December 1, 2002


When I was a wee youngin’ and learning to ski, my family would always go out to Powder Ridge in Kimbal, Minnesota. The hill was an improbable nub of rock jutting out of an endless sea of farmland. It wasn’t a great ski hill by any means, but if you were a seven-year-old sprite with limited knowledge of gravity and muscles to burn, it was about as close to heaven as you could get.

We always went on weeknights, probably because it was less crowded and less expensive than a weekend jaunt would be. I never saw the place in daylight, but that’s just as well. It enhanced the mystery. Their floodlights worked to keep the darkness of winter at bay. I always hear their buzzing floodlights.

I had some old skis that were made before bindings came rigged with stopping mechanisms, so I had to wear leather straps that snaked around my legs. One time I got tired of carrying those skis and left them at the hill. I insist that I left them behind because I thought my parents would pick them up. My parents insist I left them behind because I hated those skis. We’re probably both right.

When we got cold we would go into the chalet for donuts with sprinkles and hot chocolate. They had two orange boot-warming machines that I found fascinating, but my dad would never give me quarters to try it out. They also had an arcade with Streets of Rage. You got to punch people a lot.

Once I became mildly competent at skiing (and I got some new skis) I would often run off on my own. I liked to ski through the trees and fly off jumps, and my dad liked to disapprove of these antics. Once when going up the chairlift alone I saw someone pull a 360 off a neat jump. When I got off the chair I waddled over to the chute, and after getting my nerves up I burned downhill and shot off the jump. It was after I got some serious air that I realized the jump sat a good ten feet above the landing. I flew about fifteen feet through the air and crumpled face first into the snow, losing my poles and skis to a full-on yard sale. Some kids on the chairlift howled encouragement. I smiled.

When I met back up with my parents they were talking about seeing this one kid bite it off a jump. I said that was me. They looked at me funny. People have looked at my funny ever since.

Much of my life has also been spent on the slopes. When I was younger, i learned to ski at Vail and Keystone. My grandparents lived a block from Hyland Hills in Bloomington. I enjoyed skiing at this 200 ft bump in the midwest more than any of the megaresorts in my own back yard. There was just something about riding a rope tow versus a high speed super quad. I can’t even explain it. There is so much more adreneline involved in trying to avoid hitting your head on the boilerplate ice (this was before helmets mind you). Even more wonderful was the night skiing. Kids at the the local schools had season passes and would come everyday after class. I didn’t think it was fair. When I was younger, I wanted to move away from the champagne powder and ski the ice everynight after school. Who cared that there was only one run? Now that I’m a bit older, I have realized that maybe i prefer the powder and the 5,600 acres of terrain, but Hyland Hills will always have a special place in my heart that will leave no room for the cold indifferent vastness of vail.
Also- crash story.
In about third grade, I was still on the cusp of being a skilled skiier. On the last run of the day, a tree seemed to jump out of the woods and hit me in the face. I was knocked out, and i woke up a few seconds later with a black eye.
Later that day, we went to the bar, which had karaoke that day. Naturally I got up and sang, with the stage name of “Bobby Blackeye”
jon shay