The Green Jacket Brigade

 Sometimes it’s great being associated with your big family. (Like when Kyla was Grinders star employee and people mistook me for her.) Sometimes it’s not as nice.  

Green Jacket Brigade
The Early Years

In honor of going to Squaw Valley in two weeks, here’s a little throwback to our skiing escapades of days gone by.

Disclaimer** I wrote this three years ago, and boy is it corny. 

“There was a good thought behind buying those green jackets. I mean, four beginning skiers could easily get lost on the mountain. Fluorescent coats would eliminate that problem…no one, could get lost in those. Although none of us got lost, those green jackets turned out to serve a much different purpose during our early skiing years. It all started with Kelsey.

From the very first, 7-year-old Kelsey was a heart attack skier; that is to say, she caused heart attacks. When Daddy took us up on the bunny hill for the first time, he expected us to learn how to turn—Kelsey expected to learn how to overcome “obstacles.” As Kyla and I patiently struggled to turn in Daddy’s tracks, Kelsey flew straight down the mountain in figure 11 formation. Those “Slow” signs didn’t apply to her!

I would come to the top of a snowy knoll, just in time to catch Kelsey come to an uncontrolled stop far below. Sometimes it resulted in skis and poles flying pell mell over the snow. Sometimes someone would yell. Sometimes she simply skidded in with the power pizza.

Either way, I always cringed.

A couple minutes later Daddy glided into the chairlift lines, Kyla, Baylor and I right behind him like a couple of obedient boxcars.

“Hurry up, you guys,” Kels grinned. “I’ve been waiting here for hours!”

Daddy sighed, “You really need to learn how to turn, Kelsey. Take it easy.”

Kelsey laughed back, her large goggles mushing her smile downwards. “Did you see how fast I went that time?”

When it was time to load the lift, Kyla and I lined up, our poles ready to shove off and Baylor stood patiently by Daddy’s side. I was tired of waiting in Mt. Bachelor’s long lines and began poking the slush that collected on my skis.

“Hold up!” My head shot up at the operator’s deep voice. As the lift slowed to a stop, it didn’t take long to realize who was the problem. Apparently someone else had gotten tired of waiting, for beside the operator stood a green jacket.

Kelsey!

Soon, our loud jackets were a glaring warning to every skier on the mountain, “Watch out!” they advised. “Hazardous skiers on the loose!”

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Green Jacket Brigade
The NEW Green Jacket Brigade

 This assumption was also given to 5-year-old Baylor. Although not wearing a green jacket, he associated with them and people rightly concurred that, “birds of a feather flock together.”

You see, we didn’t know that Baylor was an environmentalist before he started skiing, but after only a couple days on the mountain this belief became clear. Baylor just had to hug trees!

SMASH! BANG!

Baylor cared little for his own comfort so long as the trees felt loved. He didn’t seem to care much for the Green Jacket Brigade either, who repeatedly dug his fractured skiing equipment out of the tree’s deep drifts. Baylor’s convictions were hard on everybody and we all heaved a sigh of relief when we skied with him his second year—Bay’s display of affection turned out to be a mere mistake. Turns out, he had taken “going green” literally.

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We hadn’t been skiing for long, when the daredevils of our group decided to take on the jumps. Naturally, we only jumped off jumps our skill level. Seeing that there were no jumps worthy of me to launch off, due to my extremely rare skill level, I stayed off the minor bumps and allowed the other kids to knock themselves out.

Unfortunately, I mean this in a literal sense.

“Hey Katie,” Kelsey called. “Check out this jump!” I glanced over to where she was pointing and saw three guys sitting at the base of a good sized mound of snow.

“Kels, that jump is built in a ‘no ski zone.’ See the caution tape?”

Kelsey did see the bright orange caution tape–just in time to duck under it. She picked up speed as she zoomed toward the jump.

Then, she disappeared.

The guys at the base started laughing.

Bay disappeared over the ledge and Karaline (the newest member to the Green Jacket Brigade) followed. None of them re-appeared and I started to get frustrated.

“I bet they’re skiing down a different way, Ky,” I muttered. “Let’s catch them.”

As we skied past the mound, the base of the jump came into view. To my surprise it was dug out, and there, in a neat pile, lay Kelsey, Baylor, and Karaline! They made a cute sandwich with Baylor’s black coat in the middle.

Actually, they looked more like a lettuce wrap.

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The Originals
The Originals…New and Improved, but still matching (and sunburnt)

Kyla liked to wear her coat like a cape. This may or may not have been due to her zipper being broken, but either way, it was an unfair advantage when jumping. Eventually, I found some jumps that were big enough for me and I would follow Kyla down the mountain.

“Whee!” She would sail over the large flat tops.

“Umph.” My teeth would crack together and my knees would cram into my ankles.

Why couldn’t make the landing? Finally, I reached the answer.

The reason I knuckled out was NOT due to the fact that I “scrubbed” snow or that I went “slow” (like some people dared to suggest.) The truth was, Kyla’s open jacket was an extra source of gliding power! She had wings!

The downside to that special jacket was that you tended to freeze like an ice cube. Ky rarely mentioned it, but the icicles hanging off her chin were hard to ignore. So, I left flying for the birds and stayed nice and cozy in my working-zippered-green-machine.

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Team Johnson
Team Johnson (Squaw 2014)

Unfortunately, there is one last green jacket story to tell. Just as unfortunately, the star of this one is—me (I know, it’s hard to believe I could be haphazard, but stretch your imagination a little bit.)

Over the years, more green jackets have joined the original posse. We seasoned veterans could not give up our titles in the Brigade, and so we continued to buy green jackets as we grew. At 18-years-old I was still a proud bearer of our bright color.

Tragically, I was still in need of a warning blazer.

A few seasons ago a bunch of friends, some of my siblings, and myself were “rat packing” over a slick, icy track of snow. Our zippy lime coats looked smashing against the white as we sped in single file. It was the last run of the day and we were going to make it count. Flecks of snow from the leader’s tips peppered my goggles and we flew so fast my stomach dropped on each roller. It had been a wonderful day. I flew over the last packed knoll of snow with my poles in the air.

“That was awesome!” I grinned.

Then, disaster struck…or rather, I struck. I noticed a boarder on his knees, facing uphill, too late. My skis bit into the snow as I carved to a stop, but not before I sliced open my friend’s hand. The blood spurting everywhere was sickening, and I was hardly relieved to find no tendons were cut.

I had seen Mr. Unfortunate too late and he had seen my green jacket tardily. He should have known it meant “beware!”

Mother was right about those matching coats: we have never been lost. We also have never been forgotten. Everywhere the Green Jacket Brigade has gone, we have left our mark on fellow citizens and mountain goers—forever.”

Have you ever been associated with your family and cringed?

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