Turning Points (and Preparing for Them) by Dean Gloster

 My hobby is downhill ski racing. 

At this stage in my life, it's possibly a metaphor. (Yes, I may be going downhill, and picking up speed...) Like a lot of things, I tend to practice it with a high enthusiasm to grace ratio. 

Especially sometimes

But it's a rush, and it periodically leads to wonderful experiences. One of those was at the NASTAR national championships about 15 years ago, when I saw the single most impressive spontaneous athletic feat of my life. Which is fortunate, because it prevented a fatality. 

At Steamboat, they'd set an especially challenging course for us weekend athletes, with an abrupt kick out gate near the finish that required--at high speed, at the end of the run--a super hard right turn followed by a super hard left turn just to stay in the course and finish. So we were all especially interested to see how the real professionals were going to handle it. Our pacesetters were Kaylin Richardson, in the left course, and Phil Mahre in the right. She was then the U.S. women's downhill and combined champion. He was the former three times World Cup overall champion, making a comeback bid after 20 years away from ski racing, trying to become the U.S. men's GS champion, at the age of 50--coincidentally, the age I was at the time.

The two of them went simultaneously out of the parallel starts, explosive, fierce, graceful and fast. Kaylin, 27 years younger than Phil, was a full gate ahead at the tricky final section--where she went down, sliding sideways, directly across his path. 

GS racing speeds are about 45 miles an hour, and we racers have beveled steel ski edges, much sharper than 90 degrees, which we hone with diamond files. If Phil hit Kaylin with his skis at that speed, the injuries would have been devastating or fatal. 

What Phil did instead--despite being compressed by coming off the steeps to the flats and in the most challenging two turns of the course, at the exhausting end of it and having only hundredths of a second to react--was immediately jump over Kaylin. And then make the next turn and finish. Wow.

The noise of those of us at the top of the course, waiting our turn to go and watching this, was indescribable. We'd all witnessed a near fatal crash and a near-miraculous feat to avoid it, and we all knew enough about ski racing and our own athleticism to know none of the rest of us could have pulled that off. 

Me, in the same course, in no position to jump over anyone

Which brings us to today's topic about turning points--in life and in fiction. In fiction, we have plot points, emotional turning points, and turning points in scenes. In life, we have lots of possible turning points for the same reason they occur in fiction: We are protagonists, and we make choices based on our goals, our desires, and our values. But to do that--in either place--we have to do the groundwork. For a turning point in a scene, we have a character come into the scene with a goal and stakes that make that goal important, only to encounter conflict or opposition. We build tension, increase the conflict, and then we have the turning point.

In life, turning points can come more unexpectedly, but we also have to set up for them in advance. Phil Mahre was one of the most talented racers of his generation, but he also put in the work and put in the time: He'd been skiing gates for forty-two years, and he'd done many tens of thousands of squats and lunges in the weight room.

Phil Mahre, winning World Cup races back when I  (*checks notes*) wore disco pants

So if we want to dazzle, we have to put in the work. 

But excuse me, I have to go work on my current novel. I've got a turning point coming up. And next week I have to head off to Colorado, to ski at the NASTAR nationals again. 

Rock on, y'all. 

Dean Gloster is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His YA short story “Death’s Adopted Daughter” is in the anthology Spoon Knife 6: Rest Stop from Autonomous Press, and his YA short story, “Proof of the Existence of Dog” is now out in the anthology Spoon Knife 7: Transitions. 

He is old enough that he was once young enough to think it was okay to wear disco pants. 

At right, hoping the statute of limitations has run on fashion crimes and dinosaurs

He is at work on two more YA novels, one in draft and the other in revision, and makes periodic anti-authoritarian limericks and other ramblings on the prince of fools app formerly known as Twtter, at @deangloster.


  1. Yes! To dazzle, you've got to put in the work. You've got to use the line about being old enough to have been young enough to wear disco pants.

  2. Cool post, especially about downhill ski racing. I raised two racers. I also ski downhill and fast, but too many concussions in my life put actual racing on the "no" list."


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