Colby West: On Board Gaming, X Gaming & Losing

Reflections on the game of life by an ultra-competitive skier

By Colby James West
Published: February 6, 2011

I asked my mom what happened to me when I was younger to make me so darn competitive. She said it’s just part of who I am, and told me a story from when I was about three or four years old, barely old enough to even understand the concept of winning or losing. Mom brought out a board game to have fun with her brand new little boy, to show him how much fun playing with friends and life in general can be. I can’t remember the name of the game, but it was the one where you put little plastic shapes into the appropriate slots. If you don’t finish putting the shapes in before the timer goes off, or before the enemy (mom) gets all of theirs in, then your side of the board pops into the air, scattering your shapes and hard work everywhere: you lose. This was the worst-case-scenario, in my mind: losing.

So when mom finishes her side of the game, my pieces launch into the air, surprising and confusing me, and causing panic within. What the f*ck! I wasn’t done yet! My eyes grew wide with rage and a noise rose from my throat unlike any other a child has ever made before in the history of board gaming. From my mom’s description of it, I guess it was somewhat of a snarl mixed with a yell, a sort of Gollum roar. Then I lunged over the game, my hands reaching toward my own mother’s neck. She withdrew in fear, until she remember that I was not yet 40 pounds, and then simply caught me in her arms, stifling my desperate attempt at murder.

“Colby! This is NOT how we lose games!” She said this sternly to the creature writhing in her arms, trying to get free. “We are going to play again! And this time, if you lose, don’t you dare react that way. It’s OK to lose. It’s just a game. You’re not always going to win. Sit down and let’s start the timer again.”

We tried again. My mother furrowed her brow in a look of cautious suspicion as we began to fit our shapes into the board. It happened again, of course. My side of the board popped and I sprung forward almost before my plastic, shaped pieces could fall out of the air. After trying a few more times with that game and others, mom gave up, deciding to love me as I was; a tiny Jeckyll and Hyde of competition. That’s how my mother’s story about my instinctive competitive nature ends, but not for me. My story continued all through school. I played soccer viciously and many other sports with no mercy, filled with rage at a loss or elation at a win.

I wasn’t on fire this year for X Games, I just wasn’t feeling it from the beginning. I hurt myself at the first Dew Tour. I got a concussion and a bone bruise on my right shin, which forced me to skip skiing until the next stop of the Dew Tour in Vermont. Bummer. I will be back next year. It will be lots more work this time, but I’ll be back. F*ck losing.

During practice for slopestyle at X Games, you can feel and see who is scheming for the win, wondering in their heads what tricks will win this year. “Am I going to be the one that does them? Do I have the right combination?” You can tell who is in the zone before the contest even gets started. Sammy Carlson was feeling it. He practiced hyper-actively, staying out on the course for the entire practice, even in the low light of the afternoon, doing his run over and over and over.

Maybe I should try music. That seems to help Sammy separate himself mentally when he’s up in the starting gate watching others take practice runs. I’m way too social for music, though. I have to chat and sing and dick around with the other competitors in order to suppress my nerves and my desire to win.

I guarantee that the mothers of Bobby Brown, Andreas Hatveit, Sammy, Jossi Wells, and especially Simon Dumont have stories of similar nature. A competitive childhood similar to mine, but probably filled with even more infuriating losses and joyous wins. I didn’t make finals at X and watching the boys in the finals makes me want to try infinitely harder and/or punch something cute or beautiful, such as a picture of a puppy or a flower.

I want to win. And not because I want to beat anyone specifically, but simply because I want to beat someone. Everyone. You can hate on someone for acting like they are better than everybody else, but as every single competitive human being on this planet knows, nothing matters when you win anyway. You’re uncontrollably stoked. It’s just the way we’re made. You technically are better than everyone else at that point, right? So congratulations to Alex Schlopy, Sammy Carlson and Kevin Rolland. I won’t lunge at your throats this time, but to me and the rest of the boys, it’s not just a board game. Sorry mom. I haven’t learned much since age three.

No flowers, puppies or pictures of puppies or flowers were hurt during X Games or in the writing of this little story, at least none involving the author.