…no matter what.
Growing up in winter, kids started firing up for winter games long before the cold arrived. We were the local weather bureau, analyzing temperature drops and wind patterns to determine when the first snowflakes would fly. And when the ponds would freeze.
Ice ponds were sacred grounds; we worshipped winter there, immune to the cold punch it packed. Kids flocked there from all over the ‘hood, congregating after school, most nights and weekends. We’d trek to the rink, skate laces draped over our shoulders, one skate dangling in front, the other bouncing against our backs.
It was there at the pond we took our first skate steps on ice, ankles bent at first, then slowly rising onto our blades. It was there we rode our hockey sticks like motorcycles and whipped flips and dove into the snowbanks sculpted around the pond’s edge. It was there we performed our hilarious ice ballet antics—flying camels, the more graceless and ludicrous the better. It was there Itchy Butt first held hands (or held mittens) with a girl—way ahead of his time, or at least way ahead of us. And of course it was there the stories of our heroics spawned tales all around our tiny town.
The hockey games—on blades, sometimes just boots—were legendary. Pickup games kicked in with a couple of kids, then escalated into all-out wars. Lots of passing but plenty of puck-hogging too, sometimes faking out your own feet, sending you sprawling onto the ice. Games dragged on after the sky darkened and long after the moonlight gave us only dim light.
But weekends, it was best, when we weren’t summoned in for dinner, chores or homework—no time constraints hanging over our heads—and when the grownups came out to take us on. We’d have all-day games with the old farts, grudge matches that gave us grist for giggles all week.
Games started out innocently enough, maybe an old guy or two, testing out our moves. But then, their reinforcements, former players, would show, and the action heated up. Of course the old guys cheated a lot, to keep the playing field even—they weren’t as limber or quick as kids. Sometimes they’d grab us and hold on tight until they caught their breath or grab our sticks and fling them far from the ice. They’d tackle, trip, elbow and holler, scaring the daylights out of us, anything to harass. They were delusional about what their bodies could still do, and started to stiffen up right before our eyes.
They’d get so wrapped up in the game, taking care of themselves wasn’t an issue—they’d overheat quickly and start to sweat, even in sub-zero weather—stripping off coats, ripping off caps, peeling off soaked gloves.
The games would be epic, everything going smoothly, but then it always happened: one of the old guys would get going too fast, lose control and catapult and cartwheel until his head cracked onto the ice. Play would stop. We’d huddle around, wondering if he was dead. But then you’d hear a groan, see a slight movement, and hands would reach down to haul him up, followed by back slaps and admiring the total biffness of the crash.
Winter doesn’t get any better than when an old fart thinks he’s still a kid. Here’s to hoping you’ll find the kid in you here in the southern Rockies. Welcome.
— Joe Haukebo, Publisher
This article appeared in the 2008-2009 print edition of SkiCountry.