Words by Mike Rogge
The best part about being young and living near a ski area is having the careless ability to rationalize blowing off (insert responsibilities here) and heading up to the hill for some fun. When I was in high school in upstate New York, my friends and I would routinely play hooky and head to one of the local resorts for “powder days.” I put “powder days” in quotations because 3 inches of rain was enough to trade a day of education for a day playing in the snow.
During junior year, our ski crew drove up to Gore Mountain for what was promised to be a reasonably good 6-inch fresh day of skiing trees. Our friend Ben joined us. It was his first day on skis. Those of you that have gone out with a beginner on their first day understand that the new guy drags down the day with their inexperience. Ben, while struggling awkwardly to click into his bindings in the lift line, made it clear that he was not going to be that kind of beginner. And while I’d love to tell you that he took to skiing like a fish to water, he did not and we found ourselves waiting for him most of the day.
Ben, however, made the most of his first day on snow. Instead of overcompensating for his lack of skill, he had us cringing over in bellyaching laughter the entire day. He’d tell insane, over the top stories to strangers on the lift about being an Olympic hopeful or being the head of ski school or that he co-invented twin tip skis. He had done his homework and every ride up he talked the talk. It took everything in our power to hold back the laughter of our newbie friend saying he, “got shafted by the Olympic mogul team” to one of Gore’s race coaches. Of course, then he’d get off the lift like a complete shit show, crashing horribly and taking the ski coach with him. We’d find ourselves on the ground with him, laughing hysterically.
On our last run, Ben politely asked if he could join us down Gore’s infamous double black diamond, The Rumor. Hesitantly, we agreed though I’m quite sure we were all concerned about Ben making it down in one piece. When we exited the lift and made our way to the top of the trail, most of us were strongly trying to convince Ben that we should take a cruiser down for the last run. “It’ll be great,” I said. “Just a nice relaxing run to end the day.” Ben confidently told us he could handle it and we believed him. Along with being one of the funniest friends of our group, he was also the most convincing, and not in a sleazy car salesman way. More in an inspirational way that would get us off our asses and do something. And so we skied to the top of The Rumor with Ben, who was ready to drop into one of New York’s steepest trails on his first day on skis.
Standing at the top, I remember thinking, “Hey, if he wants to do it, let him” which was quickly followed by a secondary thought of, “This isn’t a good idea.” Regardless, we dropped in, skiing the steep, tracked out 6 inches as fast as we could, because when you’re a dumb kid and calling last run, that’s what you do. I was second to the bottom. My friend and I quickly glanced up hill to catch the rest of our crew finish off the goods and hoping we wouldn’t find Ben lodged in a tree. Instead, there was Ben, sliding headfirst and smoothly on his back, skis and arms high in the air. His arms and legs flailed like one of those inflatable-armed tube men they put outside of car dealerships. He let out the loudest, “Aaaaaaaaghhhh!” and l can still hear it vividly eight years later.
When he reached the bottom, unscathed yet covered in snow and still on his back, he looked up at our faces of complete disbelief and smiled. “That was fun,” he said genuinely. And it always was when he was around.
This story is dedicated to the memory of Benjamin D. Osborn, a great comedian, brave soldier, and tremendous friend killed in combat in Afghanistan on June 15, 2010. Rest easy, my friend. You’ll be missed.