The Roca Jack

Felice hadn’t skied in ten years.  Not since her father died.  It just wasn’t the same.  He loved the life.  Loved to hire an instructor, beat the lines and take a long lunch at Mid-Vail.

But I told her it was a deal breaker.  That unlike her exes I wouldn’t push her, I wouldn’t yell at her, we’d have fun.

And the season began in Aspen, where she rented the new shaped skis and hired an instructor who got her back in the groove.  She had fun.  She loved it.

And in short order, she got better, really good.  And it didn’t matter if it was a blizzard out, she’d accompany me into the weather.

It was quite the turnaround, from reluctance to zeal.  If we didn’t ski for a few weeks, Felice would question me…when were we going again?

And then she got her own boots.  Tecnicas.  A racing model, but with a soft flex.  And suddenly, her ability and confidence soared.  We were looking up at Mammoth’s cornice from Chair 12 as the wind blew flakes into the steep natural bowl below and when I expressed a desire to make some turns up in Scotty’s she said yes!

So, we skied down the backside and after riding the lift up climbed the ridge into some of the gnarliest weather, swirling snow amidst forty mile an hour winds.  But after hesitating to drop in, Felice linked turns all the way down the bowl, and then wanted to do it AGAIN!

And I feel responsible.  What am I going to tell Felice’s mother if she gets injured.  But Felice exhibits a confidence, and an ability.  So, after skiing for an hour in the bright sunshine of Portillo, I suggested we take the Roca Jack.

Oh, I figured we’d wait till day two.  Or three.  To ride Portillo’s most legendary lift.  But the snow was up there beckoning.

At first Felice said no, then yes.

Because of avalanche danger, Poma of France had to design a new kind of uphill transportation for this steep slope.  They named it Va et Vient (French for "come and go").  And refer to it as a slingshot.

You stand on a flat.  And then the person on the far end yanks on a rope and brings down the lift.  Which is the weirdest contraption.  A cable with five round discs suspended from poles, that you place between your legs and then let the whole contraption drag you up the slope.

They call it a slingshot lift for two reasons.  One five man contraption goes up while another comes down, in a jigback arrangement.  And, they go LIGHTNING FAST!

The first time I put Felice on the end.  Since those on either side disembark first, which is easiest.  And disembarkation is perilous.  For the lift stops high up on the slope.  Not in an area that’s flat, but on the steep hill itself.

And I’m conversing with the gentleman from Boston next to me as Felice starts to freak.  She’s losing the disc.  She’s holding on for dear life.  I encouraged her to just hang on, we were more than half way there.  And then it got really steep.  Far beyond thirty degrees.  And if you fuck up here, you’re in serious trouble.

But we made it!  Felice let go, and slid off.  TOWARDS THE ROCKS!  Oh shit, STOP!  But she did.  And then I inched her away from the protruding boulders and we surveyed the landscape.  Towering craggy edifices.  One we were hugging the side of.  And then, we started to swoop down.  Well, not exactly swoop, but I linked turn after turn first in the bumps and then through the death cookies and into the frozen crud.  I got no bitching about the skiing, but when I suggested we take the Rock Jack again, Felice declined, strongly.  The Va et Vient had been just too harrowing an experience.

When we were riding the Juncalillo chairlift…I brought it up again.  I got a firm no.  I decided not to push it.  But, after ascending the La Laguna lift, which deposits one at the bottom of the Rock Jack, Felice stunned me and said she wanted to go up again.

And there was no one waiting.  But by time the lift got down to us, two snowboarders had arrived.  And there are almost no snowboarders in Portillo, but whatever you do, you don’t want to ride the Roca Jack with them.  Because they tend to go SIDEWAYS!  And everybody’s arm to arm.  And if one person fucks up…

But there were only two of them.  I let them take the far side, and Felice and I took the near side.  Me on the end.  I figured it would be easier for Felice in the middle, since she’d found the end so rough.

And we’re going up.  And it’s occurring to me that Felice was right, the end IS harder.  But I’m holding on.  To the very top.  Whereupon, I let go.  Planning to slide backwards, turning in the process, and then end up sideways and ultimately skiing out of the way.

But in the process, in the ADVENT of the process, something strange is happening.  I’ve lost control.  I’m twisting.  I’m falling.  I’m starting to slide down the Roca Jack BACKWARDS!

And the Roca Jack slope is the kind that you can’t arrest your fall, you might slide all the way to the bottom, at least halfway.  After all, for every two feet the lift goes forward, it goes up one.  It’s STEEP!

And I won’t say it’s quite like seeing a car accident in slow motion.  I was already in process.  But…what lay in the future?  People?  Rocks?

And then I realized Felice was sliding right next to me.  Was she going to be able to stop?  And then, just like that, I dug in an edge, and so did she, and way high in the Andes we were looking at each other when I suddenly realized what had happened.  When I let go, as the instructions had stated at the bottom, Felice had TOO!  She hadn’t ridden in the middle yet.  She didn’t know you were supposed to let those on the end off first.  As my skis had slid backwards, they’d run into hers, I’d lost my edge, that’s what caused my fall.

And my upper back ain’t feeling that great.  And I asked Felice WHAT WAS UP?

She told me she just LET GO!  She didn’t think the lift would stop!

Hate to tell you, I played the male.  Probably every other one she’d ever skied with.  Hadn’t she read the SIGN, saying to wait till those on the end got off first??  Didn’t she hear me ask the person next to me if the lift stopped at the top?

Getting no response, I turned towards the hill.  I started going down.  But, while I waited for Felice at the bottom, I noticed my knee was a bit tweaked.  Oh, THIS is good.  My very first day in a FREAK ACCIDENT?  That…WASN’T MY FAULT?

This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t bring couples together.  We went back to the room, I put some Traumeel anti-inflammatory gel on my knee.  We went to the dining room.  I could barely speak.  I felt bad for Felice, yet, I felt BAD!

But I was ruining the day.

So, eventually, I sucked it up.  And we went back out.  To the Plateau side.  Where the sun shines in the afternoon.  And when we got to the Condor slingshot lift at the top of the El Plateau lift, Felice said no go.  I told her it was her choice.  Usually she rises to the occasion.  But NO WAY!

I dropped it.

We skied some gentle slopes.

And then, I asked Felice again.  But she misunderstood me.  She thought I was referring to the third slingshot lift.  Las Vizcachas.  The one that takes you up right under the rocks, the one nobody was riding, because the snow was so junky.  Cut up and frozen.

I told Felice that the skiing was easier over by the Condor slingshot.  Then Felice said, almost like Butch Cassidy, it wasn’t the SKIING she was worried about, but the LIFT!

She was game.

We walked over.  I made her get on the end, so she could get off first, unrestricted.  And, when the lift stopped high on the slope, just under the rocks, Felice let go and started sliding STRAIGHT BACKWARD!  Funny the little skills you get from skiing every day that others are clueless to.  I foresaw disaster.  But then Felice turned her skis sideways, she stopped.  Now all we had to do was make our way down.

I let Felice go first.  But, after she linked about ten turns and was halfway down the slope I figured I’d better push off.  And the snow was HORRIBLE!  An inch of slop on top of slabs of ice, laid over bumps.  I couldn’t watch Felice anymore, I had to PAY ATTENTION!

But when I finally reached her, I got no complaints.  A few comments on the lift, but the skiing?  NO PROBLEM!

I’ve told Felice that’s the mark of an expert skier.  Someone who can make it down in the junkiest snow, the worst conditions possible on the steepest of slopes.

I told her today, SHE QUALIFIES!

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