There are two Steve Martins in my friend Sally’s life. One is the famous actor who keeps making movies in her building.
And the other is the ski instructor whose been teaching her kids and her to ski for the past 11 years. And that’s the one I got to meet last week in when I met her in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Sally (who was one of my friends who came down to Houston to babysit for me and give my cousin Sarah and her husband a break) and I and her son Alex (more about him to come) met Steve at the gondola and Sally introduced me to him! “How are you?” he boomed. “Great,“ I said. “I got my ski boots on, such a good sign that I put it in my gratitude journal!”
Steve liked that one.
I’ve been hearing about him from Sally for years, how he complains about his knees (they certainly don’t look like they bother him from the way he skis) to how he loves to talk and how he knows everyone on the mountain. And all the nick names they have for each other, names that you can only come up with when you have spent a lot of quality time together and skied when kids were cold or tired or fighting but also had some spectacular moments when a kid realizes that he or she is an expert, or kids who maybe once were embarrassed at the way Steve Martin and Sally sang rock 'n roll on the chairlift realized they actually love that they sing on the chair lift or dance to Mustang Sally on the tram (I saw all those videos) So, Steve Martin and Alex and Sally had a lot of catching up to do, since they hadn’t seen each other for a year. And of course they had to fill Steve Martin in on Emily, Sally's daughter and Alex's big sister, who wasn't skiing because she was training for crew! And then they talked about where we were going to ski.
Now, my friends, I am definitely a ’fraidy cat a lot of the time and that fact kept me on blue runs and groomed blacks when I was skiing with Tom in Telluride. He’d go hike up to some great runs or do some chutes somewhere and I’d peel off and just do nice big turns to my heart’s content, even though in my heart of hearts I really felt I should do Genevieve, a run so scary at the top that I just have to jump into it without thinking otherwise I’ll talk myself out of it.
And even though Sally and I and Alex and Steve Martin were not going to be skiing Courbert’s Coulir which is basically a corkscrew and which Alex skis and I have seen the video of him going down it and it scares the shit out of me and I will NEVER do that one, I could tell we were not doing any blues or groomed blacks. We were going to be skiing black and double black bumps.
The last time I skied Jackson was when I was in college and it terrified me. Even then! Me, and my friends Meghan, Nancy and Laura and Meghan just found the journal we kept of that trip! And Meghan just told me how Jackson hammered her. It was a great trip but it was also pure luck that we survived it.
Anyway, Sally and I and Alex and Steve Martin took one run and I focused hard on trying to face downhill and plant my poles and do a lot of turns.
“You have great form,“ Sally said, ever the loyal and supportive friend.
And Steve Martin (no one calls him Steve, they just call him his full name) said “You’re a really pretty skier, Miss Kate.”
So I decided to tell him I was scared. not explicitly because that’s a hard thing to say. I said I was being tentativ. “I am fine,” I said, ”but in October and November I got five weeks of six doses a week of radiation with a little dash of chemo and it worked! But,” I explained, “the radiation side effects continue and increase after treatment ends, so I have not been doing really hard skiing. I’ve been power walking and lifting weights, but I‘ve just a been really tentative with what I do with my body even though I really want to get totally back into my old shape."
“What kind of cancer was it?” he asked. I shook my head. “I don’t like to give it power by naming it.”
He totally got it. Totally.
And off we all went.
We went down a big wide runand it was steep and had bumps. Not big ones, but big enough.
Shit. I thought. But i went down. Not pretty. But I made my turns and as always I got my confidence on the last three or four turns, mainly because there’s not as far to fall as there is at the top.
Now, Steve, can be really funny, as when he made fun of the way I had to uncreak myself when I got up from the table at lunch.
"Nice job," he said, laughing at how I had unwind myself when I got up.
But he can also be really gentle.
”Now Kate,” he said early on. “Your arms are being kind of lazy and they’re dropping back by your knees at the end of your turns and that is making you lean back and that tells your body you want to go straight down the mountain.”
”I don’t want to do that,“ I said hastily.
"So just keep your hands out where you can see them," he said,
"Like you're carrying a tray with cocktails," Sally chimed in.
