Every Friday, SportsFeat picks a few great weekend reads for Deadspin. With things sweltering outside, we went looking for stories that might remind us of what it feels like to be cold. We found these instead.
Daniel Coyle • Outside • March 1999
A profile of mountain man Eric Pehota, considered by some to be one of the best technical skiers on the planet, who had lost his longtime partner to an avalanche three years before:
Around us, the rocks and trees are slowly being painted white. Every once in a while, a branch receives one snowflake too many and bends to release its burden. After a long silence, I ask what happened that day in Chamonix, the day Trevor didn't come back.
"Trev had skied that couloir before, eight years ago," Pehota says. "The slide wasn't even two feet deep, but it had a lot of rock and ice. It must've knocked him off his skis. It's just one of those things."
I ask if Pehota would have gone skiing that day, alone, in a couloir he hadn't run in years.
"Hard to know," he says finally. "I chalk it up as something that's out of anybody's control."
After Petersen died, amid his friends' sadness and shock there existed a small but significant element of anger—anger that Petersen had taken such risks by himself in a place he hadn't skied in so long. Pehota would never go so far as to voice such an opinion, but the question hangs in the air nevertheless. His two best friends—two happy people, two guys who lived their dreams—are dead, and he's still here. There are two possibilities: Perhaps Pehota's lucky, and he unquestionably is. Or perhaps there's something in the way he approaches life, something in the redneck virtues of being organized and humble and hardworking, something to that cold gaze and that matter-of-fact smile. Perhaps he is simply in touch with truths that the rest of us can so easily forget: that we live our lives in an indifferent, dangerous place, a place in which a river can flood your basement, a corporation can steal your soul, an insensate chunk of snow can take your best friend. You want to survive? Enthusiasm isn't enough. Happiness isn't enough. You've got to be vigilant, obsessed, even a little dangerous yourself.
Mike Kessler • Skiing • Dec 2005
A profile of free skier (a.k.a. cliff jumper) Jamie Pierre:
Or you do as Jamie Pierre does, and you step into a pair of 185 Pocket Rockets, tuck your shoulder-length hair under a Dakine skullcap, stare down your Gallic nose at an inrun in Utah or Colorado or Switzerland—and ski headlong off a cliff. No parachute. You don't even land upright. Just an oafish thud. Full stop. Boof! Eighty-five feet. Double that-bigger is better. You do Lincoln loops and back flips and Lincoln loop-back flip combos. Land on your rib cage or your spine or your head. You scare the crap out of your loved ones and alienate yourself from your peers and you do it for the astonishingly meager fee of $20,000 a year, health insurance not included.
Must be one helluva moment.
But it's not that simple. To tap into the moment, Jamie Pierre-style, you must first engage in three decades of self-destructive behavior. You drop from the womb in a Minnesota hospital in 1973 and piss in the doctor's face. You take everything personally and throw fits. You pick up a bong at age 14-and don't put it down for 15 years. You drink to excess and get surly. Learn to ski, finish high school, move to where the mountains are big. You begin skiing off cliffs, right about the time people start calling it "hucking. You go higher than anyone else. You talk all kinds of shit and pitch ever-bigger tantrums and cultivate your rep as a bad boy. Turn pro, make appearances, get loaded. Pass out and black out and wake up and make yourself puke and huck another cliff and do it all over the next day, and the next, until all of sudden you're 30 years old and half-broke, flopping around on the living room floor, biting your tongue and lips until the blood flows.
You turn to God, which works—but only to a point. So when you're not munching communion wafers and sipping Jesus juice, you're hurling your scrawny body off cliffs. Any size—80 feet or 185. Each monster huck produces the moment, that ethereal whoosh that for a nanosecond strips away all that matters. You land without incident. Now you feel as though God is looking out for you, which makes you feel safe.
Nick Paumgarten • New Yorker • April 2005
On backcountry legend Andrew McLean's fraught relationship with avalanches and the author's family history of being killed by them:
My aunt, whose name was Meta Burden, was skiing alone when she died. She had had an argument, so she did a rash thing. She skied into Cristy Gully, which in 1972 lay outside the area boundary at Aspen Mountain. Half a foot of new snow had fallen atop ten inches of two-day-old snow, and apparently there had been a great deal of avalanche activity in the area that morning. But she was a headstrong woman, confident in her abilities. She had lived in Aspen for four years, and was intermittently deranged by anger over the encroachment of more and more people into terrain that she liked to consider her own.
That evening, her husband reported her missing, and at half past six ski patrollers began a search in the dark. They followed her tracks into Cristy Gully. There is an account of the search in "The Snowy Torrents," a volume assembled by government avalanche forecasters, with evaluations of avalanche accidents in the United States. The rescuers, it says,
probed and scuffed in the runout zone, and within 45 minutes they found one ski and one pole. Coleman lanterns were set up at the points where Burden's tracks ended and where the clues were found. . . . At 2230 hours, Burden was found on the first pass of the probe line 60 feet above her ski and pole. Efforts at resuscitation and heart massage were unsuccessful. Her body was buried in 3 feet of snow.
It appeared that she had died of suffocation. The report noted that she was an experienced skier, and concluded, "Burden knew the dangers involved and ignored them."
Jon Billman • Skiing • September 2005
A profile of a pro skier running a successful escort business on the side—or maybe it's the other way around:
His employees are escorts. The escorts trade in flesh. They have sex with men (and other women) for money. He nets a healthy six figures every year. He's broken fingers. He knows people who can break bigger things. He doesn't want to have to call these people, but he's got their numbers in his speed dial, next to the numbers of his old ski-equipment sponsors.
As a skier, Bobby wants what we all want. His dream is pure: a home in Canada and nothing to do all day but ski. A modest chalet, near the lifts, with room for friends to crash. The plasma television. His treasured photos of his grandfather Vincent—surrounded by olive trees in the old country. A harem of big mountain skis in the corner. Season pass. That's about it. He's got all the sunglasses he could ever wear from an endorsement contract back in his hucking days. "I haven't lost my love for skiing," he says. "I'm just kinda sidetracked for now."
Aimee Berg • Men's Journal • February 2010
A profile of aerialist Jeret Peterson, a three-time Olympian, who committed suicide this week at age 29:
The whole thing takes just 2.9 seconds. In that tiny window of time, between his skis leaving the ramp and touching down again, skier Jeret "Speedy" Peterson somehow flings his body through a complicated eight-part series of twists and flips that make up his signature trick. It requires such extraordinary precision, timing, and strength that no other skier has dared try it in competition. The difficulty lies not only in the combination but in the sequence: one twist on the first backflip, three twists on the second, and one more on the final backflip — while flying as high as a five-story building. One slight miscalculation could spell disaster.
Yet it all began as a joke. While Peterson was practicing jumps on a water ramp one day in 2004, coach Darcy Downs suggested he add a third twist to his second flip — and he somehow pulled it off. When Peterson later landed it on snow, his coaches rushed over and asked, "What did it feel like?"
"Like being stuck in the middle of a hurricane," Peterson answered. The name stuck. If all goes as he hopes, the Hurricane will win him gold in the Vancouver Olympics, where the 28-year-old Boise native is one of the favorites in freestyle aerials.
But outside those three seconds in the air, little in Peterson's life has gone according to plan. In fact, in the four years since the Turin games, where he was a medal contender and media star, his life away from skiing spun almost fatally out of control. The story of how he brought himself back, found his feet, and stuck the landing has never been fully told — until now.
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