By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
We’ve all had that moment, when we’re doing something that’s borderline insane, we say to ourselves, “black folks just don’t do this.”
I recently had one of those moments while at Bear Mountain in Big Bear. Towards the end of a day of snowboarding I had the bright idea of taking Chair 8. Chair 7 is for beginners. I passed that a while ago when I took lessons at Snow Summit, also in Big Bear. Chair 6 is for intermediates. I reached that level while perfecting the falling leaf at Mountain High in Wrightwood, and my J-turns were pretty good. My toe side wasn’t the greatest, but my heel side was pretty good.
Chair 8 goes all the way to the top of Bear Mountain. The elevation is 8,805 feet above sea level, and it is the highest lift served peak in Southern California. There are two slopes on this run, one is listed as advanced, the second is listed as expert, and the run is called “Geronimo.”
Why was I doing this? Well… why not? Could I do this? Well… of course! The best reason for doing this was because I can. That seems to be a logical answer for doing any illogical act.
I certainly was not the first black person to try something like this. Four Seasons West Ski and Snowboard Club (4SW) is celebrating 45 years of service and fun, so there have been a ton of blacks, most of whom are better than me, who have conquered a peak like this.
4SW has a heritage and tradition of promoting the sport of skiing and snowboarding within the black community, and it has become a world-class ski club by hosting numerous events throughout the year.
The focus of the club is in the winter, when they host trips to Bear Mountain, Snow Summit, Snow Valley, Mountain High, and Mammoth. On March 19 they will have a Learn-to-Ski/Board Youth trip at Snow Valley, and on March 25 they will be heading up to Mammoth for Winter Wonderland.
From December through April 4SW hosts multiple events per month.
Another local club is Bad Boarderz, who have been taking their members on exciting adventures for the last seven years. They have received the honor of “Best Winter Recreation Group” in California for providing positive adult and youth snowboarding programs.
Like 4SW, they have multiple trips throughout the winter months. This month they have a Learn to Snowboard Family Day trip at Snow Valley, March Madness Renegade Weekend at Bear Mountain, the 4th Annual Sin City Slopestyle Contest at Ski Las Vegas, and the Money N the Bank Rail Jam at Mt. Baldy.
Both 4SW and Bad Boarderz have two trips each in April, just before the season ends. Both clubs are free to join, you just have to pay for the trips that you go on.
Through these clubs, as well as others, many blacks have had fun experiencing a sport that a lot of us do not believe is for us.
As for my experience with Chair 8, the ride up to Geronimo was nearly as scary as the trip down it.
As I was riding up the ski lift, I noticed that there was only one other person making the trip up to the top, and there were not very many people going down. That was not a settling feeling, and it became even more unsettling as the wind kicked up as the chair went higher and higher. The chair started to sway a lot and the cross bar, which did not have a locking mechanism, was not offering much protection. But I made it up to the top without any issues.
At the top I could see the entire town of Big Bear, the lake, and the surrounding mountain ranges. I could not believe how high up I was, and then a thought crept in my mind. There is only one way down.
After a prayer I strapped up the snowboard to my boots and started out to the first slope.
As I approached the first slope I noticed that I could see the edge, but I could not see the slope, so I had no idea what I was in for. After pumping myself up I went over the edge, and it was literally all downhill from there.
Everything that I had learned pretty much flew out of the window as the board was free falling while I had no control over it.
The slopes that Chairs 6 and 7 led to seemed so easy. I was gliding all over the place all day and I thought I was a pro. I was having so much fun. But Geronimo, what was I thinking?
After spending more time on my back sliding down the mountain instead of on my board, I reached the bottom of the first of two slopes. Then it hit me, the first slope was advanced, and the second slope, the one that I was about to go down, was expert. It’s only getting worse.
The thought of taking off the board and walking down did creep into my mind, but then I reminded myself that I’m an ice cold brother and I’m in my element! There was no way I was going to walk down that mountain. I’m going to conquer this!
It did not look pretty, but I willed myself down the expert slope and made it all the way to the bottom of the mountain without taking the board off and walking it. Well, I made it almost to the bottom on the snowboard. After riding Geronimo, and cruising past the bunny slopes, I took a massive header about 50 feet from the base of the mountain and I was done!
As I unbuckled myself from the snowboard, I told myself that in the future I’m going to master Geronimo and make the entire run on my board, not on my back.
It will take a number of trips to Bear Mountain, Snow Summit, and Mountain High to do that, but with ski/snowboarding clubs like 4SW and Bad Boarderz, I’ll have a number of pros to show me the right way to do it.
View from the top of Bear Mountain, 8,805 feet above sea level. This is the highest lift served peak in Southern California. Photo by Jason Lewis
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