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Black Diamonds, Ice, Thin Cover

By Frank Gruber

Two weeks ago my twelve-year old son Henry and I were skiing with our friend Dana and her two kids. To be more precise, and to show that our ski party was of the moment, Dana and I skied, and the three kids snowboarded.

Dana is an expert skier while I am permanently intermediate. The kids are not virtuoso snowboarders, but because of a snowboarding technique aptly named "falling leaf," they can slide down nearly any run a mountain can offer, no matter how steep or bumpy.

We usually skied together, on the intermediate, "blue" runs, but a few times Dana took the eager kids down double black diamond runs that were so ridiculously steep and covered with moguls that at best I could give them a sideways glance.

The next day Dana's husband Kevin joined us. Kevin, because he is a cool guy, has switched to snowboarding, and he and the three kids decided to take a snowboarding lesson together.

During the first run of the lesson, on not difficult terrain, the instructor demonstrated a new way of making turns. Henry tried it, fell, and broke his arm.

Dana told me, later, that, sorry as she was that Henry broke his arm, she was sure glad it didn't happen when she took him down the double black diamonds.

My wife, who teaches philosophy, tells me there is a concept called "moral luck." Sometimes people do dangerous, negligent, or even illegal things, but nothing bad happens. Other times, people do merely careless or even well-intentioned things and terrible things happen. Should we take consequences into account -- the implication of Dana's remark -- when we ascribe blame or praise for what people do?

But in fact an expert skier who takes kids who know falling leaf down a double black diamond is not negligent or less than conscientious. Nor, speaking for myself, is a parent who says okay. One needs to weigh the chance of a bad result, injury, against the likelihood of a good result -- not only the fun the kids had, but the boost it gave their confidence and their skill. Growing up.

I never went skiing as a kid, but I spent the summer I turned 17 camping in the Nevada desert, working on an archaeological dig. My Dad arranged it, through an archaeologist friend at the University of Nevada.

The site was about fifteen miles outside a little railroad town called Caliente, itself about 150 miles from Las Vegas. It was 1969 -- I got to watch the moon landing in a bar literally "on the other side of the tracks."

We would work ten days, then take four days off, so that people would have time to get away. Twice I used the opportunity to take the Southern Pacific to Los Angeles to visit my grandmother.

A friend from the dig, Russell, came with me the second time. Russell was a U. of Nevada student. He and I shared the same birthday, and the whole crew had a big party the day he turned 20 and I turned 17. That was the first time I drank tequila -- in the form of sunrises -- and both Russell and I got sick.

Russell especially, because his college friends kept adding tequila to his glass, increasing the ratio of alcohol to orange juice steadily to the point that Russell started singing to rocks.

The "defining moment" for the summer happened, however, on the way back from L.A. Russell and I missed our train connection in Las Vegas and had to hitch to Caliente. We arrived after the designated time we were to be picked up, and instead of reaching the logical conclusion, that our fellow diggers would return to meet the next train, we decided to hike to the campsite, even though it would soon be dark.

Taking for sustenance only a bag of bagels -- exotic delicacies that I had promised to bring back to the Nevadans from Canter's Deli -- we started walking the fire road back to camp.

Need I say it? We thought we knew a shortcut, took it, and in the dark became pathetically lost.

In the morning -- after a chilly night under the stars -- we were able to locate and reach the highway. We ultimately met up with the "search party" sent to meet yet another train.

Our punishment for being stupid was to dig latrines and trash pits for the rest of the dig. I remember being told that among all the ignorant and dangerous things we did the worst was to sleep in a dry gulch, because there was lightning toward the horizon, and we could have been swept away in a flash flood.

What did we know?

On a ski slope they mark the trails -- green circles, blue squares, black diamonds, double black diamonds. Information to make conscientious choices by.

Of course there are always patches of ice, and, especially in the spring, thin cover, and one can always find a way to break a leg, or worse. They don't print all that stuff on the lift ticket for nothing.

Speaking as a parent, I'm starting to get the feeling, that as my child gets older, the ice encrusted bumps and the tufts of grass sticking through the snow are starting to overwhelm the helpfulness of the trail markings. Not only that, but I've never skied some of those gnarly runs myself.

But without sending Henry down some black diamonds, how do I teach him how to ski -- or board -- the moguls?

I know -- get him a lesson. But that's how he broke his arm.

Meeting Notice:

Community Open House, Fourth Street Traffic Plan Permanent Improvements

The Planning Division is hosting an informal open house on the status of permanent improvements to Fourth Street between Pico Boulevard and Marine Street.

Thursday, April 18, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., at the Ocean Park Library, 2601 Main Street.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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