And that's all it took. Yeah, I was still scared and kept looking for the easiest way down and Sally was super supportive by saying she doesn't like bumps and even Steve Martin said he doesn't like bumps, and he showed us how he just skis over them. And Sally had to keep reminding me, "like a cocktail tray!" she'd shout.
So I’d watch how SHE holds her poles.
And Alex waited patiently and then just skied ahead of us. Beautifully.
So they had to keep waiting for me, but they were patient and Steve Martin always has a story about a tree or a slope or a distant peak, it was really relaxed skiing,
We pulled up at the top of one run.
"Look!" Sally said, pointing downhill. "Prayer flags!"
"This," Steve said, "Is Wally's World."
And then he pointed out trees and the line of the slope and which way we'd want to go down. And we ended up in a little glade of trees and hanging from the trees was a big oblong, slightly arced piece of metal.
It was a gong. Hanging right next to it, a big drumstick, with a big padded ball on the end of it.
And Steve told us about his friend Wally, ski patroller, parapenter, kayaker, biker and all around adventurer who was not afraid to crash. And it sounds like he had a lot of crashes. He sounded like the kind of guy who brought the party with him, especially as bartender extraordinaire at the Mangy Moose.
Wally died at this spot while ski patrolling, tramping down snow as part of avalanche control. But it sounds like the avalanche caught him.
The gong has got some stickers on it; I really liked the one from the Tenth Mountain Division, legendary WW2 snow warriors who trained to fight in the mountains and in the winter. And a lot of the ones who survived came home and created the ski industry as we know it. I am reading a book about them right now!
And so we each took the gong and hit it and said a blessing of gratitude. It was incredibly moving.
One of the stickers said something like it's better to be in the mountains and thinking about God than to be in church thinking about skiing. I am for that.
And so the day went, lots of laughter and poking fun. When we went into lunch, a young woman was sitting in the sun just outside the restaurant with some little kids. They were maybe three or four years old. One was lying on the ground, crying. Steve Martin stopped and knelt on the ground next to them.
"Wanna hear a secret?" he said, The two kids who were not crying were like, "Yeah!"
"See this?" he said, running his fingers on the grass poking out at the edge if the melting snow. "You know what this means?" he whispered. The crying kid had stopped crying. "Spring is coming," he said. "Pretty soon it'll be time to jump in the pool!"
It was totally masterful.
The guy totally knows his audience. Throughout the day, there were lots of moments of stopping to look and soak in where we were. Steve Martin said he has to do that a lot with clients, stop them and get them to look at where they are. We'd be on some run and he'd point to a run and say "that one has soul."
I cartwheeled down a run called Tensleep, one that Sally and crew rarely can ski because snow conditions often prevent it but they love it. First fall of the year. It shook me, but I kept skiing. I bailed early though, pleading radiation fatigue, which it mighta been. I get it just every once in a while. It's tired with a metallic taste in the back of my mouth and as soon as I lie down for a bit, I feel fine. So that's what I did.
But I missed a turn on the way down and so I didn't get to say goodbye to Steve Martin because we were only skiing with him for a day.
But I saw him the next day. We were on the lift above him and he was doing jump turns in the air with some kids. Bad knees? I thought as I watched. Yeah, right, Steve Martin.
We screamed at him. "STEVE MARTIN!“ And he heard us and hollered back.
Eventually Sally and I and Alex, who alternated between skiing with us and a bunch of his friends, made our way back to Tensleep Bowl so Alex could do a jump. Sally had forgotten her phone, so I videoed it, but I accidentally put it on timelapse. It was GREAT jump.
Here's one frame from the Timelapse.
Poor Alex had to climb back up to do the next.
Here's the actual video.
Nice landing, right?
And Alex was such a good sport, he didn't bitch at all. And I got down Tensleep just fine! Tensleep leads to another run and Alex was such a good sport that when I asked him to point out the easiest way down, he actually skied it for me! Was that not nice?
At one point I asked Sally if Steve Martin had taken them to the gong before. "No," she said. It was a first for her and Alex, too.
Later Steve Martin sent me an incredibly sentimental text about how he just thought that was the moment to take Alex and Sally and me to the gong. it was so sweet I almost asked him if he were Irish.
Anyway, it was a wonderful few days.
Mountains. Friends. Old and new.
Thank you so much, Sally! OOOXXX