We asked the Sports Illustrated writers who covered the Turin Olympics to leave us with their indelible memory of the Games.
To accept an Olympic assignment is to enter a nonverbal agreement with one's superiors. It is understood that we will raise our game, work longer hours and provide more content. It is not understood that we will bring our snowboards. But I knew I'd be staying way over in Bardonecchia, the gorgeous Alpine valley butting up against the backside of France, far from prying eyes of editors. As it happened, they found out that I'd brought my board.
After attending the final training session for the halfpipe on Feb. 11, I grabbed a shuttle to a local ski run. While 22 euros seemed steep for just the afternoon session, it wasn't as extortionist as the $70 they have the nerve to charge at Heavenly, in South Lake Tahoe. I forked it over. On the chair lift up I noticed that Italian hosts 1) like nothing more than a cigarette on the lift, and 2) ski fast, if I may generalize, but have nice form, which is learned early: The mountain swarmed with instructors leading pods of students down the hill. I heard a lot scraping noises as they hopped through their parallel turns. Bardonecchia only averages 15 inches of new snow in February. These runs were pretty scraped off.
Like I cared.
It was a glorious afternoon: bluebird skies, not too cold. And they keep the mountain open until 4:45 -- about an hour longer than most U.S. resorts. Having skied since I was five, I picked up snowboarding four years ago, at the Salt Lake Games. The slopes at Park City were floodlit for night skiing; a media credential got you on the lift for free. Once I stopped catching my heel-side edge and slamming into the snow like a crash-test dummy, the sport became fun. I've been on skis once since -- partly because I'm having such a blast on the board. And partly because two years ago, my father-in-law, the distinguished, Truckee, Calif.-based silverback Al Noyes, gave them away, disgusted by my defection to the dark side. (They'd been taking up space in his shed.)
Al's problem with boarders -- and my problem with them, before I joined their ranks -- was that they tend to describe a wide "S" pattern down the mountain, traversing without first looking uphill. Also, rather than picking a line through moguls, many tend to simply descend with their boards perpendicular to the fall line, scraping the snow off the bumps.
Now that I board, I look uphill before traversing, and try to not squeegee the snow off the moguls. On the mountain two Saturdays ago at Bardonecchia, it was the ski-school kids making wide S turns, following instructors down the slope. After a near collision, I decided to go where there were fewer people. I started boarding under the chair. While the snow was inconsistent -- soft in some places, corrugated and icy in others -- I did have it to myself. Plus, I had an audience, which, I must admit, I like. It makes me focus.
On my third run under the lift, I lost an edge on some of that bulletproof stuff. My momentum pinwheeled me downhill, headfirst, toward one of the steel poles that holds up the chairlift. I had about one second to digest the fact that I was going to nail it -- time to hunch up and bow my back before -- BOOM! -- pyrotechnics went off in my helmeted head, followed by a wave of pain, followed, 10 or so seconds later, by desperate slurping sounds.
That was me, wrapped around the abutment, trying to fill my lungs. The wind had been knocked out of me, which was the least of my problems. After lying still for several minutes, I was finally able to breathe, regularly, but not deeply. Reaching up and across with my left hand -- this was excruciating; the muscles on the upper right side of my back had begun seizing up -- I unclipped my back boot. Then my front. Attempting to stand, I collapsed. I didn't know if it was vertebrae, ribs, sternum -- something felt broken.