The last time I made my way down tail end of the Natural Half-pipe was in a rescue sled dragged behind Big Sky’s Ski Patrol. It was last February, and a run-in with a tree had just left my body broken in over a dozen places and tangled around the trunk of a rather sturdy pine. A trip to the ICU, two surgeries, and ten months of physical therapy later, there I was in the half-pipe again, cautiously pizza-wedging down to see the spot that left me out of commission for the rest of last year’s ski season.
The trip was one I had been intending to take, but had been putting off since Opening Day. Then last night I read an article by climber Aron Ralston, soon to be immortalized by James Franco in the upcoming movie 127 Hours. Ralston takes an annual pilgrimage to Blue John Canyon, where in 2003 he narrowly escaped death by hacking off his own arm that had been pinned beneath a boulder. “It’s a place of peace for me, of clarifying acceptance,” Ralston says in the latest issue of Outside magazine. “To stand there with the rock that trapped me is literally a touchstone experience, a unique chance to look over my life and check in with myself.”
I didn’t lose an appendage or anything, let alone cut one off myself, but Ralston’s story inspired me. So with snow covering the half-pipe again and a few ski days under my belt, I figured it was time for just such a check in. I enlisted the support of my trusty PR team member Chad Jones and paid a visit to what my friends have dubbed The Grease Tree – a name they carved into its trunk in remembrance of my accident and reference to their endearing (if slightly embarrassing) nickname for me: Greasy Greer.
Skiing up to the tree, my reaction was not quite as peaceful as Ralston’s: somebody hand me an axe! But after a moment, I did feel some of Ralston’s clarifying acceptance: our bodies are breakable, and we take risks every time we ski. I was reminded of why I love my helmet, why skiing in a group of friends isn’t just for the laughs, and why I never forget to bring my cell phone with me on the hill. I was reminded of the kindness of fellow Montana skiers (a vacationing high-schooler found me and called for help) and how amazing our Ski Patrol is (when they sent me off in the ambulance, I asked if Ski Patrol could come with me to the hospital and keep treating me). I was reminded why skiing cautiously is key, especially during early season conditions, despite our stellar 45” base.
So The Grease Tree and I kissed and made up. We hugged, much more gently than last time, and I thanked it for sparing my life, my skiing abilities, and my drive to get back on the slopes. People always say that spring is the time for new life and new beginnings, but with a fresh blanket of white snow acting as my clean slate, I’m convinced it’s winter.
As Chad and I prepare to enter the belly of the beast, the age old expression comes to mind: "If you french fry when you should've pizza-ed, you're gonna have a bad time..."
Interactions with The Grease Tree
A reenactment of February 3rd, 2010