Jess Walter: The Urban Outdoors

There was six inches of fresh powder over a righteous base and I was seriously shredding-practically cliff-hucking, and that’s when I caught more air than I’d intended and found myself about to go tree-jibbing. So I bailed, dude.

I rolled off my sled.

Went home and had some cocoa.

See, I’m a sledder. I don’t even know what most of that stuff in the first paragraph means.

For too long, sledders like me have been ignored by the outdoors media and by the recreation marketplace. Where’s the sled swap at the beginning of every season? Where’s Warren Miller’s movie about extreme sledding? (With a wide shot of a sun-silhouetted crevasse as I sail over it sitting cross-legged on a ketchup-colored saucer.)

I also ski a little, but my real winter sport is sledding. Honestly, skiing is too much work. With sledding, you don’t have to leave the city. It’s cheap. It doesn’t take all day. And best of all, you don’t have to endure snobbish and self-important skiers or snowboarders looking down on you because you don’t happen to own ski clothes and happen to be skiing in gray sweatpants and a suede coat.

With my kids, I go to the usual sledding resorts-Indian Canyon and Downriver golf courses, Mission and Manito parks. But for real extreme sledding, like skiing, you have to venture off the beaten path to those overlooked places-South Hill streets and ungroomed urban hillsides. My personal favorite used to be the Post Street Hill near Garland.

And to think I almost quit my favorite sport once.

It was many years ago. I had gone sledding with one of my previous wives and another couple at Mission Park in the Valley. At one point the male in this other couple made the seemingly harmless suggestion that I sled with his wife and that he go down the hill with mine.

So this attractive woman climbs on my plastic sled and nestles in behind me. Right away, I notice that she’s squeezing me pretty tight and in a somewhat unorthodox way. Then, as we’re soaring down the hill, one of her hands wanders and approaches my … uh, well, the demilitarized zone.

Like most men, I have a Pavlovian response when someone’s hand crosses the Mason Dixon line, so by the time we got to the bottom of the hill I had to stall for a few minutes before I could climb off the slide. (“No, I’m just going to sit here for a seconds until I remember where I put my car keys.”)

That’s when gropie’s husband came racing down the hill with my wife, and at first I was afraid she was going to see my condition through my gray sweatpants, and that’s when I noticed this other guy draped over my wife like leather on a cow.

Needless to say, we got out of there as quickly as possible. Uh, after ten or fifteen more runs. We had apparently stumbled on some kind of sledding swingers community, right here in Spokane. (I imagine their sick, cocoa-and-ecstasy fueled orgies and it disgusts me … well, actually it intrigues me just a little, but then I really like cocoa.)

Jess Walter’s new novel, The Zero, is available in bookstores

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