It started with sledding.
Growing up in Iowa, I enjoyed winter. Snow was less of an inconvenience and more of a fact. Yes, it made it difficult to get around. Yes, you had to be careful in the cold weather. There was no point in complaining about it, though. The best thing to do was to enjoy it.
The best place for sledding was Grandview Park. It was a simple hill, plain and steep. I tried to sled at our farm, but the accumulation was too much. Sledding worked best when you had only a few inches of snow; much more than that and you’d just sink in. When you had the right amount, you’d fly. Going fast was the point, and that hill at Grandview some how always had just the right coverage.
When I was fourteen, we built The Sled. It was in Boy Scouts, for the Klondike Derby. The Derby was a series of events over the course of a weekend that culminated an sled-dog style race, only we were the dogs. We’d inherited an older sled from the previous generation of Scouts. It weighed approximately five thousand pounds. So when I was fourteen, we built a new one. My best friend Eric designed it, light and fast, with a pair of downhill skis for runners. It was under the minimum weight requirement for the competition, so we had to strap iron plates to it. We finished second in the race that year, losing to a troop made up of district champion cross country runners.
It was the next year that the legend of The Sled began. That year our Klondike Derby campsite was on a steep incline, next to an RV access road. There’d been snow a few days before, but it had warmed up and melted on the pavement. The day of the Derby there was a cold snap, and it re-froze. The result was an ice road.
We ran The Sled down that highway of ice dozens of times that night. I’m shocked that none of our Scoutmasters ever stopped us. There were points when the metal bits of the skis scraped over the exposed sections of asphalt, shedding sparks in the cold night air. It was glorious.
I didn’t learn to ski until I moved to California. But the seeds were planted, there in Grandview Park and on the back of The Sled, in the cold Iowa winters.