How did my ski life start? Well, as many great endeavors begin, it was a woman, well actually an 18-year-old woman. Her name was Cindy Russell and she was beautiful. I was 18 too, and with nearly two seasons of self-taught snowboarding experience, I wasn’t ready for what I was about to get myself into. My snowboard instruction consisted of some pictures in Powder Magazine, and a segment in a Warren Miller Movie. The equipment in 1986 was pretty basic. I had Sorel work boots that I strapped in to the Burton Elite 150 snowboard. This was as techie as snowboarding had become in those early days.
It didn’t matter if I was riding alone or with a few of my skiing friends. What I knew was that sliding on water - frozen or liquid - was the best thing in the world. I started surfing when I was 11 and I thought that was the most bitchin’ thing ever. And then I found the freedom and friction-less glide of a seemingly endless wave. I couldn’t get enough, and I still can’t.
On weekends during the winter and spring, I drove my truck up to the Southern California mountains early every Saturday morning. I would “couch surf” in the nights and snowboard for those two days. Then the opportunity came to ask out the most beautiful girl I knew. I worked up the nerve to ask Cindy if she would go up to Big Bear Lake with me. She said, “Yes”!! And I was thrilled.
We left our town of Dana Point at 5 am and arrived laughing and smiling a couple hours later at 7:15. The weather that day was incredible with cool blue skies and 10 inches of fresh powder. My skills were going to be on display and the conditions were great. Cindy and I flirted and took powder laps one after the other until we skied out to the eastern boundary of the small ski area.
The boundary run ended on a cat track that was pancake flat and exposed to the midday sun. The snow had transformed into 10 inches of glue. I had never experienced this snow condition until right then when I flew into it at about 25 mph. My snowboard slowed immediately to zero as my upper body maintained its speed into a downward arc. When I emerged I was without gloves, goggles, my hat, and one Sorel. Cindy skied up to me, kindly retrieving my clothing and thanking me for the snow test in untracked conditions. This was not at all how I envisioned removing my clothing for the first time around Cindy.
As we pushed out of the seemingly never-ending flat run, I tried several ways to gain momentum, all of which ended in frustration and an increasing amount of sweat drenching my shirt under my jacket. When we finally came to a semi-groomed flat section I was exhausted. In capitulation, I made a request of Cindy that took my 18-year-old ego down several notches. I asked, “Cindy, can you pull me?” UGGGGGH, I couldn’t believe what I was saying as I thought to myself, ‘Jon, you were so cool, UNTIL NOW.’ Cindy extended her ski pole and began to skate with me in tow. This is when I decided that I was going to trade in my snowboard for skis.
In the lodge that afternoon, the trade was made. My transformation from snowboarder to skier was initiated. I was now the owner of 185 cm White Fischer RC4 skis and Raichle RE3 rear-entry boots. For the next three years, I would spend my college weekends becoming a Southern California skier.
This is an excerpt from Jon's forthcoming book Skiing: From the Bottom Up. Send your feedback and follow along here for weekly posts with stories and ski lessons from Jon's nearly three decades of experience.
Join Jon for the 2018 Zelement Club JaPOW ski and ride trip to Myoko, Japan. January 28 - February 4.
Private Lessons with Jon are available through Copper Mountain Ski School from mid-November to mid-April. Call +1.970.968.3023 or email email@example.com to book your lesson now. Read more about lessons with Jon on our Colorado page.
It didn't take me long to get back in the swing of this solo travel thing and start collecting stories. The sights of the Golden Circle were pretty neat but the best part was the personal tour I received afterwards.
A woman in my small tour group of 10 was highly recommending I have the whale for my one dinner here. When I told her I'd had it in Japan, our driver chimed in, "Here it is different and much better. The fat on the steak melts in your mouth." This sounded good to me. So when we reached our last stop of the tour, I asked him to drop me off in downtown Reykjavik Whale- near a place where I can get a good whale dinner. He took this as an opportunity to offer some Icelandic hospitality and after he confirmed I was traveling alone, invited me out to dinner. I sat at my window seat in the middle of the bus as we dropped off the other guests at their downtown hotels (with a quick detour to Bjork's house) thinking how do I always get myself in to these situations.
