die horrible, shrieking deaths as often as possible to hone our dying skills.
As we grew older, graduating with honors from the front yard to the neighborhood, our roster of winter sports evolved. We learned to scare ourselves on sledding hills, banking off curves, flying off jumps on tubes and toboggans, pond skating on wobbly ankles, snowball fights, hockey skirmishes – we did it all, every day.
Later, we worked our way up to the really dumb stuff when we turned into teenagers. I’m not sure if we were genetically predisposed to our many and varied acts of ridiculousness or if we just came by it naturally. We could keep busy for hours playing the purse trick – filling one of mom’s purses with fake money, setting it in the street where drivers would slow down and open their doors to reach for it. Then we’d pull on the fishing line attached to it just enough to make the purse appear to move on its own, giving them a chance to try it again.
Or snurfing – our mass transit system in winter. It’s best to sneak a pair of smooth-bottomed dress shoes out of the house and stash your snow boots in the garage. Find an intersection, not too busy. Hide in the bushes with your buddies, and when a car pulls up to the stop sign, sneak out behind, crouch low behind the back bumper and hang on. You can go all over town when conditions are right. The landspeed record on shoes is 80 mph. Just watch out for potholes.
Later it was interstate skiing in ditches, hanging onto water ski ropes, crack-the-whip on snow saucers behind cars on local lakes, skiing off rooftops – there was no limit to the lunacy. And we all subscribed to Itchy Butt’s credo: “Kids, don’t try this at home. That’s the worst place – your parents will see you.”
But all that was to come later. The current dilemma – Itchy Butt moaning in misery indoors. I could see it was beginning to get serious, and that as a matter of survival, he was hatching an escape plan, weighing the costs of getting caught against the pure pleasure of rolling around in winter. We considered a fake phone call, an accomplice lowering his voice, pretending to be a rescue worker at the scene of a terrible accident, in dire need of Itchy Butt’s legendary tunnel-digging skills. Or perhaps staging his own kidnapping, maybe by aliens – how else would the disappearance of his boot prints in the front yard be explained? But we were finally saved from the need for deception: Mrs. Itchy Butt gave him a reprieve. Maybe a call had come in from the Governor. Or maybe she was just tired of his moaning. No matter. It was out the door in a flash and into the bright light of winter.
Welcome to winter in the southern Rockies. Hopefully, the fate of Itchy Butt won’t be yours.
— Joe Haukebo, Publisher
This article appeared in the 2006-2007 print edition of SkiCountry.