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Along with the Podborskis and the Vogrins and the Warlls (and a host of other Craigleith families), the Safrata brothers dominated the junior ski-racing scene in the province during those years. And Al was, arguably, one of the most naturally talented in the group. “I don’t know exactly how or why,” muses Al. “But I grew up skiing surrounded by a great group of people. And I truly mean great.” While he didn’t pursue the sport as far as did his national-team alumnus brother or his World Cup champion friend, Steve Pod, he believes those early ski-racing years had a profound influence on the rest of his life.
“You know, being a ski-racer guy is a pretty cool way of life. Travelling the world. Seeing beautiful mountains. Visiting legendary resorts. The outdoors, majestic peaks, fresh air — I realized quite early on just how lucky I was to be involved with such a sport.” Another chuckle. “In fact, it sort of spoiled me for any other kind of life…”
A quick smile dances across his face. “You see — skiing makes me ‘vibrate’,” he explains. “You know what I mean? It holds an essence of fun for me that is so pure and so simple that it is virtually impossible for me to resist it. As we get older, it gets harder and harder for us to get in touch with that essence. You just have to look at kids to realize it — they just don’t carry all that baggage that we do. That’s why I love skiing so much. It allows me to be a kid all over again. It helps me to realize just how unimportant most of my BUSYness issues really are…”
Safrata likes to use an amusement park metaphor to illustrate his point. “The mountains provide me with my own personal roller-coaster ride,” he explains. “And it’s the only roller-coaster ride I know that I can totally control myself. To max out on the G-forces, to grit my teeth against the weather, to groove on the beauty of my surroundings — it’s all part of the ride. I’m going fast, almost like low-level flying. I’m banking off this, and jumping off that. Veering off the piste to check out a little powder here. Or simply putting my skis on edge and feeling the power of a perfectly carved turn there. And nobody else can tell me how to do it. I’m fully in charge of my own ride.”
He pauses for a moment to catch his breath. His eyes are shining now — almost as if he’s riding that roller coaster while we speak. It’s abundantly clear that Al is in his element here. And his near-missionary zeal is both disarming and compelling. “I continue to marvel at how much fun this snow-sliding thing really is,” he says. “And I continue to marvel at seeing all these other people enjoying themselves. Young, old, male, female — it doesn’t matter. There’s no prejudice on this roller coaster ride. Everybody gets to have fun…”