We had to return the bus to the depot on the outskirts of the city before getting in my guide's personal vehicle, a black Hummer H2 that he uses for off-road tours. He hesitated to turn on the car and rather turned to me and said, "I've been trying to think of a way to say this that won't make you uncomfortable..." (I immediately felt uncomfortable.) "…but I can't. Would you like to go to the thermal bath with me?" This was the number one item on my Iceland to do list that I didn't think I was going to get around to so I was excited about this. Then he proceeded to talk about how we barely knew each other and it might be awkward getting naked and going in the pools together. Well, yeah, now it felt awkward.
The geothermal bath is a year-round cultural practice. Many people traditionally go to start their day or wind down after work. There is a strict showering process that takes place in gender-segregated locker rooms, with attendants suggesting more soap if they catch one not washing enough* A friendly attendant stopped me before the shower and asked my name. I told her and she said, "Oh, I am looking for someone named Brenda. I thought that might be you."
Outside the locker room my guide was waiting for me and we walked in the cold afternoon air to the beginner 40*C pool. After some 45 minutes of pool hopping and some chitchat he admitted he wasn't sure what my name was but thought it might be Brenda.
I took another shower and was relieved to get my clothes back on and be heading to a restaurant for a more traditional evening of getting to know a new travel friend. That's when Bjorn dropped the next bomb on me. "I'm glad you were agreeable to my crazy idea. Because it might not be my last." WHAT?! "If you are willing, I'd like to cook you dinner. I have some very good whale meat at home." No one had ever said THAT to me before. I asked if he was a good cook. He said yes.
Back in the car on the way to the suburbs I was thinking how nice it is that he welcomes solo travelers to his home and that he probably gets to meet a lot of people this way. It was just then that he said, "I want you to know I've never done this before. I just enjoyed our conversation earlier and wanted to get a chance to continue it." Oh jeez.
Bjorn prepared a very nice dinner of whale steak, cod, and potatoes, paired with a Spanish red wine. We shared travel stories at the beautiful dining table in the atrium by the garden until it was time for me to get to the airport for my 2 am flight. He was so kind to treat me to all these experiences and a lift to the airport. Honestly I never expected anything like this and I am thankful for all the kind souls traveling brings in to my life.
*Anyone that has ever lived with me or traveled with me knows that I enjoy a good shower so no, this did not happen to me. Since the showers are wide open and fully nude, I did witness this happen to two other women.
I preplanned most of this stopover because it was so short and because I was arriving so late. The hotel I found must have been one of those internet misprints - it cost 98¢ in a land where a bunk in a 14-bed mixed dorm hostel room was going for an average of $50 a night. Yes, the room here at Cabin Hotel is very small. And the twin beds are about 33% narrower than usual. And I can hear my neighbor snoring like at my campsite in Yosemite. But the value is on point. This tiny private room comes with its own tiny private bath, the reception is open 24 hours and took less than 30 seconds to check me in. All this is wonderful when I arrive at midnight at an airport that is over 45 minutes from Reykjavik city center. I booked a transfer ahead of time on the Grayline bus which got me here in relative comfort for about $18. I considered sleeping in the airport to save money and just going to the Blue Lagoon at 8 am but the reviews on www.sleepinginairports.net indicated that it would be a rough night with sarcastic, kicking security guards. Either way would have made for a good story but, when I made a rookie mistake of booking three red-eyes in a row to start my 2+ month trip, I went with the potentially more comfortable option. Tomorrow I will enjoy my complimentary breakfast and do some work using the free lobby wifi while I wait for my Golden Circle tour bus to collect me for a 9 hour tour of natural beauty in the 50* rainy, windy weather. Thanks to Casey and Jess for loaning me a very cozy Burlington sweatshirt on my brunch layover in Boston this morning.
Sharon and Jon live the life of their dreams. Zelement Club is their way of inviting others to join them in this adventure.